Canine parvovirus is a contagious disease commonly transmitted through infected feces. Although it primarily affects puppies, parvo can infect dogs of any age. This deadly disease is known to remain in the environment for months, resisting many household disinfectants and thriving in freezing temperatures. Because the incubation period for parvo can extend to two weeks, dogs or puppies may not experience immediate symptoms after exposure.
As the name implies, parvovirus is a virus that comprises three basic strains. Long Beach Animal Hospital explains that new strains will eventually appear in the future because the virus learns to adapt to a dog's immune system. The virus is primarily transmitted via oral contact with feces that is infected with the virus. The virus invades a dog's cells, reproduces and bursts the cell, which causes the virus to invade other cells.
According to VetInfo, canine parvovirus can also spread through other means, including vomit. The virus can also live on inanimate objects, so dogs can contract the virus from infected floors or soil. The virus can be transferred to a dog's paws and be carried to other areas. Dogs that have contact with areas where other dogs congregate, such as dog parks and kennels, are at high risk for the disease.
The incubation period of parvo typically lasts a week; however, VetInfo warns that there is a shedding period that can continue beyond a week. After ingestion of the virus, a dog usually eliminates infected feces on the third day and the shedding of the virus can continue for a additional 10 days. Dogs in the first stage of infection generally do not show any outward signs of infection, which is why this disease is so contagious.
Doctors Foster and Smith describes the symptoms of parvovirus as broad. Puppies less than 6 months old usually exhibit more severe signs, which can include severe vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy. Adult dogs and puppies may also have dark or bloody stools and a fever. The virus progresses rapidly, with death occurring in as little as two days.
In extreme cases, parvovirus affects the intestine's lining. Long Beach Animal Hospital describes the symptoms as painful. Dogs experience stomach pain, and eating will also be painful. Puppies with severe vomiting and diarrhea can experience a condition known as intussusception, which causes the intestine to die. Puppies that reach this point are generally too sick for surgery, which is the only treatment for the condition.
Treatment for parvovirus involves supportive care for the symptoms. Intravenous fluids help prevent dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea. Doctors Foster and Smith adds that treatment may also include blood transfusions, antibiotic therapy and corticosteroids. Even with veterinarian care, the chance of recovering from parvovirus for the sickest canines is very small, which is why prevention is so important.
A parvovirus vaccine is available that consists of a series of shots generally given to puppies starting at 6 weeks of age. Long Beach Animal Hospital also recommends worming puppies for internal parasites, as parasites increase a puppy's susceptibility to the virus. If your dog has been exposed or if you had a dog that died from the virus, all household items should be sanitized with bleach. Any areas, including the yard, should not be accessed by dogs for one to two months after exposure to the virus.