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30 June 2021

Parvovirus in dogs: causes, symptoms and treatments

Parvovirus in dogs, a knowledge all new dog guardians must be armed with.

Off late, we have been plagued not only with the rising cases of coronavirus but with parvovirus in dogs as well. What is parvovirus in dogs? Why is it so dangerous? What can you do as a dog guardian to keep your dog away from this disease? What can you do in case your dog does get affected by the parvovirus? Read the entire blog post to understand this deadly disease which tends to affect puppies and can be life-threatening if not treated at the right time.

Getting a new puppy is very exciting. You must be feeling very tempted to take your puppy out and show him or her to the world. However, before you take your puppy on an outside expedition, you must make sure that your puppy has been vaccinated against parvovirus.

Parvovirus in dogs

What is parvovirus?

Canine parvovirus or parvo as it is commonly referred to as, is a very deadly disease which affects dogs of young age. It is considered as the deadliest diseases to affect young dogs and puppies. Fortunately, this disease is preventable by administering the proper vaccinations.

Parvovirus is also referred to as parvo or canine parvovirus. It is a highly infectious virus which can affect dogs. Parvovirus was first discovered in 1978 in Europe.

Parvovirus is been observed to primarily affect a dog’s small intestine. However, in case of young puppies, it has also been observed to have an effect on the heart. The primary trouble with parvovirus is that the virus is tremendously hard to kill. It can survive for long periods in the environment. It is also shed in enormous quantities by the dogs who are infected.

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The effectiveness of the parvovirus vaccine has reduced the risk of dogs contacting parvovirus in case of those who have been vaccinated. However, the unfortunate part is that this disease is still pretty prevalent in case of adolescent dogs and puppies.

Keep reading to understand the causes behind this disease, how can you protect your dog from it, the signs and symptoms of parvovirus which you should be on the lookout for, as well as what to do if your dog starts to show symptoms of this deadly disease.

How does parvovirus act?

Parvovirus tends to attack the lining of the small intestine. It stops the replication of the cells of the small intestine lining. This means that there is no regeneration of the intestinal wall. It stops the production of new cells. The intestinal tract and the bone marrow have been observed to be the worst affected. This makes it impossible for your puppy to absorb the right nutrients from the food. It also makes the puppy’s body susceptible to infection from other bacteria and viruses.

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Who is most vulnerable to parvovirus?

Puppies from the age of six weeks to six months are considered to be most vulnerable to parvovirus infection. There are also certain dog breeds which have been observed to be more susceptible to parvovirus compared to other breeds like

  • Rottweilers
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • English spaniels
  • German shepherds
  • American Staffordshire Terriers

How does parvovirus spread from one dog to another?

The primary route by which parvovirus can infect your dog is if your dog comes in contact with feces of another dog infected by parvovirus. Dogs suffering from parvovirus do not start to show symptoms for at least 3 to 7 days. However, during this period the dog is still infectious. If another dog is exposed to this (infected) dog’s poop during this period, the other dog may also get infected by parvovirus.

Even though this virus generally spreads by contact with feces which are contaminated, it is not necessary for solid feces to be present for the virus to infect another dog. The virus can get transferred from the feces to the surface of kennel, ground, soil, the handlers/guardian’s hands, the clothing which the handler was wearing etc. Dogs can also transmit parvovirus by carrying them in their paws or fur in case they come in contact with any contaminated fecal material.

Parvovirus has been observed to survive in the indoor climate for at least up to the period of a month. Outdoors, parvovirus can survive for as long as the period of a year. Therefore, if a dog who is infected with parvovirus but has not started showing symptoms yet is taken to a public place, another dog can contract the disease. This is the reason why puppy guardians are advised to not take the puppies out in public till they get all the parvo vaccinations done. Vaccinations must be started at the age of six weeks and should be given every three weeks till the puppy reaches the age of 16 weeks.

Parvovirus are susceptible to specialized cleaners which are used by veterinary hospitals as well as diluted bleach.

Can humans be affected by the parvovirus?

Parvovirus is a species-specific disease. Humans do not get affected by the canine version of the parvovirus. Therefore, your dog cannot transmit parvovirus to you and you cannot transfer parvovirus to your dog. Humans however, have their own version of parvovirus which does not affect dogs.

In case you come in contact with an infected dog, it is advised to take the utmost caution and wear protective equipment before you come in contact with infected dog. Even though you may not get the virus, you may transmit the virus to another dog through your clothing, hands etc.

What are the symptoms of parvovirus?

The primary and most noticeable of all symptoms of parvovirus is sudden lethargy or unexpected tiredness. If your dog was fine yesterday and today suddenly, he or she is showing signs of extreme lithology and tiredness, it is a sign that you must visit the vet as soon as possible.

After lethargy, comes loss of appetite. Since the parvovirus tends to attract the lining of the small intestine, it causes your dog to suddenly lose appetite.

With the progression of the parvovirus infection, the next stage will involve vomiting and diarrhea. A sudden lethargy, loss of appetite and induction of diarrhea and vomiting is an indication that the dog might be suffering from parvovirus.

In severe cases, the puppy may even collapse and suffer from high heart rate as well as hypothermia due to excessive infection and dehydration.

Even though the symptoms are very common to parvovirus infection, these symptoms can also occur if your dog is suffering from any other medical condition. Therefore, if your dog shows the symptoms, do not try to medicate your dog on your own, consult your vet immediately as you cannot be sure if these symptoms are definitive of the parvovirus infection or some other kind of medical issue.

Stages of parvovirus in dogs:

The following are the stages of parvovirus infection in dogs:

Infection stage

The only way your dog will get infected by parvovirus is by exposure to the viral particles from fecal matter of another parvovirus infected dog. There are a few places from where this infection can come:

  • Direct interaction with another dog
  • The environment, the surface or ground
  • Clothing, people or inanimate objects which have been in contact with feces of an infected dog.

A tiny amount of fecal matter is enough to cause infection in a healthy dog.

Incubation stage

As mentioned before, parvovirus takes a period of 3 to 7 days for incubation. During this time, the dog is infected with the parvovirus infection but does not show the symptoms of the same.

During this time, the virus goes after rapidly dividing cells like the ones which are present in the lymph nodes, tonsils or the intestine of the dog and prevents them from replicating. The virus will also infect the cells, multiply through them and go further and affect other regions of the dog’s body.

Post multiplication, the virus will enter the bloodstream of the dog and look for other regions which have rapidly dividing cells like bone marrow.

Illness stage

This is stage when the virus finally attacks the bone marrow.

 As the bone marrow is the production house for the new immune cells, the virus kills the new cells on production itself. This leads to a drop in the count of white blood cells.

This causes a decrease in the capability of the dog’s body to protect itself and allows the virus to move easily. During this period, the worst of damage happens. The virus starts to attack the inner lining of the small intestine of which prevents the dog’s gastrointestinal tract from:

  • absorbing essential nutrients
  • increased fluid loss in stools
  • no hindrance to bacterial invasion from the gut.

The following signs and symptoms are commonly observed during the third stage of the infection:

  • vomiting
  • severe dehydration
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • lethargy
  • sepsis

Even though it has been observed that parvovirus is not necessarily fatal, the dog can surviving parvovirus infection may unfortunately die due to shock or dehydration. The production of septic toxins from the bacteria entering the intestine can also lead to death of the dog.

The recovery stage

The recovery of dogs from parvovirus infection depends on the dog, his or her health status, the infection level etc. Full recovery can take quite some time depending on the disease severity and the damage caused by parvovirus.

Dogs who show full recovery from the disease take a period of 5 to 10 days after the beginning of the symptoms.

It is of critical importance that puppies suffering from parvovirus receive a ton of nutrition so that the intestine can heal properly.

Dogs who are recovering from a parvovirus infection should be given a bland and nutritious diet like boiled chicken and rice if your feeding homemade dog food.

What is the duration of the parvovirus infection? What is the prognosis of the dogs suffering from parvovirus?

If a dog is suffering from parvovirus, he or she will need a hospital stay for around 5 to 7 days. However, this number may vary with the disease stage and symptoms severity.

The time of maximum risk from parvovirus is the period of 24 to 72 hours after the symptoms have begun in the dog.

If the puppies suffering from parvovirus is given immediate medical care and monitored very closely, the survival rate of the dog is expected to be around 75 to 80%. In case there is no immediate veterinary care available, survival rates reduces drastically or if the dog is not hospitalized.

Diagnosis of parvovirus in dogs

If you suspect that your dog is suffering from parvovirus and take him or her to the vet, the vet will conduct a fecal swab test. For this, the vet will take a swab of fecal matter of your dog and conduct ELISA (enzyme linked immunosorbent assay) test on the same. This is the most common method of diagnosing parvovirus in dogs.

Even though this test is fairly accurate, a negative result of this test does not rule out parvovirus in case your dog is showing symptoms. It is possible that when the test was conducted, the viral antigen shedding had not begun in your dog. In such cases, further testing is warranted.

Are there any home remedies or outpatient treatment options available for Parvovirus infection?

Unfortunately, there are no home remedies available for parvovirus.

In some exceptional cases, if the pup is not very ill or if there is not option for hospital admission, the treatment might proceed on an outpatient basis.

The out-patient treatment in case of parvovirus includes

  • a highly digestible diet
  • constant influx of subcutaneous fluids to prevent dehydration
  • antiemetics to stop the vomiting
  • antidiarrheal to prevent diarrhea

There is no guarantee that the puppy will heal by following this protocol. Hence hospital admission should be the first course of action. The above-mentioned method should be applied only if the other options are not available.

Parvovirus treatment strategies in hospital

Since there is no cure for the virus itself, the treatment strategies mainly focus on providing supportive care to the puppy so that the puppy’s body can fight off the virus:

Supportive care generally includes

  • Anti-metric is to stop the vomiting
  • Focus on nutrition. A feeding tube will be used if necessary
  • Constant administration of intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration from setting in
  • Constant check and correction if needed of the levels of blood glucose and electrolyte imbalances.

Puppies who start to show signs of sepsis (the cells of the cost become leaky and cause disease bacteria to migrate from the body into the bloodstream) will report on a course of antibiotics.

If the puppies suffering from a low blood cell count or a high fever, he or she will also be administered a course of antibiotics.

How can you prevent your dog from getting parvovirus?

Keep your dog’s vaccination up to date. The canine parvovirus vaccine is most often administered along with other dog vaccines and considered as a combination vaccine. This vaccine is administered every 3 to 4 weeks from the period of 6 weeks to 16 weeks of age.

Make sure that the vaccinations have been done on schedule. If too much time is left between the booster vaccines, the vaccine series must be started all over again to maintain the protection.

If you intend to socialize your puppy, then socialize him or her only with dogs who have been fully vaccinated or wait until your puppy gets fully vaccinated. Do not take your dog to the places where the vaccination status of other dogs is not insured.

An exception to the above-mentioned point would be going to a reputable training center. However, most trainers would ask for your puppy to at least have the first vaccination completed.

 booster vaccine will be administered to your dog at one year of age for your dog to be fully vaccinated. You can also continue to administer booster doses to your dog every 1 to 2 years of his or her life.

Can a dog who has been previously vaccinated suffer from parvovirus infection?

Even though no vaccination can give you a guarantee of hundred percent effectiveness, the canine parvovirus vaccine has been observed to be very effective and provides a good level of protection from the virus. It is highly unlikely and rarely observed that a properly vaccinated dog would get infected by the canine parvovirus.

However, if your dog comes in contact with another dog who is actively shedding parvovirus particles, you should get your dog an early booster vaccination.

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Can a dog suffer from parvovirus twice in a lifetime?

Even though it is not impossible, it is highly unlikely that a dog who has previously recovered from the parvovirus infection would get it again.

The immunity to parvovirus has been observed to last for many years.

However, this in no way indicates that your dog should not get the booster vaccines for canine parvovirus or not get vaccinated against the parvovirus in case he or she has recovered from the disease in the past. Routine vaccinations are a must part of good dog care regimen and should strictly be followed.

Conclusion

Get your dog all the vaccinations he or she needs. Never miss out on any booster doses. Do not take your puppy outside unless the vaccinations have been done. Have you ever had the unfortunate case of your dog suffering from parvovirus? What were the treatment strategies undertaken? How long did it take for your dog to recover from the parvovirus infection? Please let us know in the comment section below. If you have stories or anecdotes you wish to share with the world, contact me on any of the social media channels. If you found this article useful, consider subscribing so that I can send you dog care tips directly to your inbox.

See you in my next article
Shruti

 

 

 

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