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Parvovirus - A Deadly Canine Enemy

Parvovirus (Parvo) is a viral disease of canines. There are two forms of this virus, one that affects the heart (in very young puppies it can infect the heart muscle and lead to "sudden" death) and another that affects the intestinal tract, and once contracted either form can be fatal.

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of this virus is that the public is so ill informed on its prevalence and hazardous potential. Often, there is a distinct smell that the dog and its excretions will carry. Another major indicator of this infection is its sudden onset. One day your dog will be playing in your yard, and the next it will barely be able to lift its head.

If this happens, do not waste time waiting on symptoms to disappear on their own. The virus attacks the lining of the digestive system. Since the intestinal lining has the biggest concentration of rapidly dividing cells in a puppy's body, the virus attacks and kills these cells so that dogs and puppies cannot absorb the needed nutrients or liquids. It also causes suppression of white blood cells, which come from another group of rapidly dividing cells. It affects puppies much more frequently than adult dogs since they have an immature immune system. Parvo takes 7-10 days from the time of exposure to test positive for this virus and before the dog shows any symptoms.

What Parvo is Not

Parvo is NOT an airborne virus. It is excreted in the feces of infected dogs. If someone comes in contact with the excrement, the possibility for contamination is great.  If you think you may have come in contact with Parvovirus, wash with a strong solution of bleach and water. This will kill the virus on your shoes, clothes and even your hands. Reduce the risk of infecting your other dogs.

Parvovirus is specific to dogs alone and cannot be transmitted to humans or other pets of a different species, such as cats.

Keep Your Dog Hydrated!

Rehydration is a major step in helping your dog to fight this often deadly virus. Many individuals use syringes (without the needle of course) or use a turkey baster to administer PEDIALYTE (Pedialite-an oral electrolyte maintenance solution which restores fluids and minerals lost in children with mild to moderate diarrhea) or Gatorade (accomplishes the same thing as Pedialyte).

"If you want to maintain the water level in a leaking bucket, you simply keep adding water. The same is true for a puppy with diarrhea—fluids in his body must be replaced. This is called rehydration."

The magazine article cited above, provides a cost effective way of treating humans, mainly children, for dehydration.

*Awake! magazine 1985 9/22 p. 23 A Salty Drink That Saves Lives! *

The same holds true for puppies who are more susceptible than adult dogs for contracting the parvovirus disease. Puppies must be rehydrated as quickly as possible to ensure a quick recovery.

Make this simple drink yourself by following the information below

Prepare the following solution- Accuracy in mixing is important!

  • Table salt: One level teaspoonful

  • Sugar: Eight level teaspoonfuls

  • Water: One liter (5 cupfuls at 200 ml each)

  • Amount Offered: Amount given should approximate fluid loss. Roughly, one cupful of rehydration drink should be given for each loose stool passed; half that for puppies. Note: Let the puppy drink as much as he likes.

Signs of Dehydration

  • The skin loses elasticity as it loses moisture. 
    This can be somewhat misleading since younger and fatter dogs will have more elasticity than older, thinner dogs.  It is important to have an idea of what your dog's skin looks and feels like on a normal basis.  Pinch a little skin between your thumb and forefinger on your dog's back.  When you release it, it should pop back into place immediately.  (You can try this on the back of your own hand as an example) As the tissue under the skin loses moisture, the skin moves back more slowly.  In extreme cases, the skin doesn't pop back.

  • The eyes appear sunken and lack moisture. 

  • The mouth appears dry. ... gums and nose are dry. 

  • Darker, less frequent urination

  • Delayed capillary refill time
    Pull up your dog's lip and look at his gums. Place your index finger firmly against the gums so that they appear white.  Remove your finger and see how quickly the blood returns to the gums (they will become pink in that area again). This is called Capillary Refill Time. If you do this when everything is normal, you will have a basis upon which to compare. The gums of a normal dog refill immediately,  the gums of a dehydrated dog could take 3 seconds or so to return to their pink state.

  • Grayish skin

Symptoms of Parvo

  • Parvo usually begins with a high fever

  • Lethargy

  • Depression

  • Loss of appetite

  • Severe gastrointestinal distress

  • Vomiting

  • Bloody diarrhea- foul smelling and sometimes yellow in color

  • Dehydration

  • Shock

  • Death

Parvo can also attack a dog's heart causing congestive heart failure. This complication can occur months or years after an apparent recovery from the intestinal form of the disease. Puppies who survive Parvo infection usually remain somewhat un-healthy and weak for life.

Treatment of Parvo

Without intense treatment, victims of Parvo die of dehydration. Treatment generally consists of IV or sub-cutaneous fluids and antibiotics. There is no cure. Veterinarians can only treat the symptoms by alleviating the pain. They try to keep the dog alive by preventing dehydration and loss of proteins. As there is no cure for any virus, treatment for Parvo is mostly that of supporting the different systems in the body during the course of the disease. This includes giving fluids, regulating electrolyte levels, controlling body temperature and giving blood transfusions when necessary.

Dogs who have survived Parvo can get it again. In the case of some puppies, a puppy testing negative for Parvo one day could succumb to the virus within a matter of days. It strikes fast and without mercy. Dr. Cathy Priddle has warned that sulfa drugs have been known to cause dehydration in dogs, suggesting that animals infected with parvovirus should not be given sulfa drugs.

You may also consult a homeopathic or naturopathic veterinarian for alternative Parvo treatments.

Will My Dog Die From Parvo?

This is a very serious disease. Some puppies infected with Parvovirus will die despite prompt and adequate treatment. While no extremely accurate statistics are available, a good guess is probably that 80% of puppies treated for parvovirus will live. Without treatment, probably 80% or more of the infected puppies would die.

Due to the high death rate, Parvovirus gets a lot of free publicity. Many people just assume that any case of diarrhea in a dog is from parvovirus. This is not true. There are a lot of other diseases and disorders that lead to diarrhea. If you have a puppy, don't take any chances. Have your puppy examined by your vet if diarrhea is a factor in any disease. It is better to be safe than to be sorry.

If your dog becomes infected with parvovirus, he has about a 50-50 chance of survival. If he makes it through the first three to four days, he will usually make a rapid recovery, and be back on his feet within a week. It is vital, however, that he receives supportive therapy immediately. It must be stressed that this is not a bad case of doggy flu; without medical treatment, most puppies die.

Prevent the Spread of Parvo

The surest way to avoid Parvo infection in your dog is to adhere to the recommended vaccination schedule which begins when puppies are 6-8 weeks of age. Puppies should not be allowed to socialize with other dogs or frequent areas where other dogs have been until 2 weeks after they have had their last vaccination. Immunization for Parvo is usually included in your dog's distemper vaccine. This shot gives protection against several potentially fatal canine diseases all at the same time.

If your pet becomes infected, please keep in mind that dogs with parvo shed the virus in their feces and are EXTREMELY CONTAGIOUS to other dogs.

Parvovirus is resistant to extremes of temperature (i.e., it survives freezing and extreme heat) and is unharmed by detergents, alcohol, and common disinfectants.  Direct transmission occurs when an infected dog comes in contact with a healthy dog. The virus is found in heavy concentration in the infected dog’s stool.  Because dogs will usually sniff where another dog has eliminated, this fecal-oral transmission is the most common method of transmission. The virus particles can be easily spread by hands, shoes, clothing, or other inanimate objects (fomites)—this is an indirect source of transmission.

As many as 30 billion parvovirus particles can be shed from the intestines of an infected dog in every ounce of stool.  The highest concentration of virus in the stool is seen when the infected dog is showing signs of illness.  A dog can, however, be a source of infection to other dogs without it having observable signs of illness (the disease may be incubating).  Transmission can occur for at least 3 weeks after a dog becomes infected with the virus.  Chronic “carriers” are not known to exist as in other viral diseases. Parvovirus in the environment can infect susceptible dogs for as long as 6 months once shed in the stool.

Follow these recommendations to help prevent the spread of this disease

  • Isolate Dog- Keep the infected dog from all other dogs for at least one month after full recovery.

  • Clean up after dog- Daily pick up all the dog's stools in your yard.

  • Use Bleach to sanitize- Use a 1:30 ratio of chlorine bleach and water to clean food and water bowls (4 oz. in 1 gallon of water). Wash any bedding the dog has been in contact with in this same bleach solution and hot water. You should also try to disinfect any other areas that the dog has been, like linoleum, concrete kennels, crates, etc.

  • Vaccinate for Parvo- If you have any other dogs that are two years old or younger, or who have never been vaccinated for Parvo, please bring them in for a booster as soon as possible.

  • Bland Diet- Be sure to feed your dog a bland diet until he is fully recovered. When switching back to his normal diet, mix the regular food with mostly a bland meal for 2-3 days to help your pet gradually adjust to the change. See: BLAND DIET

What if Parvo is in My Home?

If you have had Parvo in your home, use a strong bleach/water solution to kill it. Soak the yard with it -- better to kill the grass than your next dog! Be careful using it on carpets and fabrics, though. Parvo can live up to 6 months or so in your home or yard.

Before you bring home another dog, be sure it has a strong immunity to Parvo. You can have a veterinarian draw blood and run a titre test (Titre testing is a method of assessing whether or not a dog has immunity to certain diseases by measuring the antibodies in the blood) to find out how well your prospective dog will fare in a Parvo-infected environment.

Adult dogs generally have a higher resistance than puppies do, but they need to be kept current on their vaccines. If in doubt, have your vet do the titre test.

Breeds Most Susceptible to Parvovirus

Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers and other black and tan breeds are especially prone to Parvo and seem to succumb to Parvo faster and with less chance of recovery than any other breed.

If you have one of these breeds, it's even more important to make certain your puppy or dog gets immunized properly. But these breeds are not alone -- the Parvovirus can affect all breeds.