A diagnosis of canine parvovirus or distemper strikes fear into the hearts of dog owners. Young puppies are particularly vulnerable to these often fatal diseases. Fortunately, puppies can receive initial shots for "parvo" and distemper just about the time they are weaned from their mothers. Ideally, your puppy should have his first vaccination before you bring him home. If not, schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. Both diseases are highly contagious.
If your puppy is properly and promptly vaccinated, you should not have to deal with parvo, which attacks his gastrointestinal tract. Signs of parvovirus infection include appetite loss, vomiting and severe, and diarrhea. Parvo can kill puppies very quickly. If your puppy does come down with parvo, the survival odds are against him. Intense, aggressive therapy and a significant period of veterinary hospitalization -- one to two weeks -- might save him. Treatment consists of antibiotic administration, intravenous fluids and various medications. You could spend thousands of dollars and still lose your dog. Consult your veterinarian about proper vaccination of your puppy.
The canine distemper virus affects a puppy's entire system. Distemper symptoms include fever, appetite loss, discharge from the nose and eyes, breathing difficulties and vomiting and diarrhea. Some dogs develop neurological problems, including head tilting, circling and paralysis. While emergency veterinary treatment might save dogs exhibiting the initial signs of distemper, dogs with neurological issues usually succumb or require euthanization. Treatment includes intravenous fluid therapy, antibiotics, pain medication and anticonvulsant drugs.
Parvovirus and distemper vaccines form part of a canine's core immunizations, along with rabies and hepatitis. Puppies usually receive the parvovirus and distemper vaccines in a combination shot that also protects them from hepatitis and parainfluenza. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, because the canine distemper virus resembles the virus responsible for human measles, the vaccine for the measles virus provides immunity to the canine distemper virus when there's a high level of distemper antibodies in the mother. In the past, puppies received the measles vaccine intramuscularly for the first time between the ages of 6 to 7 weeks, followed by two more shots by the time the puppy is 3 to 4 months old. However, most puppies today receive the combination vaccine.
Your puppy should receive his first distemper and parvovirus vaccination between the ages of 6 to 8 weeks. He receives a booster three to four weeks later, with another booster three to four weeks after that. By the time he's 14 to 16 weeks of age, he should receive all of his core puppy vaccines. He then receives an annual booster shot. Dogs receive the initial rabies shot at the age of 1 year.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.