Parvo Virus in Dogs

Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious disease and can be lethal if gone untreated. The disease can attack the intestines or heart of any dog, no matter age, breed or sex. It is the most common of canine infectious diseases in the United States. Canine parvovirus is not contagious to humans, felines or other animals. Although, there are forms of human parvovirus, feline parvovirus and other types that affect different species, but are not cross-contaminating from species to species.

Parvovirus is spread through dog-to-dog contact, contact with dog feces containing the virus or contact with a contaminated environment. With over 30 billion virus particles shed in every ounce of infected dog stool, the virus has plenty of opportunity to take on a new host. The virus can stay alive on dog bowls, leashes and human hands, so transmission is easy and the virus has been known to survive on inanimate objects for five months or longer if gone untreated. The most common form of transmission comes from dogs sniffing other dog’s feces.

Parvo can attack dogs in two forms: The Intestinal form, which causes bloody diarrhea, vomiting, fever and loss of appetite because of the sloughing off of the intestinal wall; The Cardiac form, which attacks the heart muscles and can lead to sudden death. Symptoms include crying, difficulty breathing, weakness, and irregular heartbeat (this type normally occurs in puppies less than 8 weeks old.) Some dogs do not show symptoms, but can be a carrier of the virus all the same. Dogs less than four months old and older dogs that have not been vaccinated are at increased risk. After the onset of symptoms, the virus quickly deteriorates the dog’s health and death can occur within two days if gone untreated. With proper treatment and hospitalization survival rates are at around 80%.

Vaccination is an important step in keeping your dog safe from this dangerous virus. Immunize young puppies between 14 to 16 weeks of age. Despite vaccinations, some dogs will remain susceptible to the Parvo infection. Hygiene is another important step in keeping the parvovirus at bay. Keep kennels and backyards clean and dispose of waste material regularly. Keep dogs from sniffing around other dog’s feces. Dogs with vomiting or diarrhea should not be taken out of their living area unless it is to get the dog treatment.

There is no specific drug that will kill the virus in an infected dog, any treatment the dog is given is used to support the body systems until its immune system can start effectively fighting off the virus. Treatment consists of replacing electrolytes and fluid loss, controlling diarrhea and vomiting, and preventing any other types of illness that can attack the dog’s weakened immune system. Isolation of the dog is necessary to prevent spread of the virus to other dogs.

Despite specialty cleaners that claim being able to remove the parvovirus, it is virtually impossible to completely destroy the virus in the environment. The objective in decontamination is to lessen the number of viral particles. Bleach is the most effective disinfectant for the parvovirus. One part bleach per 30 parts water should be used to wash everything in the environment including floors, surfaces, bedding or anything colorfast that can be cleaned.

There are a few unconventional treatments for canine parvovirus that have been tested with some success. Tamiflu (oseltamivir) may reduce the severity of the disease. The drug may reduce toxin production and gastrointestinal bacteria colonization, therefore limiting the ability of the virus to invade the cells of the small intestine. Colloidal silver has been used, but is being discouraged because of toxicity issues. Recombinant feline interferon omega found in silkworm larvae has shown some success in treating canine parvovirus.

Much is understood about the common strains of the virus, but there is much to be learned about the new strains that are being discovered. Even with all the knowledge the veterinarian community has about canine parvovirus, there still remains the fact that no cure exists, leaving all dogs susceptible to this deadly and contagious disease.

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