Preventing the Parvovirus in Dogs

Breaking down the parvovirus and its impact on dogs.

In recent months there have been several cases of Parvovirus in Massachusetts.  Though there are cases every year, this year we have experienced an increased number.

Keeping your dog’s vaccinations up to date will prevent parvo. Many dog owners are feeling the economic pinch and delaying annual trips to the vet and delaying vaccinations. But, an animal’s annual physical is essential in helping keep your pet healthy. 

The most common serious infectious disease for dogs in this country is canine parvovirus. Canine parvovirus (a.k.a. parvo or CPV) causes ulcerative enteritis and diarrhea (which can sometimes be bloody) in the infected dogs. This diarrhea can be life threatening since it can dehydrate a dog over a short period of time. 

Parvovirus tends to be a “tough and resistant bug.” Parvovirus can live for long periods of time on household surfaces. Rugs in particular are difficult to sanitize.

Some common symptoms of parvovirus can include depression, vomiting and diarrhea, which can result in severe dehydration. Bloody stools and a drop in white blood cell numbers are also common, according to published reports.

However, there are several viruses and bacteria that can have similar symptoms in dogs. Therefore, this commonly leads to misdiagnosis. Parvo symptoms can be common signs of other ailments, but only a test at a veterinarian’s office can determine the presence of parvo. 

Parvovirus is especially dangerous for puppies. Some puppies can die as soon as diarrhea occurs.

Unfortunately, once a dog gets parvovirus there is no anti-viral medication, so much of the treatment tends to be supportive in nature, mainly treating the dehydration and administering IV fluids to keep electrolytes balanced.

The second tier of care is to prevent secondary infections that can occur due to the tissue damage and low white blood cell counts caused by parvovirus.  This type of supportive treatment can be one to two hundred times more expensive than the vaccination itself and requires hospitalization. 

Heartworm, parvo and distemper, are all preventable illnesses. When you keep up to date with your veterinarian’s recommended care, it will keep your pet’s tail wagging for years to come. 

References used: “Clinical Anatomy and Physiology for Veterinary Technicians” and “Essentials of Biology.”

Thomas Dock April 25, 2011 at 02:26 PM
Good article, Christopher....so many people fail to understand how the proper vaccine series can actually save them a lot of heartache and a lot of cash. Canine parvovirus is a wicked virus that likes fast growing cells, especially those found in the intestines and in the bone marrow. The destruction of the intestinal cells leads not only to diarrhea and dehydration, but allows bacteria to enter the bloodstream. Normally, the bacteria would be destroyed by the patrolling white blood cells, but, canine parvovirus also likes to destroy the early precursors to these cells in the bone marrow. Most veterinarians are very successful at treating canine parvovirus if the owners bring the pet in promptly and supportive care can be started. But, as you say, it is pricey and owners should be prepared to have their pets in the hospital for anywhere from 3 to 10 days, depending on how serious the pup's condition is. Interesting note...some breeds, like Rottweilers, Dobermans, Eng. Springer Spaniels and pit bulls are at higher risk for parovirus.


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