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Canine Parvovirus

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

Getting a new puppy is always exciting with the adorable little paws, lot of kisses, and the never ending curiosity. Puppies always seem to have their noses in everything which seems harmless enough, but there are dangers lying in wake and one of those dangers is Canine Parvovirus, commonly called 'Parvo' for short.

Parvo is a virus that targets the gastrointestinal tract and lymphopoietic tissues such as the thymus and lymph nodes of young dogs. Parvo damages the cells in the intestinal tract, resulting in the sloughing of cells, which also aids in the virus being able to spread once it leaves the system of the dog in fecal matter. Some symptoms of Parvo are rather nondescript including vomiting, lethargy, weight loss, weakness and decreased appetite; however, diarrhea which is often bloody and foul smelling is a classic sign of Parvo. The symptoms of Parvo can manifest three to ten days after initial contact with the virus.

Puppies are highly susceptible to the virus and one reason for this is due to the nature of the virus and the fact that is is highly contagious and easily spread. Parvo can be spread and transmitted both directly and indirectly. Direct contact means that a puppy could end up sticking a wet little nose into a pile of infected feces or licking the same bone that another dog that was infected chomped on. Indirect contact involves coming into contact with a person, object, or even the environment that has come into contact with the environment. The terrifying part of this virus is that it can survive at room temperature for up to two months or even years in the environment outside given the proper conditions.

Another reason puppies are so susceptible to this infection is due to the fact that they are lacking in antibodies. When puppies are born, they acquire antibodies from their mother, but as they get older they lose many of these antibodies. Without this immunity puppies are highly susceptible to the virus. This is why vaccination is key for puppies at the critical ages of eight, twelve, and sixteen weeks since this helps stimulate and provide immunity in the interim when the antibodies from the mother are fading and before the puppy has the ability to develop many of its own antibodies. Which is why one of the best ways to prevent a puppy from contracting Parvo is to vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate!

Another way to prevent the spread of Parvo is to limit exposure of puppies to places that are frequented by other dogs like dog parks until all the vaccinations are completed. Also being aware that puppies, unvaccinated dogs, and dogs that have been under stress or suffered another GI infection are the most susceptible is important. Owners of these dogs are the ones who should be the most prudent limiting contact and avoiding risky areas!

But sometimes the inevitable happens and suddenly a puppy has foul-smelling diarrhea, the best thing to do see veterinary help immediately! Parvo is diagnosed through a fecal test, but blood work and radiographs can also be key in the diagnosis. The sooner you see a veterinarian the better the prognosis. The treatment for Parvo is supportive care, including fluids and anti nausea medication like Cerenia since Parvo is so dangerous due to the fact that puppies can get easily dehydrated from the vomiting and diarrhea. Antibiotics can also be used in order to prevent secondary infections of the GI tract and in extreme cases blood or plasma transfusions can be used to try and replace proteins, antibodies, and combat anemia. Even after a dog has recovered the virus will continue to be shed for up to 10 days, so quarantining is key to prevent spreading it! Bleach is also a great disinfectant in trying to disinfect surfaces that an infected puppy has come into contact with.

A new puppy is a great addition to the family and as proud pet parents it is our obligation to ensure that they are happy and healthy. Knowing the risk factors of Parvo, the fact that it is resilient, and vaccinating is key in prevention and prevention is always the best option. However, knowing the symptoms is key in catching it early is also great knowledge and helps in achieving as a favorable outcome so the poor puppy can hopefully recover and be back to exploring and stealing hearts!

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