A lot of you have probably heard of parvovirus, commonly referred to as just “parvo.” This disease is characterized by weakness, vomiting and extreme diarrhea (often with blood in it). Parvo is mostly found in young dogs, aged 6 weeks to 6 months, but it can be found in older adult dogs as well. Younger dogs are often more severely affected. Predisposed breeds include Rottweilers, Labradors, American Staffordshire Terriers and “pit bulls,” although any dog can be affected (I diagnosed this disease in a Shih Tzu earlier this year). Parvo is shed in the stool and has fecal-oral transmission — meaning that dogs become infected by eating infected substances (e.g., feces or grass with feces on it) or grooming other dogs with feces on their rears. And this little virus is hard to get rid of — once it is in your yard, it can last for up to a year.
What effects does Parvo have on your dog? In addition to the above-mentioned lethargy, vomiting and extreme diarrhea, this virus can do some truly awful things to your pup. Parvo is so debilitating that many pets have to be hospitalized for several days — if not weeks — with intravenous fluid support, antibiotics, anti-nausea injections, antacid injections and plasma transfusions. The virus can also severely decrease your pet’s white blood cell count and protein levels. And in rare instances, Parvo can even have effects on your pet’s heart or can create an obstruction in your pet’s intestines, causing the intestines to “fold in on themselves” and close off — an obstruction that requires surgery to fix. Although not all pets are this severely affected and some can be managed on an outpatient basis, some pets do die from this disease.
So what can you do to prevent this disease in your pet? Vaccines are available and are, for the most part, very effective. Occasionally a vaccinated pet can still get parvo, but in those cases the disease is often less severe than if they had not received the vaccine. Talk to your veterinarian about when to vaccinate and how many vaccines your pet needs — predisposed breeds often need more vaccines than other breeds. Also, do not take your pet to a place where there has been parvovirus within the last year. And if you yourself come into contact with a dog that has parvovirus, take care not to become a “fomite” &mash; when exposed, people can act as carriers and spread the disease to their own pets. After contact with an infected dog, Parvo can be found on your hands, clothes or shoes — so wash your hands, change your clothes and take off your shoes to help avoid bringing this disease home to your pet. Bleach in a 1:30 dilution with water can kill parvovirus on your floor and other surfaces, if you allow the solution to sit for approximately 10 minutes.
If you suspect your dog may have parvovirus, keep him/her away from all other dogs and take your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Your veterinarian can perform a “snap test” to check for the virus. If your dog has been diagnosed with this disease, be sure to clean up all of his/her stool immediately, do not allow your pet to be around other dogs, and do not introduce another dog into your house without consulting your veterinarian first.
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