What Every Puppy Owner Needs to Know About Parvo in Puppies

What you need to know about Parvo

Parvo in puppies is a potentially deadly disease caused by the canine parvovirus, which is highly contagious and spreads through direct or indirect contact with infected dogs or contaminated objects. Puppies between six weeks and six months old are the most susceptible to the virus, but it can affect dogs of any age. Symptoms of parvo in puppies include bloody diarrhea, vomiting, fever, lethargy, anorexia, weight loss, weakness, dehydration, and depression. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the survival rate for dogs treated by a veterinarian with parvo can range from 68% to 92%, depending on the severity of the case and the quality of care received. Prevention is possible through proper vaccination and avoiding contact with unvaccinated dogs or contaminated environments. It is crucial to understand the symptoms, treatment options, and preventive measures to keep your puppy safe from parvo.

What is Parvo?

Parvo is a highly contagious viral infection that affects puppies and is caused by the canine parvovirus. The virus can spread through direct contact with an infected dog or by indirect contact with contaminated objects such as food or water bowls, collars and leashes, and even the hands and clothing of people who handle infected dogs. Indirect transmission can also occur when a person who has recently been exposed to an infected dog touches your puppy. Puppies are especially susceptible to parvo as they are exposed to the virus every time they sniff, lick or consume infected feces. To avoid parvo, it is crucial to use a parvo disinfectant.

The Merck Veterinary Manual classifies parvo as a disease of the stomach and small intestines since this is where the virus does the most damage. The virus primarily infects the small intestine, destroying cells, impairing absorption, and disrupting the gut barrier. Apart from the stomach and small intestines, parvo can also affect the bone marrow, lymphopoietic tissues, and in some cases, even the heart. It is essential to vaccinate your puppy against the canine parvovirus, as it is a highly prevalent and potentially deadly disease in puppies. Treatment for parvo involves hospitalization, aggressive supportive care, and monitoring for complications such as secondary bacterial infections.

Why Do Puppies Get Parvo?

Puppies between the ages of six weeks and six months are the most susceptible to parvo. Puppies under six weeks old still have some of their mother’s antibodies, assuming the dam received her full series of parvo vaccinations. Vaccination against parvo usually begins when puppies are around 6, 8, 12, and 16 weeks old. Puppies remain vulnerable to the disease until 5 to 7 days after they have received all four shots in their vaccination series. During this period, owners need to take extra precautions to prevent their puppies from contracting the virus. To develop adequate protection, puppies should receive a dose of canine parvovirus vaccine between 14 and 16 weeks of age, regardless of how many doses they received earlier.

Parvo in puppies can be almost 100% fatal without medical intervention. While the survival rate can be as high as 92%, the extensive supportive care required for treatment can be expensive. Stress weakens the immune system of puppies, making the stress of weaning a potential risk factor for a more severe case of parvo. Additionally, a combination of parvo with a secondary infection or parasite can also result in a more severe case of parvo in puppies. Therefore, it is essential to provide your puppies with appropriate veterinary care, including vaccination and regular check-ups, to prevent the occurrence of parvo and other diseases that can threaten their health and well-being.

How Long Are Puppies With Parvo Contagious?

Parvo can last for up to ten days or more, depending on the severity of the infection and the response to treatment. During this time, the virus can be shed in the feces of infected puppies, making them contagious to other dogs. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), “Dogs infected with parvovirus usually continue to shed the virus for up to two weeks after infection” (“Canine Parvovirus: How to Protect Your Dog”). However, in some cases, dogs can continue to shed the virus for several months after infection. Therefore, it is crucial to isolate infected puppies and thoroughly disinfect any areas or objects that may have come into contact with the virus to prevent the spread of the infection to other dogs. Additionally, it is important to continue monitoring the infected puppy’s condition and providing appropriate veterinary care to ensure a full recovery.

The incubation period for parvo, which is the time between exposure to the virus and the onset of symptoms, is typically 3 to 10 days. However, in some cases, symptoms may not appear until up to 14 days after exposure. The incubation period can vary depending on various factors, including the age and health of the puppy, the strain of the virus, and the level of exposure to the virus. During this period, infected puppies may shed the virus in their feces, which can contaminate the environment and spread the infection to other dogs. If you suspect that your puppy may have been exposed to parvo, it is crucial to seek veterinary care immediately to ensure timely diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms of Parvo in Puppies

A puppy with parvo is a very sick dog. The sooner you catch the early signs of the virus in puppies, the sooner you can get your dog to the vet. Since parvo is common in young puppies, you should call your vet any time your puppy is feeling under the weather, but you should also be aware of the specific symptoms of parvo in puppies:

  • Bloody diarrhea (very foul smell)
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Dehydration
  • Depression

All of these symptoms are serious by themselves and could be a sign of parvo or another serious illness. You should contact your vet immediately if you suspect your puppy has parvo, and be sure to notify the vet’s staff ahead of time of your suspicions and your puppy’s symptoms so that they can take the appropriate quarantine procedures to prevent your puppy from infecting other dogs.

Treating Parvo in Puppies

Your vet will diagnose parvo based on clinical signs and through blood work. They may also run a test called an ELISA to search for virus antigens in your dog’s feces and will perform additional diagnostic testing as needed.

There is no cure for parvo. Your vet will offer your puppy supportive care over the course of the illness, treating symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration, and making sure that your puppy gets adequate nutrition.

Serious viruses like parvo weaken a puppy’s immune system and lower his white blood cell count, reducing his ability to fight off secondary bacterial infections. The damage the virus does to a dog’s intestinal wall increases the likelihood of a secondary infection. Your vet may put your puppy on an antibiotic medication to combat these bacterial infections and will monitor your puppy carefully for additional complications.

The standard treatment plan for parvo in puppies involves hospitalization and aggressive supportive care, as the virus can cause severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and damage to the gastrointestinal tract. Treatment aims to manage symptoms, prevent complications, and support the puppy’s immune system to help fight off the infection. The treatment plan may include:

  1. Intravenous (IV) fluid therapy to replace fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhea and correct electrolyte imbalances.
  2. Anti-nausea medications to control vomiting and stimulate appetite.
  3. Antibiotics to prevent or treat secondary bacterial infections that can occur due to a weakened immune system.
  4. Pain management medications to alleviate discomfort and promote comfort.
  5. Nutritional support to maintain adequate nutrient intake.

The treatment course for parvo in puppies can be intensive and may last for several days or even weeks, depending on the severity of the infection and the puppy’s response to treatment. Regular monitoring and follow-up care are crucial to ensure a full recovery and prevent complications.

It’s important to note that the earlier the treatment for parvo, the better the chances of survival. Therefore, if you suspect that your puppy may have parvo, it’s important to seek veterinary care immediately for prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Preventing Parvo in Puppies

Parvo is a preventable virus that can be avoided through proper vaccination and precautionary measures. It is essential for all puppies and adult dogs to receive their parvo vaccinations. It is especially important that bitches used for breeding receive a full course of parvo vaccinations, as the puppies will depend on the mother’s antibodies for the first few weeks of life.

To prevent the spread of parvo, you should not allow puppies to come into contact with unvaccinated dogs until they have received all of their parvo vaccines. It is also important to ensure that all dogs in your household are vaccinated and to be cautious when socializing your puppy. Dog parks and other areas where dogs congregate are potential sources of parvo, so it is best to socialize your puppy in a less public environment.

Socialization and training are crucial for puppies, and you can safely socialize your puppy with fully vaccinated adult dogs in an environment like your home. Puppy classes, boarding facilities, and doggy daycare facilities usually require proof of vaccination for all participants, but it is still advisable to consult with your vet about the appropriate level of caution.