Pups and Parvovirus – A Lethal Combination

Oprah Winfrey is well known for her love of dogs and on her show on 6 March 2009, she announced that not only had she adopted Sadie, a Cocker Spaniel puppy from the Pets Are Worth Saving (PAWS) Shelter in Chicago, but that she was also contemplating adopting one of Sadie’s brothers as well.

True to her word, Oprah did indeed adopt Ivan and brought him home to be with his sister, Sadie. Sadly though, Ivan died last week after contracting Canine Parvovirus Type 2c virus, more commonly known as Parvo.

“It was just a little bit too late. All the veterinary community got together to save his life,” said veterinarian Dr. Jean Dobbs. “The puppy didn’t make it, but he’s teaching others how important this is to get vaccinated at the right times.”

Dr. Dobbs founded HemoPet, a non-profit animal blood bank that supplied the healthy blood plasma in an attempt to save Ivan’s life. She believes that both the PAWS shelter and the veterinarians did everything that they could, but that Ivan had been exposed to the Parvo virus between two critical shots.

As Sadie had then been exposed to Ivan before she received her second inoculation, she is now being treated with ‘plasma from hyper immunized healthy dogs’ as a precautionary measure until she is old enough to get her second inoculation, Dr. Dobbs said.

Unfortunately, even dogs that are owned by wealthy owners who have the best veterinarians at their beck and call can still succumb to Parvo and those that do survive are never quite the same again as they usually experience some degree of intestinal deficiency many years later.

The only good thing about Parvo is that it is somewhat preventable.

It is a virus which targets rapidly dividing cells in a dog’s body and therefore their intestines are usually affected first by this virus. The symptoms of Parvo are dehydration, lethargy, bloody diarrhea and even intestinal inflammation that prevents the dog’s digestive system from absorbing nutrients.

In puppies, Parvo usually attacks the heart, which in turn causes sudden heart failure. This happens because as the puppy grows their heart cells rapidly divide.

The most common way that the Parvovirus is transmitted is through feces, although it can live in the environment and on surfaces, such as dog toys or blankets, for almost 6 months. Therefore it is quite possible for a healthy dog to contract the Parvovirus months after an infected dog has visited a location. Parvo is frequently found in dogs that live in shelters and kennels and other places where numerous dogs are in close contact with each other, as in the case with Ivan and Sadie.

Vaccinations against the Parvovirus are recommended for puppies at 6 weeks of age. Thereafter, a vaccination is given every three to four weeks until the puppy is 20 weeks old.

Like every other virus, Parvo has the potential to mutate into new types of strains. This simply means that whenever a new strain appears, puppies and dogs who are receiving vaccinations will not be protected from the new strain until veterinarians and scientists are able to identify the new Parvo strain and develop a newer version of the Parvo vaccine.

Besides vaccinations, the best way to help stop the spread of this virus is by routinely disinfecting kennels, bedding and toys.

Photo Credit: ohmidog!

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