Facts About Parvovirus and Your New Puppy

Parvo is a common killer of puppies, if not treated survival is very poor. Know the symptoms of Parvo and what to do if you think your puppy is sick with this virus.

The correct term for what most dog owners simply call Parvo, is Canine Parvovirus Type 2, or CPV2. Without treatment the disease is highly fatal, with over 90% of infected puppies and dogs dying sometimes from Parvo itself, other times dying from a secondary infection or dehydration.

Amazingly enough Parvo was not identified until 1978 and at that time it spread quickly to be known worldwide in less than two years. It is mostly exclusive to canines, but can occur in a mild form in mink and raccoons.

Puppies are at the highest risk, particularly if they have not been vaccinated. It must be pointed out that vaccination is not 100% effective and vaccinated pups (and dogs) can still get Parvo. Adult dogs can also suffer from Parvo although typically their survival rate is better and many will not even show symptoms. Vaccination against Parvo tends to decrease the severity of the virus in dogs that do get sick even though they were vaccinated against it.

Some dog breeds, mostly those with black and brown (or tan) markings, such as Rottweilers, and Doberman Pinschers seem more at risk. Pit Bull Terriers also tend to have a higher than average risk for this virus.

Parvo spreads easily because dogs do not even have to be in contact with one and other. The virus can live in the environment for a period of time (several months) and can be carried home on shoes or clothing.

The puppy who has the Parvo virus will usually show symptoms after 5 days, and usually within 10, from the date of exposure. This is one reason every puppy sold, adopted, or given away, should come with a minimum two week (14 day) health guarantee. 

puppies at the veterinarian

photo source

Symptoms

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Diarrhea (tends to be dark, bloody, and very smelly, especially at advanced stages)
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Death

Diagnosis

A stool sample is taken to a veterinarian, who will have the proper testing equipment. If the puppy is very ill it too should be taken to the veterinarian.  Always call ahead!  If you have to take the pup to the veterinarian, use a carrier.

sick pup at veterinarian

photo source

Treatment

Without treatment a puppies chances of survival are less than 10 % and there are no quick and easy “home remedies”. A sick puppy must be taken to the veterinarian immediately. The veterinarian will work to rehydrate the puppy and help it to recover through one of several medications available to their use.

The cost of treatment includes the fact that the puppy will typically have to remain at the veterinarian for one or more days (often on an IV). Typically with treatment there is an 80% - 90% survival rate depending on how sick the pup was before being taken to the veterinarian. It must also be mentioned that pups and adult dogs who have had at least one vaccination have a much better chance for survival than those with none.

Prevention

Parvo is best prevented through vaccination. A puppy should not be taken from its breeder until at least 3 days after its first vaccination, and boosters must be given according to schedule (provided by the veterinarian).

Owners of young puppies (under 6 months) should not go anywhere that large numbers of dogs gather – particularly if there may be unvaccinated dogs (the dog park for example).

Owners of young puppies should not come into contact with other pups where vaccinations are not known.

Puppies who are not fully vaccinated should never leave their owners house or fully fenced yard.

People who own breeding dogs must keep those dogs in a special area – a whelping room. Owners need to change their footwear before entering this room, and should change all clothing if they have been around other dogs.  Guests should be kept out of the room and only allowed to view the pups through a window, or need to be required to change their footwear at least.

The other Type of Type 2 Parvo

Although people have mostly heard of the Intestinal form of Parvo (as we have mentioned above), there is a second, less common type, known as Cardiac Parvo. This form of parvo hits unborn pups and those under 8 weeks of age. In this case (it is the same virus) the virus attacks the puppies heart muscle, it usually dies after appearing to struggle to breathe. The risk of this type of parvo can be greatly reduced, if not eliminated, by having the parent dogs vaccinated, and keeping the pregnant bitch at home and away from other dogs.

Other Parvo Facts

Bleach is the only disinfectant that kills the Parvo virus. Be aware that plastic food bowls cannot be properly disinfected and should be thrown out and replaced with ceramic or stainless steel.

People looking for a puppy are advised never to accept a puppy that has not had at least one vaccination, and come with a minimum 12 day health guarantee.

After finding your puppy has had Parvo,you should immediately inform your neighbors, and the place you got the puppy from (if it has been less than 10 days). You must use bleach throughout your home, and yard where possible (patio, and garden furniture). Mow the lawn frequently and throw away the clippings. Bleach the bottoms of your shoes. Stay away from other puppies.

If you have ever had a case of Parvovirus in your neighborhood, and certainly if there was a case in the past two years, you should not consider getting a young, new puppy, however you may want to get an older puppy that has had all its vaccinations, or even a fully vaccinated adult dog.

Adult dogs often get parvo but show no symptoms. They shed the virus thus it is not uncommon for a puppy to come down with Parvo when there have been no other reported cases in the area.

Parvo may be more common in the spring as this is when lots of dog feces that were under the snow are now exposed or at least the virus that was in the feces is now exposed.

Puppies who have just been taken from their home and/or mother may show symptoms like Parvo - particularly lethargy, and diarrhea, these are often related to stress and/or diet change, however if the pup has not been vaccinated, or the symptoms are severe, or last long, Parvo should be suspected.

If you Suspect your Dog, or Puppy, has Parvo:

Call you veterinarian at once, most have 24 hour service, and are on-call on weekends.  If your veterinarian is unavailable find one who is!

Collect a fecal sample, even if it is watery diarrhea. 

The veterinarian will instruct you if they want the dog and the sample brought to their office, or only the sample.  Again,  if you must take the animal to the veterinarian, use a carrier (or cardboard box if you do not have a carrier and the dog is small enough)! 

Hydrate the pup if you can by encouraging it to drink.  Keep other people away from the pup.

Other Dog Health Links

Why is my Dog Coughing?

Why is my Dog Itching?

Causes and Treatments of Diarrhea in Dogs

How to Diagnose Parvo

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Available Sources

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