By Honor Tarpenning, NextDayPets.com Staff
Parvo is a virus that attacks and kills the cells which make up the lining of the digestive system. This virus is significantly more common in puppies than adult dogs. It can exist in the environment for up to 9 months and is highly contagious. Adult dogs can carry parvo and leave it behind in the environment. From the time of exposure, it takes 7-10 days for a dog to show symptoms. In severe cases, especially in very young puppies, parvo can be fatal in a matter of days.
After exposure to a contaminated object or dog, parvo can be carried to your dog on your hands, clothes, shoes, toys, or any other objects. Some vets believe that certain breeds are more susceptible to parvo than others, including Labradors, Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers. This is a dog-specific virus and cannot be transmitted to humans or other pets.
Some, though not all, dogs over a year old and dogs who are vaccinated, may contract parvo and show no symptoms. The virus is fought by the natural defenses of the body and runs its course without incident. However, in younger dogs, unvaccinated dogs, and dogs in poor health, the following symptoms usually appear.
-Change in waste odor.
-Loss of appetite.
-Lowered white blood cell count.
If you believe your dog has contracted parvo, you must contact your vet immediately. The expense associated with treating the virus can be substantial, however, intensive care, including IV therapy, is often necessary for survival. In some cases your vet can teach you how to care for your dog at home.
The first step once a vet has concluded that a dog has parvo is to treat the dehydration that results from the severe diarrhea. Many vets will recommend intensive, 24 hour treatment in a veterinary hospital. There they will maintain continuous intravenous hydration. In the home, hydration can be maintained subcutaneously (with an injection under the skin). Subcutaneous injection of fluids should not be undertaken without the advice of and a demonstration by your vet.
Your vet will also most likely take steps to avoid secondary infection while the immune system is weakened. This is usually done by administering antibiotics.
Tamiflu, a prescription antiviral medication, is believed by some vets to be extremely useful in the treatment of the parvo virus. Some vets even go as far as to say that many puppies would not survive through treatment without the use of Tamiflu. Other vets are skeptical of its efficacy.
The number one way to avoid the dangers of parvo infection is vaccination. Dogs can contract parvo after vaccination, but it is usually asymptomatic. Puppies who are too young to be vaccinated against parvo should be kept from any environment where one might find other dogs. Puppies should never go to dog parks or other dog-friendly places until fully vaccinated.
Healthy dogs can carry the parvo virus, so any time you come in contact with another dog, you should be sure to wash thoroughly before handling your puppy or his toys, food or bedding. Most household cleaners do not kill parvo. It is suggested that a strong solution of bleach and water be used to wash clothes, shoes, objects, and even hands that come in contact with other dogs until your puppy is vaccinated.