Virginia Simpson and Chance

Canine Parvovirus

by Elizabeth Gigis, DVM, West Chester Veterinary Center

With the moderate temperatures this fall, our hospital has seen a spike in the number of cases of canine parvovirus.  This disease is severe and sometimes fatal, but is very preventable.  If you have a young dog, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of parvovirus infection, as well as how to prevent it.  The most common reason that we see parvovirus infection is a lack of proper vaccines.  Newly adopted puppies should be taken to the veterinarian’s office so that the vaccine record can be reviewed and any vaccinations that need to be updated can be done at that time.  This simple preventative step can save thousands of dollars and lots of heartache.  Puppies should start their vaccine series between 6-8 weeks and be vaccinated every 3 weeks.  This will protect them as they their immune systems mature.  It is also important to note that no vaccine is 100 percent protective, especially in young animals, so if you see these clinic signs, a parvovirus test should be done.  It is also prudent to wait until your puppy is 3 weeks past his last puppy vaccine to take him places that would put him at a high risk of exposure.

Canine parvovirus has been prevalent worldwide since the late 1970’s.  Canine parvovirus causes an acute intestinal tract inflammation because the virus kills off cells that line the intestinal tract.  Parvovirus also will attack the bone marrow and the immune system.  The most common clinical signs of parvovirus are lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea (bloody), and decreased appetite.   Parvovirus symptoms begin on average about 4-7 days after being exposed to the disease.  Most veterinary hospitals are able to test for parvovirus in house, with a “snap” test that takes about ten minutes. 

The treatment for parvovirus is well understood.  Most dogs, if treated correctly, will make a full recovery.  Dogs treated sooner in the course of the disease have a better prognosis.  Treatment is mainly supportive, and consists of IV fluids (for hydration), broad spectrum antibiotics (to prevent bacterial spread in the blood stream), anti-nausea medication, and GI protestants.  Other treatments may also include IV dextrose (to increase blood sugar) anti-viral drugs, and other special types of fluids to support blood pressure.  The time spent in the hospital for each dog generally varies greatly.  The general course is from three to seven days in the hospital.  Parvovirus can also require a significant financial investment from the owner, sometimes amounting to thousands.  It can be difficult for owners because it is such an unexpected and sudden event.  This is why it is so important to take preventative steps and have your puppy vaccinated.  Despite the vaccinations' availability since the 1980’s, parvo is still very prevalent.  If a dog with parvovirus is not hospitalized, the prognosis decreases significantly.  Prevention is the best medicine.  Have your puppy vaccinated by your veterinarian and give him the start to a long, healthy life. 

Elizabeth Gigis, DVM
West Chester Veterinary Center
7330 Liberty Way, West Chester, OH 45069