With the warmer weather, all of us are spending more time outside enjoying the sunshine, and that includes our pets. Unfortunately this always means we see a spike in Parvovirus infections, and this year is no different.
Parvo is a highly contagious virus that is spread through oral contact with infected feces. As disgusting as that sounds, it could be as simple as your pet walking through an area that contains infected feces, and then licking his feet afterward. Even walking through an infected area yourself can contaminate your clothing and shoes, and is often enough to infect a pet when you return home. Many scientists suspect that flies can also pick up the virus and spread it to your pet by landing on his face.
Parvo most commonly affects puppies age 3-10 months, but is also a threat to older dogs who are immunocompromised, have had an incomplete set of vaccinations, or have had no vaccinations. We also see occasional breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated animals, but this is extremely rare. Puppies are at the highest risk because their immune systems haven't had a chance to fully develop, and their vaccines haven't been completed.
So what is Parvo? It is a highly aggressive virus that invades the cell lining the intestine, and sometimes spreads to the lymphatic system. Symptoms usually begin to appear 7-10 days after exposure, and progress extremely quickly. Typically we'll see a patient with general weakness and low energy, low appetite, vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration, fever, and shock. The dog's feces will have an extremely foul odor and often contains blood.
If you suspect your pet may be experiencing Parvo symptoms, you MUST seek immediate treatment. We can't stress enough how dangerous Parvo is. The entire infection can run its course from inital symptoms to death within 24 hours. The test to diagnose Parvo is simple and inexpensive, and provides results within a few minutes. Sometimes however, a pet may be showing symptoms of the disease and still return a negative test if there hasn't been enough time since initial exposure. In these cases we recommend that patients begin treatment for the virus, since waiting for a positive test result may mean it's too late.
Treatment for Parvovirus typically includes hospitalization of the animal for 2-5 days. The pet will be treated around the clock with IV antibiotics, medications to control the vomiting, pain control, and other life support. Warming is typically required due to low body temperature, and patients may require blood transfusions or plasma. Even with all of this treatment, some patients do not survive the virus.
The best defense against Parvo is a complete series of vaccinations on the 12-week schedule recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association and UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Puppies should be kept indoors as much as possible until their vaccines have been completed. If a pet in the home has had Parvo in the past, remember that the virus can stay in the ground for months or even years, so you should not bring an unvaccinated puppy into the home for several years after the infection.
With prompt medical care, Parvovirus is usually survivable, but it is expensive and painful to treat. Don't take the risk - follow your Veterinarian's recommendations and keep your puppies away from any risk of infection!