Canine parvovirus infection (CPV), which is commonly known as parvovirus or simply parvo, is a contagious illness in dogs that is usually spread by coming in contact with infected dog feces. Because it is a viral infection, there is no cure for parvovirus at this time. However, with proper treatment, the symptoms of parvo in dogs can be appropriately managed and mitigated and veterinarians and pet owners can work together to take special precautions to avoid secondary bacterial infections from developing.
Shannon Wells, director of operations at Kansas City Pet Project, knows the symptoms and treatment process of parvo in dogs all too well. After all, Shannon has been recognized by the Petco Foundation for her selfless dedication to treating parvo in dogs after creating a special Parvo Ward at the underfunded animal control center. The Parvo Ward, the efforts of which Wells documents on Instagram at @thisparvolife, has since saved more than 500 puppies from parvo-related euthanization.
“Generally, parvovirus is associated with puppies, but dogs of any age can get parvo if they have not been vaccinated or are under-vaccinated,” explains Shannon, who received the Unsung Hero Award for her anti-parvo work from the Petco Foundation. “Puppies are most at-risk because they have underdeveloped immune systems.”
Learn more about the Parvo Ward, Shannon and Shannon’s Unsung Hero Award here:
Some studies indicate that certain breeds are especially at risk for parvo. Some of these include black Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, English Springer Spaniels and Alaskan Huskies.
One of the most crucial game-changers in parvo prevention is vaccination. And not just one, Wells warns, but a string of vaccinations that work together to effectively prevent parvo in dogs.
“It’s important for pet owners to know that one vaccine is not enough to protect most dogs,” Shannon says. “Veterinarians recommend a series of vaccinations between six and 16 weeks of age to ensure that the puppy is fully vaccinated.”
While it’s true that puppies are often associated with being at risk for parvo — due to their feeble and inexperienced immune systems — young pups aren’t the only dogs who can contract the virus.
“The single most important thing that a pet owner can do is vaccinate their dog,” Shannon adds. “There’s simply no other way to protect dogs from this deadly virus. Puppies need a series of vaccines to fully protect them. Owners who acquire an adult dog with an unknown vaccination history should also prioritize getting their pet vaccinated. We’ve treated a dog as old as 13 years of age, so it’s not just a puppy virus.”
As mentioned, a series of anti-parvovirus vaccines are crucial to preventing parvo in dogs, whether your dog is a puppy or a senior. The most common offender of CVP infections is the canine parvovirus type 2b, a genetic alteration of the original. CVP spreads by direct contact with an infected dog’s feces — oftentimes fecal-to-oral.
Parvo is ingested orally when a dog comes in contact with infected fecal matter. They can even ingest this virus through self-grooming if they are licking paws that have come in contact with the infected fecal matter. Parvo enters the dog’s mouth orally and makes its way to the bloodstream where it attacks both the intestines and the heart.
Within a matter of days, the dog is then able to spread the virus through his own feces.
As mentioned, because parvo in dogs is spread by direct contact with infected feces, even adult dogs are at risk for parvo and their owners need to take appropriate preventative precautions.
“Adult dogs are recommended to receive a parvo vaccine every one to three years, depending on the type of vaccine their vet offers,” Shannon adds.
Symptoms of parvo in dogs can often become debilitating, which is why it’s important to not only catch parvo early but for pet owners to work with their vet to effectively minimize symptoms.
“Symptoms of parvo include vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy,” Shannon says. “There are other medical conditions that can have similar symptoms, but if a puppy is showing even one of these signs, a vet visit is recommended. Early diagnosis is important to successful treatment,” she adds.
CVP is the main viral cause of acute canine enteritis, which oftentimes leads to severe damage of a dog’s intestinal barrier.
What does the diagnosis process of parvo in dogs look like? If your dog is exhibiting any of the aforementioned symptoms — vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy, for example — a visit to the veterinarian is highly recommended.
“Parvo can be diagnosed quickly at a veterinary clinic using a test kit that works similar to a home pregnancy test,” Shannon explains. “The test kit uses a swab to collect a fecal sample from the dog’s rectum and provides a result in 10 minutes. It’s easy and provides the veterinarians and pet owners the information they need to make decisions about medical care.”
Once parvo in dogs is diagnosed, immediate treatment begins to ensure that the dog feels his best and isn’t addled down with unnecessary and debilitating symptoms. It is also crucial to remain vigilant about preventing other secondary bacterial infections that may accompany (and exacerbate) parvo in dogs. One such method is to keep dogs properly hydrated to avoid dehydration.
“Treatment for parvo involves supporting the body while the virus is shed. Fluids are given either through IV or subcutaneously (under the skin in the shoulder area) to prevent dehydration,” explains Shannon. “Anti-vomiting meds are also given to stop the loss of fluids. Antibiotics are administered to prevent sepsis. Dogs with parvo are contagious for up to 14 days but are generally stable sooner than that with supportive care.”
So, what is the prognosis for parvo in dogs? Parvo in dogs is extremely serious and can result in death, especially when it is overlooked by shelters, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a parvo diagnosis has to be fatal. There are ways to make parvo manageable and most importantly, there are many actions you can take to prevent parvo in dogs in the first place.
“Early diagnosis is key to successful parvo treatment,” Shannon explains. “Dogs who receive timely treatment have an 80% chance of survival. For dogs with additional medical issues compromising the immune system, such as fleas or intestinal parasites, or if treatment is delayed, the chance of recovery decreases.”
Through the massive strides Shannon Wells and her anti-Parvo clinic have taken to better dog’s overall health, it’s clear that we can make a difference in parvo in dogs. And even prevent parvo in dogs.
“Many animal shelters don’t treat parvo cases, because the virus is contagious to other dogs. But we’ve been able to demonstrate that it can be done even in an old municipal shelter building by converting a tiny 100-square-foot locker room into a quarantine space,” Shannon says of her clinic.
She adds, “I believe every sick dog deserves treatment and a chance at recovery. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying. The good news is that the odds are in our favor if we are willing to try. And even when it doesn’t go our way, we take comfort in knowing we did what we could to treat each dog’s life with value.”
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