A disease that strikes fear in the heart of veterinary professionals and puppy owners alike—canine parvovirus—is experiencing an unprecedented surge in case numbers in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. This gastrointestinal condition has long been the reason many puppy owners wait to socialize their new fluffy family members. However, behavioral issues caused by inadequate positive exposure during the socialization period—3 to 14 weeks of age—can also lead to serious problems. With proper sanitation, common sense around other dogs, and appropriate vaccination, your new puppy can enjoy positive socialization and protection from this potentially fatal illness. 

How is canine parvovirus transmitted?

Parvovirus is a highly contagious disease spread by direct and indirect contact. Infectious dogs can contaminate the environment, people, dishes, bedding, and collars and leashes, easily transmitting the disease to other dogs. Viral pathogens are resistant to heat, cold, humidity, and drying, and can survive in the environment for long periods. Because of this extreme durability and ease of transmission, picking up after your dog when outside is critical to minimize infection. 

Why the sudden spike in puppy parvovirus cases?

BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital reports an alarming increase in the number of confirmed canine parvovirus cases during the coronavirus pandemic. Data from more than 90 BluePearl hospitals has shown a 70% jump in parvo cases this year, compared with the same time periods in the past five years.

While BluePearl’s chief medical officer states they are in the early stages of data analysis, and looking for possible causes for increase, potential factors may include:

  • Reserving appointments for patients requiring emergency care 
  • Disruptions in the timing or prevention of puppies receiving their full vaccination series, resulting in incomplete immunity
  • Adoption of shelter puppies prior to completion of their vaccination series
  • Increased exposure to parvovirus outdoors (e.g., dog parks, public parks, hiking trails)
  • Financial hardship (e.g., job loss, pay cuts) that prevent or delay pet owners from seeking routine vaccinations, including puppy vaccinations and boosters for adult dogs

With the potential for increased parvo exposure during the coronavirus pandemic, take extra precautions with a new puppy you welcome into your home, and with your older dog. 

What signs of parvovirus do I need to watch for in my puppy?

As a dog owner, and especially as a new puppy owner, be diligent in monitoring for possible parvo, because early detection offers the best prognosis against this deadly disease. Potential parvo indicators include: 

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Fever or hypothermia
  • Vomiting
  • Severe, often bloody, diarrhea

Without prompt treatment, persistent vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration, and damage to the intestines and immune system can lead to septic shock. Most parvo-related deaths occur 48 to 72 hours following the onset of clinical signs.

Can my other pets get parvovirus?

Since parvo is highly contagious, other household dogs can easily become infected if you have a parvo-positive pet. Your cat may also be at risk. Although pets have their own species-specific parvovirus strains—cats can become infected with panleukopenia—a mutated strain of the canine parvovirus. If your canine companion becomes infected, take proper hygiene precautions to protect all your pets.   

How can I keep my puppy safe from parvovirus?

You can ensure your four-legged friend is protected from this potentially life-threatening disease several ways, including:

  • Vaccinating — Vaccinate all your household pets, especially young puppies, on the appropriate schedule.
  • Good hygiene — Practice proper hygiene, and wash your hands after picking up your puppy’s stool.
  • Staying away — Keep your puppy away from potential infection hotbeds, such as dog parks and pet stores, until fully vaccinated.
  • Limiting interaction — Avoid interacting with unvaccinated dogs unless your pet is fully vaccinated, since you can bring home the parvovirus pathogen on your clothing or hands. 

Although parvovirus is a serious disease, with proper hygiene and precautions, your new puppy can still explore the world and undergo positive socialization. Ensure you avoid places that do not require pets to be vaccinated before entry, such as pet stores, although you can enroll your new pup in puppy classes. Age-appropriate vaccinations are required for enrollment in puppy classes, and your puppy will learn a great deal in their short socialization period that will affect their behavior throughout their entire life. By following these tips, your new pooch will grow up to be a healthy, happy, well-adjusted dog. 

Don’t wait to vaccinate your new furry friend—the consequences could be deadly. As soon as you welcome home your new puppy, give us a call at Airway Animal Clinic to schedule their first puppy visit, and get them vaccinated against parvo.