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Canine Parvovirus (PARVO)

MetPet.com Staff Writer

Parvo is a very infectious disease of dogs.  It is caused by the virus, Parvovirus enteritist and is primarily a disease of puppies and young dogs less than a year old.  Certain breeds including Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Beagles, American Pit Bull Terriers and Dobermans appear to be more prone to infection than other dogs.  

Transmission
Parvo is transmitted by unvaccinated dogs coming into contact with infected dogs, infected stool (the virus is shed in stool) or an infected environment such as a kennel.  Dogs that have recovered from Parvo (and show no symptoms) can continue to shed the virus periodically in their feces.

Progress
The Parvo virus is ingested and makes its way into the blood stream and into the rapidly-dividing cells of the body including the lining of the intestines.  In the intestines, it can destroy various cells causing diarrhea and upset and allowing bacteria to invade the rest of the body. 

Disinfection
The virus is surprisingly difficult to kill and resists many types of disinfectants.   It can survive for months on infected surfaces. A solution of 1 part bleach to 30 parts water can be used to clean any surfaces that could be contaminated. 

The virus can exist on your shoes if you walk through infected areas, your hands or other areas.  When cleaning your clothing, bedding, collars, leashes, etc. use bleach and hot water in the washing machine.  If an item such as a toy or leash cannot be cleaned with bleach, dispose of it.  There are commercially available disinfectants that will kill Parvo.   If an infected dog has been in the yard, it is best to keep unvaccinated dogs and puppies out of the yard for a year. 

Vaccinations
Puppies can receive some antibody protection (although this can be weak) from the mother.   However, this protection is limited and can, oddly, interfere with Parvo vaccinations.  Therefore, particularly in areas where Parvo is prevalent, puppies need to be kept away from strange dogs and environments (dog parks, kennels) until they have completed the entire course of vaccinations (16-20 weeks = 4-5 months).  By that time, the maternal protection has abated and the administered antibody is working.   There are several known strains of Parvo.  Currently, the most effective vaccinations appear to be the live versions (weakened version of the virus itself) which should cover all the known strains. 

Symptoms
The symptoms of Parvo include high fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, depression, dehydration and severe and bloody diarrhea. In the most severe, and rare cases, puppies can have sudden heart failure.  Parvo symptoms mimic other viral bowel diseases including Canine Coronavirus.  Blood and stool work must be conducted in order to confirm Parvo. 

Take Puppies to the Vet
A puppy that is displaying these symptoms should be examined by a veterinarian.   There is no particular treatment to eliminate the virus, the symptoms need to be attended to.  Sick puppies will require IV fluids to maintain water and electrolyte balance and possibly antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections.  They may need to be treated for additional symptoms such as vomiting.  At times, the incidence of death can be as high as 30-40%.  Generally, with immediate veterinary assistance, the majority of puppies can recover.  Puppies that survive the first 2-3 days generally recover.  As they recover, they can be fed a bland diet (rice, for example) or a prescription commercial food available from your vet. 

 
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