“Parvo,” also known as the canine parvovirus (CPV), might as well be called “the puppy killer.”
While this highly contagious virus can attack older dogs, it is unvaccinated puppies at most risk. Easily transmitted, environmentally stable parvo lives up to its infamous legend, infesting and tearing up a dog’s gastrointestinal system, often a death sentence.
A relatively young virus, its origin is traced back to 1971, and since then, it has become an ominous threat among new and seasoned dog owners. Despite being considered a core vaccine given to puppies/dogs, it is highly infectious and easily carried and shed in significant quantities by an infected animal; likely why the disease still thrives globally.
What is Parvo?
The canine parvovirus is a heavily resistant DNA virus, meaning it targets the body’s swiftly splitting cells, i.e., the intestinal tract and bone marrow get hit hardest. The virus responsible for the disease is like the feline panleukopenia (cat distemper), almost exactly similar. Moreover, some believe that parvo is a variant or mutation of the cat virus—though this is unsubstantiated.
How do Dogs Catch It?
The virus mainly spreads through excrement of sick and infected animals, which starts populating in the feces before symptoms show and continues for about fourteen days once medical indicators subside.
Parvo is not airborne but, unlike most viruses, can live on surfaces and in various environments for long periods and is heavily resistant to detergents, heat, alcohol, and more. It can infect from contact even if feces or vomit isn’t visibly present. Your furry loved one ingests it orally, where inflammation would then start in the intestinal walls.
This virulent beast can thrive outside for months, years even, lying dormant in the soil and then rising back up when the rains come. Hard to kill, it travels on just about anything (hands, paws, shoes, fingers, etc.), making it easy to spread and almost impossible to avoid contact. While diluted bleach will kill it, infective traces can live in room temperature dog feces for up to three months.
Thankfully, while dogs cannot give parvo to humans and vice versa, as it is a “species-specific” virus. Nonetheless, cats and humans have their version of the virus. Still, it is always important to practice the utmost safety when dealing with an infected canine.
Once your puppy has ingested parvo, it takes around three to seven days for symptoms to show. This incubation period is when the virus searches for the most vastly dividing cells in the system, kicking off with the throat lymph nodes, tonsils. In doing this, the parvovirus multiplies more rapidly and can more efficiently infest different spots in your dog’s body.
Once effectively bred and prevalent in the bloodstream, it begins finding other areas with quickly dividing cells. It will get to the heart in some puppies, inflaming the muscle, lowering function, or beating too fast or too slow, with an irregular rhythm.
Sadly once parvo finds its way into infecting the bone marrow, it goes after immune cells, lowering the body’s response and ability to defend itself. At this point, the virus has an easier time wreaking havoc on your beloved pet’s gastrointestinal tract. Here parvo works on the lining of the small intestine and keeps it from doing its job, such as:
- Prevent dehydration via pooping
- Stop bacteria moving to the stomach
- Processing vital nutrients
This breakdown in the body’s immune and digestive system will grow into severe health conditions:
- Dangerous dehydration
Since parvo can look like numerous other infections that bring on diarrhea or vomiting, diagnosis can bring some challenges. Thus, CPV positivity antigens confirmation in the feces or antibodies found in the blood fluid is imperative; there are various clinical tests readily available, straightforward processes that your trusted vet will determine which is best for your dog.
If left untreated, parvo death is a brutal way to go; if the dehydration or shock doesn’t kill, the harm caused by the septic pollutants from the gut mixing it up with the rest of the bloodstream does. Thus, full recovery, considering the severity of the specific case, could take some time. Even dogs that do get better from the initial infection remain ill for five to ten days once the symptoms begin to reveal.
If symptoms are recognized and your puppy receives hospital care, the survival rate is relatively high at 75-80%. However, if your little loved one does not receive proper care quickly, survival is difficult.
To save the puppy, addressing dehydration and electrolyte variations is crucial; intravenous fluids with electrolytes may be necessary, as well as plasma transfusions if severity demands. If septicemia occurs, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, and drugs to quell the vomiting and diarrhea.
Puppy survivors especially must be monitored closely and given ample nutrition to ensure their intestines can adequately mend—a veterinarian prescribed, easy-to-digest, bland diet is best since it is light on the gastrointestinal tract.
Dogs have a greater chance of recovery if you take aggressive tactics early, before severe dehydration or blood poisoning sets in. Moreover, some breeds are more susceptible to the virus. The Doberman Pinscher, the Rottweiler, and the English Springer Spaniel have a higher fatality rate than other types. Sadly, puppies who haven’t started to show signs of improvement by the fourth or fifth day of infection have a lesser chance of full recovery or survival.
Note that dogs who survive have very little chance of recatching the virus but should still receive complete vaccination.
Like other pervasive viruses stalking your furry loved one, the best defense against this invisible killer is an inexpensive (readily available) combination vaccine (multiple-agent series).
Parvo shots are considered a core vaccine, and your vet will administer them when your puppy is six to eight weeks old. The boosters continue every two to three weeks there on until your four-legged friend hits the four-month mark (note, Pit Bulls, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, and similar breeds get shots up to six months of age). Once your dog completes the initial series of shots, it will receive a booster at one year and every three years after that.
Something crucial with the parvo vaccine is scheduling early and not letting too much time pass between shots—your dog might have to go through the series again if you do—kennel dogs, show dogs, etc., often booster annually.
If a dog is pregnant, it might receive a dead version injection of the virus a few weeks before birthing to give its babies some antibodies before entering this world. As always, speak to your trusted veterinarian as to what vaccine schedule best suits your dog.
Until your dog is fully-vaccinated, socialize with fully-vaccinated dogs whenever possible, and avoid places where vaccination status is uncertain, such as dog parks. However, training and being around other pups in a social setting is essential for early growth. Thus, finding a reputable puppy class location (proof of first shot required) is imperative to safety while your loved one attends.
Parvo is no joke, and it’s still out there stubbornly clinging to surfaces waiting for yours or someone else’s beloved pet to pass by. Fortunately, over the years, not only has more been learned about this virus, but a surefire vaccination series now exists to protect your young ones as they navigate through future canine adventures.
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