Parvo is a highly contagious viral disease that is life threatening in dogs of any age but especially young unvaccinated puppies.
The most common form is intestinal which presents as vomiting, diarrhoea, weight loss and anorexia. The less common cardiac form affects the heart muscle of very young puppies.
Pups aged 6 weeks to 6 months are the most commonly affected. The incidence of Parvo in dogs is dramatically reduced by vaccination of dogs. This must include a full primary course of Parvo vaccines (Two separate “7 in 1” or “DHPPi” vaccines 2-4 weeks apart) from 7 weeks on (an optional 6 week Parvo vaccine can be given for extra protection at an earlier age but this alone will NOT prevent Parvo long term). It is also essential that dogs receive a BOOSTER vaccine EVERY year to keep them protected. Also important to remember is that although young puppies are more at risk older dogs are NOT IMMUNE and do still need vaccines.
Clinical signs of Parvo include; bloody diarrhoea, lethargy, anorexia, fever, vomiting, severe weight loss. Affected dogs quickly become dehydrated and weak, their eyes and gums may appear bright red and their heart rate can increase. They can also have sore abdomens and sometimes will be hypothermic.
Parvo is contracted by direct contact with an infected dog or by indirect contact with the faeces of an infected dog (faeco-oral route). Large amounts of the virus are found in the faeces of infected dogs so if a dog even sniffs it he will contract the disease. The virus can also be walked in on shoes that have been around infected faeces. The virus can live in ground soil for up to a year and is resistant to most cleaning products and even weather changes. Household bleach is the ONLY disinfectant that will kill it.
Dogs at risk include those that have been improperly vaccinated or if the vaccine has failed, in areas of high risk like breeding kennels or shelters and certain breeds including Rottweilers, Dobermanns, Pit Bulls, Labradors, German Shepherds, English Springer Spaniels and Alaskan Sled dogs. Any drugs or diseases that suppress the immune system e.g. steroids will also increase the risk.
Diagnosis is made mainly on the basis of physical examination and blood and faecal tests. Ultrasound, radiography and urine tests can also be informative. The main indicators are bloody faeces and a low white blood cell count.
Here at Pet Vet we use a faecal test which definitively diagnoses the disease within 10 minutes allowing rapid identification and intervention for Parvo cases. This is hugely important as unfortunately there is no cure for Parvo, we can only treat the symptoms and support them systemically to try to help them survive it. This involves intensive therapy with intravenous fluids (drip) and nutritional support, as well as antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infection and anthelminthics to prevent parasites worsening the damage (N.B. to remember these antibiotics and anthelminthics do NOT treat the Parvo virus itself, they only stop secondary invaders making the situation worse and the dog sicker). Hospitalisation is essential to provide this intensive care but they must be barrier nursed in an isolation area because of the highly contagious nature of the virus.
Survival in dogs is about 70%. They can die due to severe dehydration, secondary bacterial infection, bacterial toxins in the blood or severe intestinal haemorrhage. Prognosis is poorer in puppies due to their lower immune system, therefore it is common for puppies to suffer shock and sudden death.
Even if the dog survives they are at an increased risk from other diseases as their immune system will be lowered. They are also still a contagion risk for other dogs for at least 2 months after initial recovery so they must be isolated and any unvaccinated or sick dog that has been in contact with them should be tested. All of the dogs objects should be washed with non toxic cleaners. Recovery does come with long term immunity but there is NO guarantee that they won’t be infected again.
Prevention is by proper vaccination and dogs should not be around other unvaccinated dogs until at least 2 weeks AFTER the 2ND vaccine (up to 22 weeks in high risk breeds).