Today I spent lunch discussing Canine Parvo Virus with a friend who just had a new foster puppy in her home break with Parvo. My friend had agreed to foster the puppy from a shelter in Northern Florida until it could get a permanent home. She had the best of intentions. But when the pup arrived, it immediately stopped eating. Within 24 hours it was vomiting and lethargic. Her vet diagnosed the puppy with Parvo and hospitalized it. Four days later, the puppy is still under treatment at the veterinary hospital. It is bad enough that the pup’s veterinary care is expensive and the puppy could still die. But my friend is also worried that she accidentally exposed her personal dogs and all of her neighbors dogs to this highly contagious virus. And she is worried about bringing the puppy back to her home if it does survive, because the puppy will be contagious for a couple of weeks after it feels better. She was devastated and ready to quit being a foster mom for rescued dogs. I tried to assure her that Parvo is preventable. Here is what I told her.
Parvo isn’t a predator. It isn’t some alien beast that stalks your pet. But, parvo is a nasty virus that can make your pet extremely ill. With aggressive (a.k.a, expensive) veterinary care most dogs survive the illness. It is a highly contagious virus that is difficult to kill with commonly used disinfectants. The virus mostly affects unvaccinated dogs, puppies, and dogs with weak immune systems. Well-vaccinated dogs and dogs that survive the infection once are immune to the disease, but they can still shed the virus in their feces. The virus is common on the ground and on the floors of kennels– anywhere a dog may have defecated, Parvo virus can be lurking. It is the reason that shelters and kennels pick up dog droppings, scrub with a cleanser, and disinfect with diluted bleach or a product such as Virkon or Trifectant everyday. The risk of Parvo virus is why your veterinarian warns you not to let your puppies off leash or around other dogs until the puppy vaccination series is completed at 12 or 16 weeks of age.
Dogs exposed to the virus begin developing symptoms within a week of exposure. Unfortunately, before the dog appears very ill, it is already shedding the virus in its feces. The virus can live for months on the ground. A contaminated yard or kennel can stay contagious for up to a year if not properly disinfected. It is not wise to bring puppies into a contaminated area for at least 6 months. Most shelters won’t let puppies play on the ground because sand, dirt, grass, and gravel cannot be easily disinfected. Puppies get to play on surfaces that can be scrubbed and sanitized because it is too risky otherwise.
A dog infected with Parvo virus develops severe vomiting, bloody diarrhea, fever, and dehydration. The virus kills rapidly growing cells in the lining of the gut and in the bone marrow. Bacteria from the gut escape into the blood stream causing a massive infection. At the same time, the bone marrow is unable to produce enough white blood cells to fight the overwhelming infection. The dog quickly becomes septic if not treated with intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and sometimes plasma transfusions. Some veterinarians also prescribe antivirals.
Every 4-way or 5-way vaccine is designed to protect your pet against Parvo. The DA2PP or DA2PPL vaccines each protect against four different viruses (Distemper, Adenovirus type 2 (also known as Canine Hepatitis), Parainfluenza, and Parvo). The 5-way vaccine adds protection against a bacterium known as Leptospirosis. All five protections are generally recommended for dogs living in Florida, but exactly how often to give and specifically to which dogs is based on risks and age. A dog that was properly vaccinated when young then boosted as an adult at least once with a quality vaccine will likely be protected against Parvo virus for at least 3 years, if not longer.
Check with your veterinarian to be sure your dog is properly protected against infectious diseases. Remember, giving too many vaccines can be just as bad for your pet’s health as not giving enough vaccines. And, don’t let puppies play around other dogs until your veterinarian says it is safe. Before you bring a new dog into the household, check with your veterinarian first to find out how to prevent spreading diseases that might come along for the visit.
For more information about Canine Parvo Virus, visit these websites:
Dr Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey, Florida