Canine parvovirus is a potentially life-threatening and highly contagious viral illness. All dogs are at risk of contracting this disease, but puppies under the age of four months and unvaccinated dogs are most at risk. The majority of cases are seen in puppies between the age of six weeks and six months of age. Early vaccination of young puppies drastically reduces the incidence of canine parvovirus infections.
The most common form of parvovirus attacks the intestinal tract, causing symptoms such as lethargy and vomiting, severe bloody diarrhea, fever, lack of appetite, and weight loss. This form of CPV interferes with fluid absorption in the intestine, causing rapid dehydration and weakness. Abdominal palpation may cause pain or discomfort, and the mucous membranes of the mouth and eyes may be red. Death may occur in as little as 48 to 72 hours from initial onset of symptoms, so it is critical that veterinary attention is sought immediately. Although less common, the cardiac form of CPV attacks the heart muscles in very young puppies, and often leads to death.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Parvovirus
Clinical symptoms and laboratory testing assist veterinarians in diagnosing CPV. The ELISA test (Enzyme Linked ImmunoSorbant Assay test) is a standard testing tool for parvovirus, and works by detecting the virus in a dog’s stool. It may be necessary to run additional testing and bloodwork.
Since parvovirus is a viral infection, there is no cure. Treatment focuses on controlling symptoms while the virus runs its course. Intravenous fluids and nutrition are essential, to replace the fluids and electrolytes lost from severe diarrhea. Medications may be used to control vomiting and nausea to prevent further dehydration, and antibiotics and anthelmintics fight secondary bacterial infections, parasites, and bacterial toxins in the blood. Puppies without fully developed immune systems are at greater risk, so shock and sudden death are not uncommon in very young dogs.
How to Prevent Parvovirus
Due to its highly contagious nature, dogs infected with the parvovirus must be isolated from other dogs to prevent further spread of the infection. The first line of defense to prevent dogs from contracting the virus is to keep vaccinations current. Puppies 6 to 8 weeks of age should receive their first vaccine, and boosters are given every 4 weeks until they are 16 to 20 weeks old. An additional vaccine is given at one year of age. Older dogs who have not yet received their full series of puppy vaccinations should be given at least one immunization.
Parvovirus can be a tenacious pathogen, capable of surviving for months on surfaces. Good hygiene practices and vaccinations are important, but even then, it can be difficult to eliminate. Many regular disinfectants are not sufficient for killing the virus on surfaces. A solution of one part bleach to 32 parts water may be used on hard surfaces and items in direct contact with the infected pet. Any items that cannot be properly cleaned should be discarded. Pets recovering from parvovirus should be isolated from contact with other animals for at least a two month period following recovery, to prevent the infection from spreading to other pets.