I remember it like it was yesterday. I had just pulled up to my vet’s office to take my Chihuahua, Diego, for his annual checkup. That’s when I saw him — a large puppy wrapped in blankets. The office staff was outside, helping to carry him around the building. They didn’t let him walk in the parking lot and they were using their back entrance (which led to a separate area of the office … one for really sick and highly contagious dogs). When I walked inside to check-in, I was too curious not to ask what was going on. Turns out, he had Canine Parvovirus.
If you go for annual vet visits and keep your dog up-to-date on his vaccines then you’ve probably heard about Parvo before. But, still, do you really know what it is?! Or just how heartbreaking it can be for a dog?!
In this article, we’re shining a spotlight on Parvo — what it is, how it’s spread, the dogs at the highest risk, diagnosis, treatment, and more.
What Is Canine Parvovirus?
Often called Parvo, Canine Parvovirus is a highly contagious and life-threatening virus that greatly effects the stomach and small intestines. Once a dog has contracted parvo, the virus replicates. This takes place in the small intestine and can cause acute gastrointestinal problems as it destroys the digestive lining.
In addition, it can affect a dog’s bone marrow, causes a low white blood cell count (these are the cells that fight off infection), and can lead to various heart complications.
One of the most important things to stress is how contagious this virus really is. Get this: It was first identified in the 1970s and only took two years to spread globally!
The incubation period (AKA the time between exposure and onset of symptoms) is around 3 – 7 days. Common warning signs and symptoms include:
- Decrease or loss of appetite
- Lethargy (weakness and decrease in energy)
- Diarrhea (normally bloody)
- High fever
- The majority of adult dogs show no symptoms at all!
If your dog has suddenly developed these symptoms then get to your vet ASAP. Other medical conditions may have similar symptoms, but don’t ignore them or wait to find out. Parvo can be fatal within 2 – 3 days after the start of symptoms … so definitely don’t delay!
Some must-know facts:
- Without medical treatment, the mortality rate is 90%
- With medical treatment, it drops to 20% or less
Dogs At The Highest Risk
While any dog can get Parvo, unvaccinated dogs, young puppies between six weeks and six months old, and immunosuppressed dogs are at the greatest risk.
A note on puppies: Newborns of vaccinated dogs have natural immunity for the first few weeks of life thanks to mom’s antibodies. Unfortunately, though, they lose the protection before their own immune systems are strong enough to fully protect them.
Additionally, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), certain breeds are at higher risk of Parvo. Why? Well, that’s unknown! The reported breeds include:
- Doberman Pinschers
- American Staffordshire Terriers
- English Springer Spaniels
- German Shepherds
- Labrador Retrievers
How Does A Dog Get Parvo?
One way Parvo is transmitted is through direct contact with infected poop. Dogs explore the world with their noses and mouths. So, it’s quite easy for them to come into contact with a pile of infected feces or a surface that’s been contaminated with infected feces.
Another way is through indirect contact. Yup, you read that right. The virus is so potent, it can contaminate everything around it. That includes dog collars, leashes, toys, household items, surfaces, linens, bedding, a human’s hands, shoes, and clothing.
Get this … According to the American Kennel Club (AKC):
“The parvovirus is a particularly resilient virus. It can survive indoors at room temperature for at least two months and is resistant to many commonly used cleaners and disinfectants. Outdoors, the parvovirus can survive for months, and even years, if protected from direct sunlight. This is why hospital quarantine of the infected dog and proper cleanup of the environment are especially important.”
Testing for Canine Parvovirus is done with a stool sample. The fecal ELISA test is used most often and may be done right in your veterinarian’s office (although, some vets may choose to send it to the lab). The test is quick — it only takes about 15 minutes.
The ELISA test looks for the Parvo antigen in the stool. If the antigen is present, you will get a positive result. As with anything else, occasionally there can be false positives and/or negatives, and testing may have to be repeated.
It should be noted that there is no cure for Parvo. Your vet will focus on giving supportive care and treating the symptoms. Some things to know:
- Treatment will involve a hospital stay.
- Intravenous fluids will be administered to replace electrolytes and correct fluid imbalance caused by vomiting and diarrhea. Fluids by mouth aren’t an option when the digestive tract is in distress.
- Medications to ease the vomiting and diarrhea will be given.
- Blood transfusions and antibiotics may also be needed.
Each case is different, therefore treatment will vary with each patient.
How To Clean Contaminated Surfaces
As I mentioned above, Parvo can survive for a long time. Reports show the virus can survive in the soil for up to a year in hot or cold weather and on surfaces for months.
According to Cornell University College Of Veterinary Medicine:
“Cleaning with a solution of one part bleach mixed with approximately 30 parts water is an acceptable method for disinfecting any indoor area (including bedding, food/water bowls, and all surfaces) that once housed an infected dog.”
“Outside, you cannot (and should not) bleach your lawn, but rain or watering can dilute the concentration of the virus over time. This dilution, combined with the sanitizing effects of sunlight can bring the numbers of viruses down to an acceptable level in a few weeks.”
For Dog Parents With Multiple Pets: “Can My Other Dogs Catch It?”
Yes! Keep your dogs separated as much as possible. Also, don’t let other dogs in your home go to the bathroom where your infected dog is going.
Do not let them share beds, water/food bowls, toys, collars, leashes, etc. until at least 3 weeks after your sick dog has recovered. Make sure all items have been thoroughly cleaned before any sharing resumes.
- Remember… this is very contagious.
- The virus is very hardy.
- Anything that has been contaminated can pass the virus.
Can Humans Get Parvovirus From A Dog?
No. Humans can not catch Parvo from their dog. The Parvo that humans get is a different genotype.
How To Prevent Parvovirus In Dogs
According to Cornell University College Of Veterinary Medicine
“Veterinarians usually administer the CPV vaccine as part of a combination shot which includes, among others, the distemper, canine adenovirus, and parainfluenza vaccines. These shots are given every 3 to 4 weeks from the time a puppy is 6 weeks old until he is at least 16 weeks of age. A booster vaccination is recommended one year later, and then one at three-year intervals thereafter.”
- Puppies should be kept away from areas where other dogs are until two weeks after their third Parvo puppy vaccine.
- A dog who has been successfully treated for Parvo will still shed the virus in his stool for up to 3 weeks, so do not walk him where any other dog walks, clean up after him immediately, and disinfect the area thoroughly.
- The virus can live in the soil for up to a year, so don’t let any dogs walk in the area where your dog has eliminated.
- Alert your neighbors that your dog has/had Parvo so they can protect their dogs.