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ANIMAL CONNECTION: What dog owners need to know about parvovirus

October 2, 2018

This article is in memory of the Copelands’ beautiful, sweet puppy that passed away after unknowingly coming into contact with the parvovirus. The Copelands’ hope that future pet owners understand the nature of parvovirus, the symptoms and how to prevent it.

What is parvovirus?

Known simply as “parvo,” the canine parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that can spread between dogs. Puppies and inadequately vaccinated young dogs are at high risk of contracting this virus, which often wreaks havoc on the digestive tract, occasionally heart muscles and can result in death. Mature dogs and dogs 100 percent vaccinated can also fall victim to this virus, but recovery is more likely.

How it spreads

Parvovirus is dangerous because of how easily it can spread within canine populations. There are two main ways in which a dog can come into contact with parvo: direct contact with infected feces and indirect contact.

Curious puppies and dogs love to sniff wherever they go. However, what may be lurking in the areas they are exploring are feces from an infected parvo dog. By simply coming into contact with these contaminated surfaces through sniffs or licks, a dog may become ill with the parvovirus.

Parvo can also live on surfaces for weeks, months or even years. It is especially resilient in that it can survive on humans, the environment, clothing and equipment. There aren’t many cleaners that properly disinfect these surfaces, though bleach has proven effective, and the virus can survive for months indoors and even longer outdoors (if not in direct sunlight). When a dog indirectly comes into contact with parvo through these unknowingly contaminated areas, they can become infected.

Parvovirus symptoms

Once a dog becomes infected with the parvovirus, the virus begins to replicate in the small intestines, bone marrow and lymph nodes. This is what can lead to the deadly issues in the digestive tract and the heart, though heart issues are rare. Most deaths that occur from the virus happen within 48 to 72 hours after noticing symptoms, though death may occur even quicker.

Common symptoms of the parvovirus are: severe and/or bloody diarrhea, lethargy, vomiting, fever, lack of interest in food and/or weight loss, weakness, dehydration and depression.

Call your veterinarian immediately if your dog is experiencing any or all of these symptoms. Though they may not be a result of parvo, they may be symptoms of another illness that needs immediate veterinary care.

Suspected parvovirus

If you think you may have come into contact with dog feces, disinfect potentially contaminated areas. Though bleach is one of the very few disinfectants that can properly eliminate the virus, always consult your veterinarian about how to properly and safely disinfect.

If your dog starts showing symptoms of parvovirus, contact your veterinarian immediately. The sooner a dog is diagnosed with the virus, the higher probability of recovery. Though there is no specific drug used to kill off the viral infection, steps will be taken by your veterinarian to boost the dog’s immune system until it can fight off the parvovirus. Intensive care is necessary to fight dehydration, prevent secondary infections and prevent other dogs from becoming infected, and usually requires quarantine.

How to prevent parvovirus

The number one way to prevent parvovirus is to properly vaccinate your puppies at 6-8 weeks. Boosters will be administered every three weeks until 16 weeks of age, and again at 1 years old. Dogs that have already been vaccinated will still need boosters every year. Though properly vaccinated dogs are not 100 percent protected, the vaccinations will still help fight off the virus and help make recovery more likely if infected.

If your puppy or dog is not fully or properly vaccinated, limit the dog’s contact with other dogs (unless you are sure the other dog is fully vaccinated) and avoid environments in which your dog may be exposed to the virus.

Always change your clothes and shoes before returning home if you work in a place in which you come into contact with other dogs. If you think you, your house or yard have been infected, disinfect the areas (following the advice from your veterinarian).

If you are taking your dog to the veterinarian, carry your puppy from your car to the vet’s office and hold them in your lap while in the lobby to prevent any contact with potentially contaminated surface.

Parvo testing

The SPCA Albrecht Center’s full-service Veterinary Care Center offers parvo testing for $30 and the parvovirus vaccination (DHPP) for just $14 each. If you have any questions about the parvovirus or vaccinations, please contact your local veterinarian or the SPCA’s Veterinary Care Center at 803-648-6864. A full list of services can be found online: www.spcavetcare.org.

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