Benjamin Franklin’s words “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” are as true today as when they were penned more than 240 years ago. But when talking about “parvo,” a disease that strikes fear into most dog owners’ hearts, prevention can be worth so much more.
What is parvo?
Parvo — the full name is canine parvovirus — is a highly contagious virus that attacks the rapidly dividing cells of a dog’s body, causing a potentially deadly disease of the digestive system. It most frequently strikes puppies between 6 and 20 weeks old, but older dogs that haven’t been vaccinated can also be sickened.
How does a dog get parvovirus?
Parvovirus is spread through contact with feces (stool) of infected dogs. A parvovirus-infected dog can shed huge amounts of virus in his stool even before signs of illness are seen. Consequently, kennels, food and water dishes, collars and leashes, and the hands and clothing of people who handle infected dogs can be easily contaminated with the virus.
The virus is extremely hardy and can survive in the environment for up to two years under the right conditions. Parvovirus is also resistant to most disinfecting household cleaners, making it tough to disinfect an area once it’s been contaminated by an infected dog. And given the fact that most places such as dog parks, lawns and even homes aren’t cleaned with disinfecting products regularly, a dog can be exposed to parvovirus when it’s least expected.
What are the signs of parvo?
Persistent vomiting and diarrhea can cause rapid dehydration, especially in young puppies.
Unfortunately, some of the signs — at least at first — can be confused with simple stomach upset. This often causes owners to postpone treatment until their four-legged friends are severely dehydrated. The delay can also expose other dogs in the home to the virus.
How are dogs with parvo treated?
There isn’t a specific drug that will kill parvovirus in an infected dog, so a veterinarian will focus on treatments that support the dog’s body systems until the immune system can fight the viral infection. Typically, hospitalization and intensive patient care is required:
- Intravenous fluids (IV fluids) to correct dehydration and replace lost electrolytes
- Anti-nausea and anti-diarrheal medications to manage vomiting and diarrhea
- Antibiotics, often given intravenously, to prevent secondary infections
- Isolation of the infected dog to reduce the spread of infection
Treatment can be very expensive, and while up to 85 to 90 percent of treated dogs can survive, some dogs may still die despite aggressive treatment. In untreated dogs that develop the disease, the death rate can exceed 90 percent. That’s one reason why veterinarians recommend vaccinating your dog against parvovirus.
Can parvo be prevented?
Yes! Because parvovirus infection can have such devastating consequences and it’s still quite common, veterinarians consider vaccination to protect against parvovirus to be an essential part of preventive health care. Many vaccines are now available to veterinarians, and often a single vaccine can be given to protect against several common viruses, including parvovirus. You’ll want to discuss your dog’s vaccination needs with your veterinarian, who will develop a preventive health care plan based on your dog’s life stage, lifestyle, risk of exposure and underlying health conditions.