Canine Parvoviral Enteritis "Parvo"
Canine parvoviral enteritis or "Parvo" is caused by a virus that is transmitted between dogs through direct contact with infected animals or by contact with an infected animals feces or saliva. Parvo can also be transmitted on the hands and clothes of people who pet an infected dog and then touch another dog. The virus is very contagious and very hardy and can survive on the ground in the soil for a year or more.
Any breed of dog can contract parvovirus. Rottwiellers, Dobermans and Staffordshire terriers are especially susceptible to the disease. Most at risk for infection are young puppies often between 2 months and 6 months of age. The disease is not known to be transmissible to other species such as cats or people.
Dogs that are infected with parvo become ill very quickly. They stop eating, start vomiting and eventually develop a severe diarrhea. The virus attacks the cells lining the intestinal wall causing a severe, often bloody diarrhea and some sloughing of the intestinal wall. Approximately 85% of dogs that are infected with parvo and do not receive in-hospital care will die of dehydration as a result of the severe vomiting and diarrhea associated with the disease. Animals that receive in-hospital care have about an 80% survival rate. Treatment in hospital consists of providing intravenous fluids to keep the animal hydrated, antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections and good nursing care. Some animals that are more severely infected may need a transfusion of plasma from another dog to help them recover. In-hospital treatment is often very expensive. As there is no specific cure for parvo the goal of treatment is to provide supportive care (intravenous fluids) until the animal fights off the virus and is able to eat and drink without vomiting. Length of stay in the hospital ranges from 3 days to 14 days. The average stay is 5-7 days. Every case is different. It is impossible to predict at the onset of treatment how long an animal will need to stay or whether it will survive or not. Even with the best of treatment some dogs with parvo will die of other complications of the disease such as perforated or twisted intestines. The majority of dogs treated in the hospital for parvo will survive.
Once an animal has recovered from the parvovirus it is not likely they will get it again. Immunity to the disease after infection lasts for several years. Most dogs that recover from the disease have no lasting long term problems as a result of their illness. Once an animal has started to recover from the disease they will still shed the virus in their feces for up to 6 weeks. During this time the owners of an infected dog should keep the animal on their own property and away from other dogs. The property where a parvo dog has been kept will have live virus present for over a year. It is not recommended to bring unvaccinated animals on to the premises for at least 2-3 years. Parvo can be transmitted on the hands, clothes and shoes of people touching one dog and then going to another home and touching another dog. Be especially careful not to touch or pet any unvaccinated dogs for at least 6 weeks after a dog has recovered from parvo. The virus can be killed with bleach or through washing clothes in detergent and hot water.
The best treatment for parvo is prevention. There are vaccinations available that will prevent the disease and keep your pet healthy. Young puppies should be vaccinated for parvovirus at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age. A puppy does not have full immunity to the disease until its final vaccination and can still contract the disease in between vaccinations. During this time it is recommended owners keep puppies on their own property and only allow them to visit with other vaccinated, healthy dogs until the puppy's final set of shots. If you have had a dog with parvo on your property it is not recommended that you bring the puppy home until it has had its final vaccination. Once a puppy has had a series of three shots, yearly boosters are recommended to keep immunity to the virus at its peak. The vaccinations are very effective at preventing the disease and are far less expensive than treating a dog for parvo.