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Avoiding Parvo: Keeping Your Dog Safe From this Highly Contagious Virus

Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on July 2, 2018
Posted in Dog Diarrhea

It’s every pet owner’s nightmare: your happy, playful puppy suddenly falls ill and requires intense veterinary treatment. Unfortunately, this scenario is a reality for far too many dog owners because of canine parvovirus, or parvo.

Parvo is an incredibly contagious and potentially life-threatening virus that is mostly a risk for young puppies and dogs without vaccinations. To prevent your precious pup from contracting this nasty illness, you’ll need to have it fully vaccinated. Even then, though, you should stay informed about the signs and symptoms of parvo just in case your pooch comes into contact with an infected dog.

Understanding parvo

Canine parvovirus essentially attacks the rapidly-dividing cells in your dog’s body. The intestinal tract and white blood cells are typically the ones most affected by the virus, resulting in severe digestion and dehydration issues, as well as a compromised immune system.

When it attacks the intestines, parvo will prevent your dog from being able to absorb nutrients correctly, leading to weight loss, dehydration and fatigue. The major symptoms of parvo in adolescent dogs include:

  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Severe weight loss

In very young puppies, parvo may manifest with other symptoms within the cardiovascular system. This may lead to the virus attacking the muscles of the heart, a condition which is often fatal.

Parvo is an extremely contagious virus that is typically spread through direct contact with infected dogs or through an infected dog’s feces. Large amounts of the living virus are left in the feces and can infect dogs that may sniff or lick it while investigating their surroundings.

Perhaps what is most scary about the virus is its resilience—parvo can survive in its environment and on objects for months, leaving a large window of time to infect other pups.

Virus prevention

Puppies and adolescent dogs, particularly those that are not vaccinated, are at risk for contracting parvo. For reasons yet unknown, certain dog breeds are at a higher risk of contracting the virus, including Labrador retrievers, German shepherds and Rottweilers.

To help your beloved pooch avoid this awful illness, make sure it is up-to-date on all its vaccinations. The parvo vaccine is one of the most crucial vaccinations given to dogs and is typically first administered when they are six to eight weeks old.

Vaccinating puppies is crucial considering the intensity of the virus if it is contracted at a young age. Booster vaccinations are usually given to puppies every four weeks until they reach 20 weeks, then another at a year old. Your adolescent dog may need a routine booster every few years, so speak to your vet about your pup’s vaccination records.

Aside from vaccinating your dog, you’ll need to take precautions around infected dogs and their feces. If you discover that an infected dog has been in or around your home, isolate your dog from the area and clean it fully.

Your dog’s toys, water and food bowls and bedding should be disinfected. Parvo can still survive even after cleaning, so make sure to use a solution like bleach and water to fully disinfect everything or throw it away and start fresh.

Treating parvo

If your dog begins exhibiting one or any of the signs mentioned above, contact your emergency vet right away to have it seen. Even slight dehydration can be dangerous to dogs, so it’s best to have it tested to confirm whether or not your dog has been infected.

Unfortunately, there is no immediate cure for parvo, only treatment plans. Treatment is designed to control the life-threatening symptoms of the illness and to boost your dog’s immune system to defeat the virus.

If infected, your dog will likely need intensive veterinary care, complete with antibiotics, anti-nausea medication, IV fluids and more. Even still, the treatments are not always successful. Death usually results from dehydration or a secondary bacterial infection that occurs after contraction of the virus. However, many dogs are able to recover if taken to be treated as soon as possible.

If your dog is experiencing symptoms of parvo, contact an emergency veterinarian immediately—do not delay, because your dog can quickly become dehydrated and will require immune support and intensive care as soon as possible to be able to battle the virus.

Life after parvo

After treatment, your dog will likely have a compromised immune system and require immune support to prevent any additional infections or viruses. Your dog will also need to be isolated from other dogs because it will still be contagious for a while after treatment.

With lots of attention and care, your dog should be able to make a full recovery from this scary virus. The best way to avoid this, however, is to have your dog vaccinated properly before allowing it to socialize with other dogs.

Read also: Car Safety: Common Approaches to Keeping Dogs Safe on the Road

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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