To some dog owners, the mention of the word parvo is enough to send chills down their spine. Canine parvovirus (also known as CPV, CPV2, or parvo) is an extremely contagious and fatal virus affecting dogs. Dogs that are infected by the virus could fall sick very quickly and die in a matter of days. However, this disease is preventable.
What is Parvovirus
The parvovirus CPV2 is relatively new to our canine friends, having only been discovered in the late 1970s, which infects a dog’s gastrointestinal tracts. What makes the parvovirus so dreadful is its ease of spreading and its resilience. The virus is highly contagious and can spread quickly from dog to dog, especially in small, confined areas. That is why it is more likely reported in dog shelters and breeding houses.
The virus could spread by direct or indirect contact with an infected dog or its faeces. An infected dog may spread the virus before showing any sign of illness, and even after it is recovered. In addition, the virus can contaminate surfaces such as the kennel wall, food and water bowls, as well as a dog’s toys.
The virus is also very resilient, it can withstand heat, cold, humidity, drying, and survive for months. If an infected dog’s environment and belongings are not thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, the virus may simply infect other dogs who came in contact with the place. Without treatment, the virus could kill a dog in days, with a mortality rate of up to 91% if untreated. The virus is very similar to feline panleukopenia (or FPV, FPLV), which infect cats.
Signs of Parvovirus
If your dog is infected by the parvovirus, it may exhibit signs of the illness within 3 to 7 days, such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of weight
- Bloody diarrhoea
Initially, the dog may seem to be less active, refusing to move and play. It is usually followed by refusal to eat or drink. Secondary signs include vomiting and diarrhoea (usually bloody), which subsequently cause loss of weight and dehydration. A dog may die within 48 to 72 hours after showing the above signs. If your dog is showing the above signs, it must be considered as an emergency and a veterinarian must be consulted immediately.
Treatment for Parvovirus Infection
The parvovirus is a potentially fatal virus, and an infected dog will require intensive care and treatment. The survival of the dog is highly dependent on how soon the disease is diagnosed, and the age of the dog. Puppies and unvaccinated dogs are the most at risk for contracting parvovirus.
Like many viral infections, there is no specific medication for parvovirus infection. Treatments mainly focus on handling symptoms and maintaining the dog’s well-being until its immune system could fight off the virus. The infected dog will require hospitalisation. IV fluids will be given to combat dehydration, and medications to reduce vomiting as well as antibiotics will be provided.
While the mortality rate may be high for untreated, however, if a dog could survive for 3 to 5 days with proper treatment, it is likely to make a full recovery. Survival rates can approach 90% if dogs are treated well.
Prevention of Parvovirus
Parvovirus is a preventable disease. The two most important steps to prevent parvovirus infection is vaccination and maintaining good hygiene. Vaccines are usually administered for puppies aged 6 to 8 weeks old, with a booster given every 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age (usually 3 vaccinations altogether).
If a household has had a case of parvovirus infection before, thorough cleaning must be conducted before introduction of a new dog. The virus is extremely hardy, and only bleach is effective against it. A 1:10 dilution of bleach is required to disinfect and kill the virus.
It is undeniably scary to hear about parvovirus. However, it is important to understand that it is very preventable. If your puppy is unvaccinated, it should be kept in a safe environment. Even though sometimes a vaccinated dog can still be infected by the disease, it is generally safe to bring your dogs out once they have completed their vaccination course. If you suspect that your dog may be infected by the parvovirus, call your veterinarian immediately. Remember, early diagnosis and treatment can be very fruitful and save your dog’s life!