First discovered in 1967, parvovirus has very swiftly become one of the most deadly viruses that a dog can have today. It is a virus that is very common in dogs yet impossible to treat, often resulting in death. But thankfully, it is preventable with proper vaccination. Here is what you need to know about this malignant disease.
What is parvovirus?
Parvovirus (commonly called Parvo) is a viral disease that affects dogs. It is far more common in puppies than adult dogs and can have severe ramifications for the infected animal, including death. Parvo grows best in the rapidly dividing cells of the dog’s intestines. As the virus attacks and kills these cells, it causes massive diarrhoea and halts or slows the creation of white blood cells. In young puppies, it can often directly infect the heart, leading to death.
This virus is highly contagious and spreads through direct contact with an infected dog or indirect contact with a contaminated object such as the vomit, faeces, water bowl, collar and food of an infected animal. Transmission can also occur when a person who has recently come in contact with an infected canine touches your dog. The parvovirus is so resilient that it can survive outside the dog’s body in the surrounding environment for as long as nine months!
What are the symptoms of parvovirus?
The symptoms of Parvo start with fever, depression, and lethargy. The dog will usually experience a loss of appetite and then eventually show more severe signs like vomiting and diarrhoea, which is often bloody. Once the virus reaches this stage, dehydration and death usually follow.
Sometimes an adult dog can be infected by the virus and show no symptoms but act as a carrier transmitting the virus to the other animals it comes into contact with.
Parvo tends to affect some dog breeds more than others. Dobermans, Rottweilers, and other black and tan dogs have a greater chance of contracting the virus. The reason for this is unknown, but the fact that these dogs are at higher risk does not mean that owners of other types of dogs can rest easy. Dogs of any breed can become infected.
Is there a cure for Parvo?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Parvo. Dogs that are infected will die of dehydration without treatment. This treatment primarily consists of providing fluids, giving repeated blood transfusions, and preventing dehydration. The mortality rate in dogs affected by Parvo is about 20% if the dog receives treatment in time. Without treatment, about 80% of those infected will die from it.
Preventing Parvo in puppies
Parvo is actually very common in puppy farms/mills, which usually operate for the sole purpose of gaining profit, with little concern about the health and treatment of the dogs in their care. Some might even sell you dogs with parvovirus! Often, new pet owners would not have realised that their new puppy is infected with the virus since symptoms might be very mild and unnoticeable. It is only long after they have been in your care that symptoms start to show, but it is very likely that the virus may have unwittingly spread to other dogs by then. Especially if you’re a first-time parent to a pupper, this could be a traumatising experience.
With that said, here are some things you can do and take note of when you get a new puppy:
Before deciding on a place to get a new puppy, do your research on the individual or the pet store that is selling you the puppy
Request to see veterinary documents. Make sure the puppy has been examined by a professional vet and that it has received all the vaccination that it needs
While symptoms may not be apparent just yet, watch the puppy’s behaviour anyway to look out for signs of lethargy, coughing and sneezing
Always visit where the puppy was born and raised to check out its living conditions. If the breeder or pet store owner deflects your request for a visit or suggests meeting at a neutral location, something’s up
When visiting, pups should be living with their mother, and their mom should be friendly and not fearful
While there is no cure for Parvo, puppies can (and should) be vaccinated against it at an early age. Most vets recommend puppies be immunised starting at six weeks of age, with vaccinations continuing until twenty weeks of age. Proper immunisation is the best way to prevent a dog from contracting Parvo. If you’re a new pet owner looking to get a puppy, be sure to stay alert and watch out for red flags!