Canine parvovirus, commonly known as parvo, is a highly contagious viral disease that can cause serious illness and death in dogs. The first canine parvovirus was discovered in 1967. Since then a couple of different strains have emerged and have spread worldwide. It is a disease that strikes quickly and needs early treatment for victims to survive. Puppies and young dogs are most at risk, but certain breeds are also more susceptible than others.
Symptoms of Parvo
Lethargy, fever, vomiting, loss of appetite, depression and diarrhea containing blood are all symptoms of parvo. Other gastrointestinal problems can produce some of these symptoms so fecal tests and bloodwork often are used to confirm a diagnosis. Dogs quickly become dehydrated from fluid loss, which can lead to death before the immune system is able to fight the virus. The virus attacks the intestines, which affect fluid and nutrient absorption, further weakening the animal.
How is Parvo Transmitted?
The virus is transmitted from contact with an infected dog, but it does not have to be direct contact. A healthy dog can contract parvo by sniffing the feces left by an infected dog. Parvo can be transmitted via people, other animals, shoes, food bowls, car tires, pavement, carpets and blown by the wind. This makes it difficult to avoid, especially in urban areas with many dogs. Vaccination is the best way to protect a dog from parvo. To be sure you don't pass along parvo, clean areas where your dogs frequent with bleach and wash everything you can in bleach as well.
Which Dogs are Most at Risk?
Puppies and young dogs do not have a mature immune system and are at higher risk for contracting parvo. According to a study published in the "Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association," Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers and German shepherds have an increased risk of developing parvo while toy poodles and cocker spaniels have a decreased risk when compared with mixed breeds. The reason is unknown, but dogs older than 6 months and not neutered were twice as likely to develop parvo as their female counterparts. Parvo also is more likely to be contracted during July, August and September, the study said.
Survival Rates and Protection
Survival depends on how quickly the disease is diagnosed and treatment is started. It also depends on the age of the dog. Death rates in untreated dogs are over 70 percent. Treated dogs have a survival rate of 68 to 92 percent, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. Treatment consists of intravenous fluids, anti-nausea injections and antibiotics. Puppies should be vaccinated against parvo at 5 to 6 weeks old with boosters every three to four weeks until they are older than 3 months. Susceptible breeds should have boosters for even longer -- up to 22 weeks. A further booster is required after a year and in the early stages of pregnancy to ensure antibodies are passed on to puppies.