Parvovirus is a life-threatening infection that can stop puppies and adolescent dogs in their tracks. This viral disease can also occur in undervaccinated adult dogs. Parvo’s cardinal signs of profuse vomiting and bloody diarrhea rapidly lead to dehydration, and without treatment, more than half the dogs who contract parvovirus will die.
That’s an awful statistic, and, unfortunately, there are more terrible things about parvovirus. Our Top 10 list covers parvo’s gruesome, gritty details, from disease origin to why it is so deadly. But, so you don’t lose hope, we found a silver lining, and we end this blog post with some good news.
Reason #1: Parvo is new
Parvovirus is a relatively new addition to the world of canine viruses—it only emerged in the United States as a genetic mutation of feline parvovirus in the 1970s. At the time, dogs had no natural immunity against the deadly virus, and the dog population was devastated.
Reason #2: Parvo is hard to kill
The viral organism that causes parvo is smaller than most viruses and, unlike many viruses, the organism is not encased in a protective envelope. Disinfectants rely on breaking down these protective envelopes to effectively kill viruses, so they don’t work well on parvo. The lack of envelope also makes parvoviruses exceptionally hardy in the environment.
Reason #3: Dogs shed the virus in large volumes
Dogs who are infected with parvovirus shed enormous amounts of viral particles in their feces. When you add this to the fact that the virus is difficult to kill, it is easy to see how the virus was quickly distributed worldwide.
Reason #4: Parvo is impossible to escape
Parvo is ubiquitous. Every dog with a parvo infection sheds viral particles for up to two weeks post-infection, and this has been the case since the virus inception 50 years ago. Because this particular virus is so difficult to kill, you can safely assume it is found in nearly every nook and cranny of the planet.
Reason #5: Parvo is easily spread
Parvo is transmitted via the fecal-oral route, so every time your dog greets another dog’s hind end or mouths anything in the environment, she could be exposed to the virus.
Reason #6: Parvo replicates rapidly
Once parvovirus enters the bloodstream, it delivers a double whammy to a growing puppy’s body. This virus replicates in rapidly dividing cells, and both the gastrointestinal tract and bone marrow fit the bill.
- Parvovirus destroys intestinal cells, leaving the intestines unable to absorb nutrients and causing profuse bloody diarrhea and vomiting. The compromised intestinal tissues also allow digestive bacteria to enter the bloodstream, where they cause septicemia (i.e., blood poisoning).
- In the bone marrow, the virus targets the immune-system cells that are vital to fighting off illness. Without them, puppies can’t mount a proper immune response to both parvovirus and the secondary bacterial infection caused by their leaky gut.
Reason #7: Infected dogs are pitiful
There are no two ways about it—infected dogs feel terrible. Severe vomiting and foul-smelling bloody diarrhea are the cardinal signs of parvo, and affected dogs are profoundly lethargic. These pups are constantly nauseated, so they have no interest in food, and in between vomiting spells, you’ll likely find ropes of drool hanging from their mouth. They are a pitiful sight.
Reason #8: Parvo kills two ways
Parvo causes death in infected animals in two ways:
- Severe vomiting and diarrhea lead to dehydration and shock.
- Overwhelming bacterial infection in the blood gives way to septic shock and death.
Reason #9: Parvo is deadly
More than half the dogs infected with parvovirus will die without treatment, and a quarter of dogs will succumb to the disease, despite aggressive treatment.
Reason #10: Parvo has no cure
Because parvo is a virus, antibiotics cannot stop its progression. All we can do for a dog with parvo is provide supportive treatment until her immune system is strong enough to fight the virus on its own. Treatment typically requires several days of hospitalization for fluid therapy, anti-nausea medication, IV antibiotics if secondary bacterial infections are present, and, in some cases, blood or plasma transfusions.
Now—the good news
A highly effective vaccine, considered a core vaccine, is now available to protect your precious pooch from parvovirus. Core vaccines are those given to every dog regardless of her lifestyle. Remember—parvo is everywhere. You bring it into the house on your shoes, your kids bring it home on the football they were throwing in the park, and dogs are likely exposed hanging out in their own backyard. So, every dog, no matter the breed or size, should get vaccinated against parvo.
The parvovirus vaccine is given in a series of boosters in puppyhood, followed up with a booster at her one-year visit, and then as part of her core vaccines every year.
Parvovirus is easily avoidable simply by vaccinating your dog starting at 6 to 8 weeks of age. If you are unsure about your dog’s current vaccination status, call us to check. Her life may depend on it.