Table of Contents
Parvo (the canine parvovirus or CPV for short) is a highly contagious illness developing because of virus that manifests itself in two different ways – intestinal and a less common cardiac form. The majority of all cases happen with puppies between the ages of 6 weeks and6 months. This serious and fatal disease can be prevented with the help of early vaccination (more about Puppy vaccination schedule and costs). There is a speculation that CPV is originated from cats and was once a form of panleukopenia that mutated into the present day CPV. Parvo infects mammals only and doesn’t transmit to humans. In this article, we are going to reveal everything that is worth your consideration about this deadly illness.
History Behind Parvo
Parvovirus has a short name CPV2 according to the viral nomenclature. It is a relatively new disease that was first documented in the late 70’s. First recognized in 1978, two years later, it spread in global proportion. The CPV2 virus (also known as parvo) is similar to the feline panleukopenia, which is also a strain of parvo. They are 98% identical with the only difference in two amino acids. There is evidence that the canine parvo is similar to parvo found in foxes and raccoons and also has evident resemblance with the mink enteritis.
Scientists outlined that, it is possible that CPV2 mutated from some unidentified parvo strain that was/still is widespread among the wild animals (mainly predators). There is another parvo strain named CPV2b FP84 that provokes disease in a small percentage of domestic cats, but the common FPV vaccination seems to work against it. As for the CPV2, it doesn’t affect cats at all and mildly affects raccoons and minks, but speaking of dogs, it infects every single one of them if the host is not vaccinated against it.
Between 1979 and 1984 two other strains of CPV2 marked as “a” and “b” were discovered. Nowadays the majority of all cases of infection are blamed on these two strains. As all viruses and bacteria evolve with the time and treatment applied against them, the CPV2 made advancement too: the present day strain is likely to differ from the originally discovered.
How Do Puppies Get Parvo?
All viral diseases in their origin are genetic diseases. It doesn’t mean that certain puppies and adult dogs are prone to it more than others – every canine can get infected. It means that the CPV2b strain had a long road of evolving before it became widespread. All dogs are susceptible to this disease, but several risk factors add virulence to the already contagious condition: direct contact with an infected dog or fecal-oral contact is the most common. Infected dog’s stool contains high concentration of the virus and thus, when another dog sniffs it, it has the direct contact with the virus. If you accidentally step into feces and bring it home on shoe sole, there is a high possibility that your dog will get infected. There is also evidence that the virus can live within the soil for the whole year and the weather changes (low/high temperatures) do not affect it. If you accidentally step on feces and bring it home, it is highly recommended to keep your dog away from the shoes and the hallway, seal the room and clean the whole area with household bleach, which is the only home detergent that can kill the virus.
Another possibility for the parvo to find its young host is improper vaccination or absence of vaccination at all. Breeding kennels and shelters depending on the responsibility of their owners, may keep dozens of improperly vaccinated puppies that represent serious threat to the whole area. There is also a proven fact that Pit Bulls, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers, Alaskan sled dogs and English Springer Spaniels are exceptionally vulnerable to the CPV, but scientific reasons and explanation for this are yet to be determined. Compelled medication intake (due to other disease) may suppress the immune system making the puppy’s organism also vulnerable to the parvo.
Symptoms of Parvo in Puppies
As we have mentioned above, signs of parvo most often manifest themselves in the intestine and less often in the cardiac. Let’s take a look at both of them.
The intestinal form is passed with the oral contact via feces, infected soil or other fomites (contagious objects or substances that may carry the virus). The first step that CPV takes after being swallowed is to replicate the lymphoid tissue in dog’s throat. After that, the virus gets into the bloodstream and thus attacks all nearby cells, duplicating itself in geometric progression. Lymph nodes and bone marrow cells by default are the fastest in dividing and hence the virus depletes healthy lymphocytes found in these two types of tissues. The virus also affects intestine, but the outcome of infection is even worse and reactive: bloodstream may bleed and already contaminated dead cells provoke sepsis that results in quick death – in a matter of several days only. However, should you begin treatment as early as possible, death can be prevented.
The cardiac parvovirus is relatively seldom met. Signs of parvo in this case are described as respiratory or cardiovascular failure. This type of manifestation is often met in puppies under the age of eight weeks and they are likely to have contacted the virus from their mother while still being in utero. The virus targets the heart making the muscles feeble, not able to withstand the heart beating and rhythm. Unfortunately, this type of virus can be reactive: poor puppy suffers a couple of days due to respiratory condition or doesn’t show any sign of distress and dies eventually. Veterinarians say that puppy’s heart when being infected by the CPV develops necrosis and thus the heart in the end stops beating. However, those dogs that survives the disease (a very little percentage), show evidence of fibrous tissue growth that causes complications so that the heart works twice as hard. Luckily for all puppy owners that bought their dogs at breeders’, the proper vaccination is given routinely to every puppy born. As the confirmation of this fact, you will be presented a health and vaccination certificates when purchasing a puppy (see about Where to get a puppy).
The incubation period of parvo is 5-10 days. There are a handful of symptoms indicating that the dog is infected, but there are evident ones like lethargic condition, fever, vomit and diarrhea. Also, it is possible to notice blood in dog’s stool. Should any of the symptoms manifest, you should take your dog to the vet clinic as soon as possible because, vomiting and diarrhea cause severe dehydration and blood in stool may be an indication of internal bleeding.
Lethargy is the first sign that you should pay attention to.
Lethargic dog will not respond to any stimulus like treat, favorite food or toy.
In order to determine whether the puppy is infected with the CPV, such tests as physical examination, abdomen radiograph and ultrasound, urine analysis and biochemical screening are taken. Chemical blood profile will also be performed and will tell for sure whether it is the CPV or something else. The blood profile is very helpful as it shows the level of white blood cells. Biochemical and urine analysis show high liver enzymes presence and electrolytic imbalance. The abdomen radiograph reveals the possible intestinal obstruction while the ultrasound shows enlarged lymph nodes. When visiting the vet clinic for screening, please, take all papers on your puppy: the health certificate, and the history of vaccination. Don’t forget to gather the sample of puppy’s stool/urine/vomit and show it to the specialist so that he can detect the virus with a microscope.
Before we proceed with recommendations and helpful advice, please read the following disclaimer.
Under no circumstances ever should you substitute the actually helpful veterinary check-up, control and proper treatment carried out by certified and experienced personnel for your personal means of treatment! The CPV is an extremely dangerous disease that may result in death of your pet if you do not take your pet to the veterinary clinic immediately.
This disclaimer is trustworthy, as it has been proven by countless lives saved as well as unsaved. Owners may be very literate and intelligent in terms of care but, unless you are a certified and experienced specialist yourself, never treat your dog with the help of home remedies. And remember one simple truth – the early the virus is detected and your puppy hospitalized, the greater the chances of your puppy survival.
A puppy with parvo should be hospitalized at first suspicion of CPV infection in order to receive adequate and helpful treatment. The treatment consists of several approaches:
- Colloids/crystalloid IV fluids administration.
- Anti-nausea medication.
- Antibiotics injections.
All components used in treatment depend on the severity of the disease, size and age of the puppy. Some dogs may be very sensitive to certain meds, hence only vet can figure out which cocktail of antibiotics, anti-nausea meds and infusion fluids is the best for certain puppy. However, there are other approaches that are very helpful in stabilizing and transfusion of blood plasma in some of them. This unique procedure helps to elevate the immune response of the infected organism. This is how it’s done: blood plasma from a dog that survived the virus contains antibodies to it. This plasma is transfused to the infected dog. However, no studies can state that his method is more effective than the traditional ones (see also Aaha.org).
Since the CPV is so deadly, the best treatment will always be the prevention. Beginning at 6 weeks old, all puppies must be vaccinated against it. The vaccination gradually continues till the puppy is 20 weeks old. Unfortunately, even a vaccinated puppy can eventually be infected with the CPV as the immunity that passed with mother’s milk may interfere with the vaccine and eradicate its positive influence on the immune system of the puppy. Nevertheless, vaccination is the best preventive measure. Simple and proper hygiene can also be decisive. For instance: you come across someone with a lovely puppy in the park, sit by for a couple of words, touch the lovely creature and voila – you are the transmitter of the virus now. Don’t worry – you won’t get ill, but your puppy will surely do. This is why after touching any other animal beyond your home, wash your hands carefully!
If your puppy unfortunately gets infected, it is time to take serious measures that comprise the following:
Isolate your puppy – put him in the cage so that he doesn’t infect other dogs that may be around.
Disinfect all surfaces that your puppy had contact with using a bleach/water solution (1:10).
While the puppy is constantly rehydrated, the vet will administer antibiotics: ampicillin, baytril, gentamicin, cefazolin, amikacin, trimethoprim-sulfa are administered separately or in combination. Antibiotics will suppress any inflammatory processes that may develop in body at the very moment. These unwanted inflammations may suppress the immune system of the puppy so that it won’t make it; this is why antibiotics are used at all times.
Anti-nausea meds keep the balance of electrolytes and fluids relatively normal. Dolasetron, maropitant, metoclopramide, ondansetron, chlorpromazine are the most often used.
Every puppy treated against the parvo takes certain volume of meds prescribed based on the weight, size and age. Treating a puppy against this serious disease needs special approach, the exact meds to be used and complete understanding of how the treatment must be done to be successful.
After the treatment is done and your puppy is recuperating, pay attention to the vet instructions: how to prevent possible diseases in future, how to feed the puppy, how to take care of his health, how to prevent unwanted side effects and so on (more about How to take care of your new puppy).
Remember, that only certified vet and timely adequate treatment may ensure the positive outcome of this unfortunate situation of your puppy!