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What Every Dog Owner Should Know About Canine Parvovirus

What is Canine Parvovirus?

Canine Parvovirus (parvovirus or parvo) is a highly contagious virus that causes an infectious gastrointestinal illness in puppies and young dogs. Typically, young dogs (between six weeks and six months old), unvaccinated dogs, or incompletely vaccinated dogs are most at risk of contracting Parvo. It spreads easily and quickly through contaminated fecal matter, which makes it extremely dangerous. Parvo can cause a perfectly healthy, playful puppy to fall fatally ill in a matter of days.

An infected dog can begin shedding the virus four-to-five days after exposure which is often before the dog starts exhibiting any clinical signs of infection. The dog will continue to shed the virus while he is sick and for up to 10 days afterwards, which makes accurate diagnosis and quarantine essential.  Parvovirus is a resilient virus which can survive indoors at room temperature for at least two months. Additionally, it is resistant to commonly used disinfectants – bleach is one of the few disinfectants known to kill the virus.

What Causes Parvovirus?

The virus spreads either by direct contact or indirect contact. Direct contact through the nose or mouth with infected feces is one way a dog could contract the virus. Puppies are very curious and love to smell or pick things up with their mouth, making it easy to contract parvo if they are not completely vaccinated.

The second way a dog could contract the virus is through indirect contact. Parvovirus can survive on clothing, toys, human skin, and in the environment. Therefore, indirect transmission can occur when a puppy comes in contact with a contaminated person or object. As previously mentioned, parvovirus can survive indoors at room temperature for a couple months. On the other hand, the virus can survive outdoors for months, and even years, if it’s not exposed to direct sunlight. Therefore, quarantine of the infected dog and proper cleanup is crucial to prevent the spread of the virus.

Symptoms of Parvovirus

It’s important to know the symptoms of parvo if you’re a dog owner. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Severe, bloody diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Depression
  • Dehydration

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, contact your veterinarian immediately.

How is Parvovirus treated?

Parvo is typically treated by hospitalizing your dog, where they will receive care and be monitored for any secondary infections. Your vet may prescribe a series of medications, including antibiotics to prevent any bacterial infections. Parvo reduces your dog’s ability to fight off infection by lowering their white blood cell count, so your vet will provide your dog with fluids, nutrition, and medications that will hopefully help prevent any co-infections and save their life.

Can Parvovirus be prevented?

Parvo is preventable, but even vaccinated dogs are not 100% protected from contracting the virus.  The parvo vaccination series is recommended for all puppies and is usually given as a series of three shots when they are between 6-to-8 weeks old, 10-to-12 weeks old, and the last round at 14-to-16 weeks old. A booster shot is administered one year later and every three years after that. Because of the prevalence and severity of this disease, parvovirus vaccines are considered a core vaccine, a basic standard of care, by the veterinary community and is recommended for all dogs.

If your puppy is unvaccinated or hasn’t yet finished all their shots, they should not be exposed to unvaccinated dogs or environments where unvaccinated dogs could have introduced the virus (dog parks, highly trafficked areas, pet stores, boarding facilities, etc).

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