Parvovirus



When you have a puppy, it's vital to protect them with immunisations. MyPetrinarian introduces you to the best source of treatment.


Photograph: iStock

Text: Tarek Abu Sham


While you are probably familiar with the rabies vaccine, there is one that's just as important: the parvovirus vaccine, often given in combination with protection against distemper.


What is Parvovirus?

Parvovirus is a virus that is typically thought of as affecting dogs, but it can also affect wild animals, such as raccoons. Generally, dogs that are affected are young puppies because properly vaccinated adult dogs produce a strong immune response. The virus attacks rapidly dividing cells, particularly those found in the gastrointestinal tract.


According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, the virus incubates within a dog for roughly three to seven days. As it begins to move through the body, the virus likes to hide within lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. Clinical signs may start off as a dog showing lethargy or inappetence. Still, it often progresses quickly to vomiting and/or diarrhoea, as the cells lining the small intestine are affected. Parvovirus can also affect bone marrow cells, which may lead to anaemia and low circulating white blood cell counts. In young puppies, it can even affect the cells of the heart and lead to cardiac damage.


Treatment for Parvovirus

If your veterinarian is suspicious that your dog has parvovirus, they will likely run an ELISA SNAP test that takes just a few minutes to run on a sample of fresh faecal material. The dog will need to be confined away from other dogs, and may also need to be hospitalised for several days.


"The best method of protecting dogs against parvovirus is to make sure that they receive regular vaccinations."

The mainstay of treatment for parvovirus is supportive care. Because of the intensity of the vomiting and diarrhoea, many dogs need to receive supplemental fluids, often given intravenously. Some pets also need feeding tubes placed to help maintain their caloric intake. In more extreme cases, veterinarians may have to provide blood transfusions to dogs with anaemia caused by the parvovirus infection.


Other medications that are often used in parvovirus include anti-nausea medications, such as maropitant or ondansetron. Antibiotics may be indicated to help prevent secondary bacterial infections. Probiotics or anti-diarrheal medicines are also sometimes used.


Vaccinating against Parvovirus and preventing infection

The best method of protecting dogs against parvovirus is to make sure that they receive regular vaccinations. The typical vaccine protocol is to receive boosters 3 weeks apart until a puppy is at least 16 to 18 weeks old, followed by an annual booster. After that series, most vaccines are labelled to be administered every 3 years.


If your dog has been affected by parvovirus, there will be some lasting immunity to a specific strain. Other pets that come into your household will not have that same protection, and your infected dog may have spread copious amounts of viral particles around your dog's living space and yard. Few cleaning products can destroy the virus, but bleach mixed at a specific concentration (generally 1 part bleach to 30 parts water), is considered effective. Over time, outside forces, such as the rain, wind, and sunlight, can destroy viral particles, making them less likely to affect other pets that you bring into the household.


Parvovirus is a potentially deadly disease in dogs because it attacks rapidly dividing cells and generally produces a very acute illness. An accurate diagnosis and supportive care are essential to give infected dogs the best prognosis.


To try to minimise the chance of your dog developing parvovirus, you should ensure they receive the vaccine appropriately, following your veterinarian's advice. Until your dog is fully vaccinated, you should avoid taking them to high-traffic areas, such as dog parks or kennels.

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