Prevent Parvovirus Disease in Your Puppy
Most dog owners have heard of the term “parvo.” There is a vague sense that it is a dreaded disease that can strike dogs, particularly puppies. A few owners know that it can be prevented through vaccination, but do not know when or how often to vaccinate. It is time to unravel the mystery of parvovirus.
What is parvovirus?
Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious viral disease that only affects members of the canine family. This includes our pets (domestic dogs), coyotes, mink, raccoons, foxes, and wolves. It was first recognized in 1978 and quickly spread worldwide within two years.
Parvovirus attacks the gastrointestinal tract and the immune system of a susceptible dog. Symptoms appear 4-10 days after infection. The infected dog will usually become lethargic, lose his appetite, and develop severe vomiting and diarrhea. At the same time, the virus will also attack his immune system making it harder for his body to fight the virus. This disease can quickly lead to a state of life threatening dehydration.
Who is most susceptible to parvovirus?
All unvaccinated dogs are susceptible to the disease. Veterinarians have developed a safe vaccine to protect dogs from this highly contagious and deadly disease. But a dog must receive his vaccinations in order to be protected! Also at risk are puppies who have not fully completed their initial vaccine series or dogs who are not up to date on their vaccines. Certain breeds appear to have a higher risk of contracting parvovirus, including Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, and pit bulls.
When should my dog be vaccinated?
Vaccination schedules are often individually tailored to each patient by a veterinarian. The parvovirus vaccine is usually included in a combination vaccine that prevents several common canine diseases. In general, a puppy should be vaccinated against parvovirus every 3-4 weeks with the first dose at 8 weeks of age and the final dose between 16-20 weeks old depending on your veterinarian’s schedule. Once the initial puppy parvovirus vaccine series is complete, the dog should be vaccinated one year later, then either annually or every three years depending on the vaccine and your veterinarian.
Where is parvovirus found?
Parvovirus is shed in the feces of infected animals. It is highly contagious, and new dogs are infected when they come in contact with this fecal material in the environment. Part of what makes parvovirus so deadly is that the virus itself is extremely hardy and difficult to eradicate from the environment. It can survive on many different surfaces, including carpets, floors, dirt, asphalt, grass, food or water bowls, shoes, and clothes. The virus can live in the environment for months, and in some cases, up to ten years. Compare this to the flu virus which can survive on hard surfaces for only 24 hours!
How to diagnose and treat parvovirus?
Not all puppies with a bout of vomiting and diarrhea have parvovirus. There are numerous other causes of GI upset in young dogs. It is very important for a sick puppy to be evaluated by a veterinarian. There is a simple screening test that can be performed at a veterinary hospital that can help determine if a puppy has contracted parvovirus.
Most puppies with parvovirus quickly develop life threatening dehydration. Recommended treatment is aggressive supportive care in which the patient is hospitalized with 24 hour care on intravenous fluids and medications to support him through the debilitating disease. The average hospital stay is often 5-7 days. With aggressive veterinary care, there is an 80% survival rate. Without treatment, this drops to 10%.
Vaccination, vaccination, vaccination! It is imperative that you make sure that your new puppy has received all of his vaccines on time. It is also important to shield your puppy from exposure to parvovirus in the environment before he is fully vaccinated. It is recommended to keep your puppy away from places where other dogs frequent, such as dog parks, sidewalks, beaches, kennels, and pet stores. Remember that parvovirus can live in the environment for up to ten years!
It is important to note that behaviorists tell us that the “golden period” of socialization for a young puppy occurs before he has completed his initial vaccine series. So, how do you help a puppy meet the world but avoid the risks of parvovirus? Use common sense. Invite people and vaccinated dogs to your home and backyard for “puppy play dates.” Go to friends’ homes to meet them and their vaccinated dogs. Enroll your puppy in puppy classes. If you have a small puppy, you can carry him on “walks” through the neighborhood. Just be sure to check with your veterinarian to determine when it is safe to let your puppy out in the “real” world.
New puppy owners have a lot to do when it comes to caring for a new puppy. Meeting and greeting the world is an important part of puppyhood. Just use care to also protect your puppy from the dangers of parvovirus. Use common sense and limit your puppy’s exposure to places other dogs have been. Above all, be sure to get your puppy fully vaccinated!