Something all of us pup parents should be aware of is Parvo. Parvo is a virus that is primarily seen in unvaccinated puppies. It can make puppies very unwell and can even cause them to pass away. Parvovirus infection occurs worldwide in domestic dogs as well as some wildlife.
Affected animals become very unwell very quickly. It is essential to recognize the signs. With prompt treatment, puppies can go on to make a full recovery. However, not all puppies will survive this dreadful viral infection.
In most cases, Parvo is transmitted by infected fecal matter that is spread throughout the environment. If a healthy puppy directly or indirectly ingests infected fecal matter it’s likely they will contract Parvo.
What Is Parvo?
Parvovirus is one of the diseases we vaccinate all puppies against. It’s also recommended that adults dogs continue to receive a booster for ongoing protection.
There are several Parvovirus strains in existence and they are all known for being hardy. This means they can survive quite well outside an animal’s body. They thrive in moist, cold conditions away from direct sunlight.
This virus specifically targets cells that are rapidly dividing within the body. Cells of the bone marrow and intestines are specifically targeted, resulting in a depleted immune response and a reduced ability to absorb nutrients. The heart cells can also be targeted in very young pups, resulting in cardiac inflammation and abnormal heart rhythms.
Certain breeds appear to be more prone to Parvo, including the Doberman, Rottweiler, and Labrador.
Where Do Puppies Get Parvo From?
The main way that Parvoviruses are transmitted is via the fecal-oral route. This means that an infected animal will shed the virus in their feces, and another animal will ingest these particles.
● This doesn’t necessarily mean that the poo is eaten deliberately. In fact, poo that is loose and smells foul (as is usually the case in those affected) will not be palatable to another animal.
● The poo particles can be accidentally ingested when they are on the infected animal’s fur or in their environment. There is a large number of viral particles shed in the first few weeks of infection.
Can puppies get Parvo from the air?
Whether or not parvo can be transmitted through the air is a common question. The simple answer is no, as parvo is not an airborne virus. It is not spread through aerosols when a dog sneezes or coughs, unlike some other viruses. However, Parvo can be spread within the environment.
Can puppies get Parvo from the backyard?
Absolutely. Parvovirus can be picked up within a yard or park. However, it won’t be present in the majority of places. It will have to have been brought to the place by an infected animal.
If you have a secured fenced-in backyard with no animal access, you can be confident that Parvovirus won’t be present.
Parvovirus isn’t well transmitted in the open air and tends to be quickly broken down in direct sunlight. So, stick to areas that appear dry and clean and are not in the shade when out and about. This is especially important if your pup is young or not yet fully vaccinated.
If you are out and notice another dog has runny stool or seems unwell, stay clear of them. Similarly, keep your dog away from other dog’s stool that hasn’t been cleared up.
While they are unlikely to ingest another animal’s diarrhea, they may sniff it and get it on their nose or face by mistake. If your pup was to ingest it accidentally, they could become unwell.
Most common places puppies can catch Parvo
It is not uncommon for Parvovirus outbreaks to occur in breeding facilities or kennels, where there are many young dogs. Outbreaks can also be seen in veterinary clinics.
Anywhere that can be crowded and/or has a lot of young dogs is a danger zone. This is one of the reasons why it’s vital to maintain good hygiene.
As this virus can be resistant to some household cleaners, it is not easy to get rid of indoors.
Common Signs & Symtpoms of Parvo
When a puppy has Parvo, you will soon know all about it. Dogs become clinically unwell very quickly. The most common signs we see include:
- Foul-smelling & bloody diarrhea. The stool may be bright red, brown, or black. Many health professionals say they can smell a Parvo puppy a mile off.
- Lethargy. Profound lethargy in a young dog is always a concern. A normal puppy will play hard and sleep deeply. However, a puppy with Parvovirus will be sleepy all day long.
- Food refusal. Puppies usually have hearty appetites and should be eating about three to four times a day. If they miss even one meal they can quickly develop low blood sugar and abnormal salt levels. They do not have much body fat in reserve so aren’t equipped to deal with refusing meals.
- Shaking. You may notice your puppy is shaking or trembling. This can be due to the abdominal discomfort they feel, fever, or low blood sugar levels. The shaking may only happen now and then or maybe continuous.
- Vomiting. The vomiting associated with Parvovirus can be extreme. As puppies may not be eating much, they might only produce bile and saliva.
- Fever. We can see a fever, although hypothermia (low body temperature) is also possible. A pup’s temperature should be taken rectally for accuracy.
- Weight loss. Weight loss may not be immediately noticeable, especially if there is abdominal bloating. It is a good idea to weigh any young puppy regularly and to record this weight in a diary.
For most, disinterest and lethargy is the first sign, but dogs will quickly develop other symptoms. A puppy who was in good health one day can be seriously unwell the next.
Can Parvo In Puppies Be Treated?
As Parvo is a viral infection, there is no specific treatment. The aim is to provide supportive care and keep the dog stable while their body fights the infection. This can take quite a few days, depending on how badly a dog is infected.
Time is of the essence when it comes to a Parvo infection so it is important we make the diagnosis and start the treatment as soon as possible.
The vet will suspect Parvovirus if your pup displays classic symptoms, especially if they haven’t completed their vaccines.
To confirm the diagnosis, they may run some tests, including a blood test and stool analysis. Other conditions can mimic Parvo, including food poisoning, severe parasite burdens, and intussusception (telescoping of the gut).
Once the diagnosis is confirmed, it is likely your pet will be admitted to the hospital. They will be started on intravenous fluids and will be given medicine including anti-nausea medicine and antacids.
Dogs with a low body temperature will also need to be kept warm with e.g. heating mats and Bair Huggers. While antibiotics won’t address the viral infection, they may be given to prevent or treat any secondary bacterial infections. As Parvovirus targets the immune system, bacterial infections may take advantage of this.
It is essential that the dog is kept in isolation within the clinic, to protect other pets from this highly contagious infection. All vets and nurses must use PPE and maintain exceptional hygiene. After discharge, the kennel and tools used for treatment need to be sterilized. This includes blankets, thermometers, food bowls, and stethoscopes.
Can I Treat My Puppy For Parvo At Home?
While you may have heard of some puppies being treated for Parvovirus at home, this is not generally recommended. Sometimes, owners will try to treat their puppy from home when unable to afford the vet bills associated with hospitalization and treatment.
The prognosis for those treated in the veterinary hospital is better than that for those treated at home. Within a clinic, dogs are being cared for around the clock and can be given intravenous medicine and fluids as well as oxygen and other supportive care. They are frequently re-examined by vets who can alter their treatment plan as necessary.
Can Puppies Give Parvo To Us Or Other Pets?
Parvovirus CAN NOT be passed to humans. Similarly, it does not spread to cats, rabbits, or birds. However, those closely related to the dog, such as coyotes, foxes, and wolves, can catch the infection and act as hosts.
Studies have shown that the virus is found relatively commonly in the wild.
Parvovirus is prevalent worldwide and is one of the leading causes of morbidity and death in puppies.
We need to ensure we vaccinate our puppies against this potentially fatal disease. Until the vaccine is effective (which is usually one week after the second vaccine), puppies should be kept away from other dogs and places that they go.
If you suspect your young pup is infected, they should be seen by a vet right away. When treatment is started right away, up to 80% of puppies can go on to make a full recovery.