Bringing home a new puppy into your family is a time of celebration and welcoming your new canine best friend into your life. The last thing any new puppy parent wants to hear is a devastating diagnosis of Parvovirus. So what are the basic facts we need to know about Parvovirus?

What is Parvovirus?

Parvovirus (more commonly referred to as just parvo) has been around since the 1970’s. It is found in the environment, it is very hard to kill and the virus itself is shed in very large numbers in infected animals stool. This virus can survive for many months in the soil so in essence, there are little to no areas that aren’t contaminated unless disinfected regularly.

How does Parvo affect my puppy?

Dogs are usually affected between the ages of 6 weeks and 6 months. Infected dogs don’t show any clinical signs for 3-7 days after infection. The virus targets and kills rapidly dividing cells in the puppy’s body, most importantly the bone marrow and the cells found in the intestinal lining.The white blood cell drops due to the affected bone marrow and now there is no little to no defense against the virus and secondary infections.

The GI tract is heavily affected and can no longer absorb fluid and nutrients. The barrier between the GI tract and the blood is also affected and secondary bacteria enter the body and widespread infection occurs.

Parvovirus kills dogs by either shock due to dehydration or sepsis due to overwhelming infection.

Clinical sings of Parvovirus include:

* Bloody diarrhea 
* Vomiting* Fever 
* Lethargy 
* Anorexia 
* Weight loss 
* Weakness 
* Dehydration 
* Depression

Is Parvovirus treatable?

Survival of this terrible virus is possible. Aggressive care provided quickly in the course of the disease increases the chances of survival drastically. An infected puppy requires IV fluids to correct dehydration and provide a source of fluid and calorie support since these puppies are often vomiting and unable to eat and drink on their own.

IV antibiotics are given to prevent and treat secondary infection in the GI tract. Anti-nausea medications, and gastroprotectants are given to help control vomiting and help to repair some of the intestinal damage done by the virus.

Lastly, plasma, which blood component can be given as a transfusion to an infected dog. This can provide proteins for healing and even short term antibodies to help fight the infection.

How do I protect my new puppy from Parvovirus?

Prevention is KEY! A fully vaccinated puppy’s risk of contracting parvovirus is drastically reduced. Puppies naturally gain immunity via their mother’s milk, so it is important that the mother be fully vaccinated as well. Over time, the maternal antibody protection decreases and we administer vaccinations to allow the puppy to create their own antibodies. This cannot be done with only one injection, however, so it is VERY important that your puppy complete his/her vaccination series. This is usually done between 7-16 weeks.

Ideally, your pet should not have interaction with any unvaccinated dogs or communal environments such as dog parks, doggy day care or pet stores until they have completed their vaccines around the age of 16 weeks.

Decontamination of an infected area is very difficult and requires a 1:30 dilution of bleach with water and a contact time of 10 minutes. Often there are materials that cannot be decontaminated and the parvovirus can survive for months. Due to this, it is important to never introduce a young puppy to an area that hasn’t been properly decontaminated as the risk of infection is quite high.

Understanding what parvovirus is, how it spreads, the clinical signs, treatment and most importantly prevention of parvo in puppies will help to keep your puppy safe.

For more information about parvovirus, talk to your veterinarian.