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Parvo in Dogs: Let's Talk Signs, Symptoms and Safety

Parvo in dogs is highly contagious and frequently deadly, but it is also relatively easy to prevent.

 |  Dec 11th 2013  |   0 Contributions


Canine parvovirus, or parvo, is a viral infection first discovered in the 1970s. Parvo in dogs is highly contagious and frequently deadly when it strikes, but it is also relatively easy to prevent. The risk of parvo in puppies is greatest, and in households with multiple dogs. The parvo virus is transmitted through contact with feces where parvo is present and is contracted orally. Parvo can remain on any surface your dogs or puppies come into contact with, so keeping your dogs and their environment clean and disinfected is important, but the key preventative measure for parvo is vaccination.

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Parvo is highly contagious and often deadly. Dog with bandages by Shutterstock

Parvo in dogs spreads very quickly through contact with infected fecal matter. Dogs ingest the virus through self-grooming, or through contact with other dogs who have, or have had, parvo. Parvo enters at the mouth and moves into the bloodstream, from which it attacks the intestines or the heart. Within a few days of infection, a dog can begin to spread parvo through its own feces.

In households with many dogs, one with parvo can infect others or make them carriers. Parvo in puppies can also be contracted at birth, especially in at-risk breeds, including Black Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, English Springer Spaniels, and Alaskan Huskies.

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Parvo spreads through contact with fecal matter. Man walking his dog and ready to pick up after it, in downtown Centre City, Philadelphia by Shutterstock.

Parvo symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment

Recognizing parvo symptoms quickly is vital. Left untreated, 80 to 90 percent of parvo in dogs can prove fatal in days. If you notice symptoms of parvo in your dog or puppy, your veterinarian can quickly confirm the diagnosis. Symptoms of parvo begin to present from three to 10 days after infection.

The most obvious signs of parvo are diarrhea and vomiting, along with loss of appetite and energy. Diarrhea in dogs is a key indicator, especially when it contains blood and has a foul odor. Fever is not a consistent indicator, since parvo symptoms in dogs can present with or without a high temperature.

Dogs with canine parvovirus also suffer from dehydration, which puts them at further risk of other infections. A fecal test called ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay) can determine in less than half an hour whether a dog has parvo, though other tests may be required. If your dog has contracted parvo, treatment can be costly and time-intensive, involving fluids, anti-nausea medications, and antibiotics. In milder cases, the dog may require hospitalization for up to a week while dehydration or intestinal damage is addressed. Severe cases of parvo can require two weeks of treatment. Dogs that have been treated for parvo should be kept away from other dogs and sources of possible infection for up to six weeks.

Good news! You can prevent parvo!

This all sounds dire, I know. However, it’s not all doom and gloom, because your dog doesn’t need to be at risk in the first place! Fortunately, we do not live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland besmirched with dog poop. So, how can you keep your dog from contracting parvo? Since the virus cannot be killed and even an asymptomatic dog can be a carrier, prevention is key. The easiest ways to prevent parvo in dogs is to make sure they are vaccinated and to keep their environment clean.

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Minimize the risk of parvo by keeping your dog's environment clean and disinfected. Small dog lying at sunny veranda near items for cleaning and rubber boots by Shutterstock.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, vaccination should start early with puppies, generally around six weeks of age. A common and popular combination vaccine is the five-in-one shot, administered about once a month over four months. This vaccine not only works to build up your puppy’s immunity to parvo, but also protects your new pal from hepatitis, parainfluenza, leptospirosis, and distempter.

To minimize the risk of parvo in puppies, try to keep them away from other dogs until the course of vaccination is complete. If your puppy is a member of one of the at-risk breeds listed above, vaccination should be an even greater priority. Booster immunizations every few years are an excellent idea as well to keep your dog healthy and happy. Households with multiple dogs should make sure all dogs are vaccinated and that their environment is regularly cleaned.

Am I at risk?

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Vaccination is key to preventing parvo in dogs. German dog in clinic by Shutterstock.

Parvo is not a zoonotic disease. It cannot spread between dogs and people. Though it's not transmissible between species, anything or anyone who has been in contact with the virus can spread it to a dog. Cleanliness and hygiene are your next line of defense against parvo. Since your dog's mouth is the entry point for canine parvovirus, cleaning food dishes and water bowls is an easy and important part of prevention. A solution of bleach is the most effective household disinfectant to use. If you have carpets, vacuum them regularly. Check your shoes before you enter the house; if you’ve stepped in dog poop, you can track parvo into the home. Keep yourself, your children, and your dogs clean and you can prevent parvo.

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