Parvovirus belongs to a large family of parvoviruses that are species specific. For example canine Parvovirus will infect wolves, foxes and coyotes but won’t infect pigs or other animals. Humans have a Parvovirus too. However this theory on species specific Parvo is in question since there was a described case of cats contracting a Parvovirus strain that was meant to infect dogs only (CPV2-b).

What harm can it do?

Parvovirus can infect all cells that divide rapidly such as bone marrow, intestines and heart cells in young animals. It will destroy the cell it invades and it causes different symptoms depending on the location it affects. Some breeds seem to be more often affected such as Rottweilers, Labradors, Pitbulls and Dobermans. However it occurs in all breeds and young dogs and pups from 6 weeks to 6 months at the risk in particular. The earlier it happens the more lethal it gets. Vaccination provides good immunity to the disease and once it has survived the disease the pet usually has a lifelong immunity.

How do I know that my dog has Parvo?

The symptoms can vary significantly and in some cases the dog dies suddenly without showing any signs. However, most common symptoms are bloody diarrhoea, severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, pallor and in very young pups heart failure. Lethargy, lack of appetite, dehydration and abnormal temperature are common too.

How is Parvo diagnosed?

Parvo is not the only cause of bloody diarrhoea in pups and it must be diagnosed properly to make sure your pet is going to get appropriate treatment. The most recent test for Parvo is ELISA faecal test which can be done at your vet’s practice in 10-15 minutes. The test is quite accurate and tells us quickly what to do next with your pet. In some cases it is worth testing white blood cell count because many dogs will have a significant drop in the number since bone marrow is not producing enough and they are utilised in fighting the infection in the intestine.

Can Parvo be treated successfully?

The answer is yes. Success rate can go as high as 80% if the pup is treated properly and promptly. Very young pups have lower survival rate and older dog’s recovery rate is even higher. The main goal of the treatment is to buy some time until the body starts regenerating damaged cells.

It is reasonable to expect that your dog will stay in hospital for 3-7 days depending on the severity of the disease. During this period the treatment will be extensive and expensive. The cornerstone of the treatment is fluid therapy to replace lost electrolytes and manage severe dehydration. Special types of fluids to battle low protein counts in blood may also be used. Glucose and other supplements are often added to the fluids to combat different electrolyte imbalances and to supply energy to the dog to fight the infection.

Antibiotics are used to control secondary bacterial infection in the intestines although they won’t be able to destroy Parvo since it is virus. Medications to control vomiting (antiemetic) and stomach ulcers (gastrorprotectants) can also be given.

Plasma transfusion is one of the latest methods in the treatment of Parvo. They expand blood volume, replace protein that has been lost and contain antibodies against Parvo. Plasma transfusions are costly but very beneficial in severe cases or Parvo.

Monitoring is crucial...

While your pet is with us it is checked frequently to make sure all treatment is administered properly and timely. Some need force feeding or just a bit of encouragement to get well sooner. Monitoring the progress of the treatment is crucial to make necessary adjustments to the therapy. Electrolytes, white blood cell counts and total protein are checked frequently. Your pet is also monitored for further complications such as intestinal intussusceptions which is telescoping of one part of the intestine into another. Other possible complications are shock, blood clotting disorders and sepsis, just to mention a few.

How do I keep my dog safe from Parvo?

Vaccination is the key to success. Once properly vaccinated your dog is going to have good immunity that will last for a certain period of time. Boosters are needed to maintain a high level of antibody titres. Our vets will advise you on the best vaccination protocol for your dog.

It is crucial to remember that Parvo can stay in environment for up to a year if conditions are favourable and there are very few disinfectants that will kill it. Bleach diluted 1:30 can kill the virus but it is impossible to disinfect every single corner of your house or backyard. Toys, blankets and other necessities should be discarded and no other dog should be introduced to the area where another dog was affected by Parvo for 12 months.

If you have any questions, please contact your local Vets4Pets practice.