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Parvovirus:  Big Impact, Severe Consequences, Easily Prevented

Canine parvovirus is a very common problem that is a huge killer of puppies.  The virus can affect dogs of all ages, but the majority of cases occur in puppies less than 6 months of age.  It is the most common infectious disorder in dogs and misinformation about this disease is widespread.  With a better understanding of parvovirus, what it is, how it is contracted, and how to help prevent it, we can reduce its spread, morbidity, and mortality rate in our canine pets.

Parvovirus is spread through contact with feces that contains the virus.  It is a very hardy virus, surviving for 5 months or longer in the right conditions.  The virus is found in the soil and can live on inanimate objects, such as clothing, food bowls, and cage floors.  It is important to properly disinfect your environment if it has been exposed to parvovirus to help prevent further spread.  Inactivation of the virus can be accomplished using a bleach solution (1/2 cup bleach to 1 gallon water).

Once a dog has contracted the virus, it can take between 7 and 14 days before clinical signs of the disease appear.  Parvovirus is characterized by vomiting, which is often severe, diarrhea, bloody feces, fever, lethargy, and anorexia.  A less common form is inflammation of the heart.  The consequences of parvovirus are severe dehydration, shock, sepsis (infection throughout the body), and death.  Death can occur as quickly as 2 days after the onset of the disease. 

There are many causes of diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, and fever.  Therefore, to correctly treat this particular disease, an accurate diagnosis needs to be made.  There are a few diagnostic tests we can perform.  A common and easy test is the Parvo CITE test, a snap test that takes 8 minutes to produce results.  It tests the presence of the parvovirus within the feces.  The physical examination and additional diagnostic tests, such as a Complete Blood Count and chemistry blood panel help determine the severity of the disease.

There is no specific antiviral treatment of parvovirus.  Instead, treatment is directed at supportive care.  Due to the diarrhea and vomiting, severe dehydration can rapidly occur.  It is necessary to replace the fluid losses quickly and efficiently.  The number one treatment of parvovirus is balanced electrolyte fluids.  Very mild cases may only require subcutaneous fluids that can be given at home.  But, more commonly parvovirus patients will require intravenous fluids and hospitalization.  Antibiotics are always given to prevent or control secondary infections.  Anti-vomiting medications and stomach protectants are also used.  Additional medications, plasma, and blood transfusions may be required depending on the severity and nature of the case. 

Some patients may need to be in intensive care for 1-2 weeks, while others are able to go home within a few days.  If caught early and treated aggressively, parvovirus is commonly treated successfully.  However, there are few cases that no matter what is done, the dog will still succumb to the disease.

To help prevent the occurrence of this disease in our canine companions, it is extremely important to have every dog vaccinated against this disease properly.  Ideally, all dogs should be vaccinated by their veterinarian between 6 and 8 weeks of age, then monthly for a series of three or fours vaccinations.  There are some dogs that will still contract the virus even if fully vaccinated, due to the interfering level of the maternal antibodies against the parvovirus.  However, with current vaccination protocols, these occurrences are uncommon.

To reiterate, parvovirus is the leading killer and infectious disease in our puppies.  In Lake County especially, we have been treating many parvovirus positive dogs lately.  It is destructive and costly.  With prompt treatment by your veterinarian, the likelihood of survival is increased.  And with proper vaccinations of your puppies, the chances of contracting the disease are significantly lowered.

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