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Parvo: What You Need to Know About Parvovirus in Dogs

Parvovirus is a serious illness in dogs.

Parvo. Not many words can cause as much dread in the hearts of veterinarians, breeders, and dog owners as parvovirus.

What Is Canine Parvovirus?

Parvoviruses are a group of viruses that affect almost all mammal species. Humans have a parvovirus specific to them, and canine parvovirus is specific to dogs and other canids.

Canine parvovirus is extremely contagious between dogs, and the current mutation began to be diagnosed in 1978.

Parvo is spread through direct contact between infected and non-infected dogs or when a dog comes into contact with the virus in feces, soil, or on objects in the environment. The virus is hardy, and it isn't easily killed. It survives outside of a host for long periods of time unless it is killed by bleach or a similar cleaner.

Signs of Parvo in Dogs

Dogs that are exposed to parvovirus and become infected show signs in 7-14 days. These usually include:

  • Vomiting
  • Bloody, foul-smelling diarrhea
  • Anorexia
  • Severe lethargy
  • Fever

Once signs of illness begin, dogs become severely ill rapidly, and death may occur within 2-3 days.

Diagnosis of Canine Parvovirus

If your dog is showing any of the signs of illness listed above, get her to the veterinarian right away. A complete physical examination will be done, and your vet may recommend parvo testing. This is done with a quick test done on feces.

Your veterinarian may also perform basic blood tests to learn how advanced the illness is and how it is affecting your dog's organs and cell counts.

Treatment of Parvo in Dogs

Treatment for canine parvovirus must begin as quickly as possible and should be aggressive. Your veterinarian will probably do some or all of the following for your dog:

  • Hospitalize her in the clinic
  • Give intravenous fluids and electrolytes to reverse dehydration and maintain electrolyte balance
  • Administer medications to attempt to control the vomiting and diarrhea
  • Provide good nursing care to keep the dog warm, dry, clean, and comfortable

Dogs with parvovirus will be isolated from the rest of the clinic, and precautions will be taken by the staff to avoid contaminating other areas of the building.

Dogs with parvovirus often die even with aggressive supportive care; many veterinarians feel that the chances of a dog recovering are usually around 50%.

Prevention of Parvovirus in Dogs

The cornerstones of parvo prevention for dogs are vaccination and good hygiene. Puppies are most susceptible to parvovirus due to immature immune systems. They receive some immunity through their mothers' milk. Sometimes, a puppy's first parvovirus vaccination isn't effective because of interference by the mother's antibodies in the pup's system.

Because of this, it is essential that breeders and others dealing with puppies use good hygiene methods, keeping feces cleaned up meticulously and avoiding exposing the pups to other dogs.

A series of parvovirus vaccinations should be started in puppies around 6-8 weeks of age and continue every 3-4 weeks until 16 weeks of age. Until the final vaccine is given, puppies should not be taken to places that many other dogs frequent.

After the initial puppy vaccinations, revaccination is required periodically to maintain immunity. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate revaccination schedule for your dog.

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