Disease associated with the canine parvovirus started appearing around 1978. A vaccine was produced that is highly effective, although parvo cases are still present and new strains of the virus can be severe. The disease is caused by a highly contagious virus that is transmitted mostly by dogs that orally contact infected feces. The virus is extremely small—a mere thimbleful of stool can contain millions of parvovirus particles.
When dogs with parvo are presented to us early in the course of the disease, almost all recover after hospitalization. Dobermans, pit bulls and Rottweilers seem to be especially sensitive to this virus and need early and intensive care if they are to survive this infection.
Dogs infected with the parvovirus become very ill, usually showing signs of weight loss, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of appetite. In severe cases, the diarrhea is very watery and frequently bloody with a telltale odor.
The diagnosis of canine parvovirus is made by the age of pet (usually under 6 months old), symptoms exhibited and physical exam. Other diseases can mimic the signs of parvovirus, so x-rays and blood samples are needed to help eliminate them as a cause and to assess the effect of the parvovirus on internal organs. Our most important test is performed in our hospital lab to check the feces for the presence of the virus. All dogs with parvovirus also need their stool checked for internal parasites.
Dogs with parvovirus need immediate veterinary care with a hospital stay. This involves large amounts of intravenous fluids, electrolytes, anti-vomiting medication, antibiotics and close monitoring by veterinary nurses. Dogs that continue to vomit in spite of therapy may also need special fluids or even a blood transfusion in order to fight off the virus.
As with all infectious diseases, minimizing exposure to infected animals is the most effective means of prevention. Since infected dogs shed large amounts of virus in their stool, contamination is always a possibility. Using a Clorox cleaning solution is an effective means of disinfection. Vaccines are highly effective in prevention and should be given on a yearly basis after the initial puppy series. Puppies should not be exposed to unfamiliar dogs or their feces until the puppy vaccine series is complete, at 4 months of age.
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