Canine Parvovirus

Canine parvovirus is one of the most highly contagious diseases that can affect a dog. Puppies, because of their age are even more susceptible if they contract the disease and most (about 80%) will die from the condition. It is because of this that all dog owners should be aware of the infection, especially if it has become prevalent in the area they live.

How is canine parvovirus spread?

Canine parvovirus is mostly spread through contact with faeces that contain the virus. The time from exposure of the virus to when symptoms are being displayed is from 7 to 14 days. Worryingly the virus is known to survive on other objects that have come into contact with the faeces or blood of an infected dog, for 5 months and even longer. Items such as clothing, food bowls, cage/kennel floors and even leads, can still harbour the virus. Should you come into contact with the virus, then the only method to ensure complete cleanliness on solid surfaces is by using a specialist detergent cleaner. These cleaners are specifically developed to combat the microorganisms that make up canine parvovirus. Materials such as clothes and bedding etc. can be washed at high temperatures. It goes without saying personal hygiene must be at its highest with complete hand washing, even if gloves worn (which they should be). Shoes should also be cleaned in a suitable solution.

What are the symptoms of canine parvovirus?

Although many adult dogs exposed to the virus may show very few symptoms, puppies, especially those under 6 months will display many more. Puppies under the age of 12 weeks can show the most severe symptoms. The signs of infection are:

  • Diarrhoea (most common symptom - known as parvovirus enteritis)
  • Vomiting (which is often severe)
  • Dehydration
  • dark or bloody faeces
  • High temperature

Parvovirus enteritis causes dogs of all ages severe pain and is extremely distressing. The virus attacks the intestine, so the dog passes a mixture of diarrhoea and blood and this is characterised by a very unpleasant smell. Puppies that display the symptoms rarely live past 2 days from the onset of the disease.


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How is canine parvovirus diagnosed?

Because puppies and adult dogs sometimes have bloody diarrhoea (haemorrhagic gastric enteritis) with or without vomiting, many can be misdiagnosed as having canine parvovirus. A complete examination by a veterinary surgeon and blood testing in a laboratory are only way of positively diagnosing the infection. During this testing for a proper diagnosis, the animal may still be treated in the same way while the tests are run, to prevent further deterioration and suffering.

How is canine parvovirus treated?

The single and most important treatment for the condition is hospitalisation in a veterinary centre and the replacement of fluids that are lost through diarrhoea and vomiting. This will normally consist of putting the animal on a drip and administering a balanced electrolyte solution (fluid therapy). This then helps replace important substances back to the bloodstream and assist in rehydrating the dog. If the dog is completely collapsed, the veterinary surgeon may decide to place more than one drip set into the dog, to allow faster rehydration and help fight the shock the dog will be undergoing. Because it is sometimes necessary to restrict food due to severe vomiting, specialist nutrients can also be given intravenously to assist giving the dog energy etc. In very severe cases and only where the situation allows, a blood transfusion may also be an option. Drug therapy can also be administered if necessary and on the separate merits of each case. This therapy can consist of:

  • Antibiotics - given to fight secondary bacterial infections brought on by the disease.
  • Antiemetics - these are drugs to help reduce vomiting (but do not always stop it).
  • Steroids - these may be given if the animal is in shock to help boost the immune system.
  • Broad spectrum worming medication - animals with intestinal worms seem more prone to the disease. This medication is normally given once other symptoms subside.

How can I stop my animal getting canine parvovirus?

The best and safest way to help combat this disease is by vaccination. The normal protocol is for puppies to be vaccinated at 6 to 8 weeks and then again at 10 weeks. Using this protocol the puppy should have built up a good level of immunisation around a week after the 2nd injection. Like most viruses it has the ability to mutate and new strains are becoming more common and resistant to drugs. This is why regular boosters are important and recommended by veterinary professionals. Some puppies can have the virus strain before they can be vaccinated and this is due to maternal antibodies present in their mother's milk, during the first 24 hours after the puppies birth. During this time the puppy is susceptible to the full-blown virus. Only when the antibody levels drop and the puppy is at the right age for vaccination, does the animal reach a safer period. If prompt veterinary treatment of a puppy infected with canine parvovirus is successful and the puppy recovers, then it has been found they can be immune to reinfection for at least 20 months and even possibly for the rest of their life. Even so vaccination against all the canine diseases is just as important.

Conclusion

There is no doubt canine parvovirus is a killer disease in adult dogs and especially in puppies. Even with the very best in veterinary care, nursing and drug therapy the mortality rate for puppies and adult dogs infected with canine parvovirus is extremely high. The only way to prevent and reduce the spread of this disease is by vaccination and regular booster injections. It is dangerous to assume that all dogs in your local park are vaccinated, as many are not, and the risks of your own dog come into contact with this disease might still be high. Owners that have puppies or unvaccinated dogs that show any symptoms similar to the disease should contact their veterinary surgeon immediately.


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