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What is Parvo?

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I would like to start by saying that if you are reading this article because you think your dog is infected with Parvo, contact your vet immediately. Parvo is not something to put off until tomorrow. Parvo is dangerous for your dog, does lifelong damage, and can be deadly.

In this article, we are going to talk about the disease commonly referred to as “Parvo”. Parvo is a highly contagious virus that can only be diagnosed by a vet. There are two common strains of parvo. One that infects the heart and one that infects the intestine. The strain of parvo that is most common is the CPV2 which infects the intestine. This is not a pretty disease and fortunately, humans can’t contract it, at least not this strain.

One thing I learned about the parvovirus is that it is tough. Originally discovered in the early 70’s by the end of the decade it was everywhere. There is not a climate that it is afraid of. Many times we assume that once it gets hot enough in the summer or cold enough in the winter our problem is over. This is not true. I was shocked to hear that within the first decade the parvovirus had made it to almost every continent. Parvo spreads crazy fast. One of the reasons it spreads so quickly is the fact of how small the particles are. A veterinarian friend of mine explained to me that there can be 1 billion particles of Parvo in a piece of feces the size of a sugar cube. What scared me is when he said it only took 100 particles to infect the dog.

The parvovirus is shed and spread through dog feces, and dog only, both directly and indirectly. Your dog cannot get this from dining in your cat’s litter box. The dog is infected when he or she ingests some contaminated material. Though parvo is shed in feces it is not necessarily hosted there. Once shed, it can live for some time in the environment and readily spread by many methods. A very common mode of transportation for the parvovirus is on your feet. This is why when you go to many Humane Societies or ASPCAs you will be asked to step in foot baths when going from ward to ward. A simple light solution of bleach and water, when soaked to the bottom of your shoe, can save hundreds of dogs from infection in one of these facilities.

Years ago I was the kennel manager at the Idaho Humane Society, which is where I was first educated about Parvo. The original facility had runs where a dog could go in or outside at will. I am sure the dogs loved it but managing Parvo was a real task. We would do everything in our power to stop the Parvovirus by sanitizing, but the vector that we couldn’t seem to stop were the sparrows. These little birds could fly in through the chain link and go from kennel to kennel. They would drop on by and sit right in the dog’s food dish and feast until the dog ran them away. When ran off they would just find another dog not on his guard and start feasting again, potentially vectoring the virus. With the current modern facility, this is no longer a problem for the shelter but can still easily be one for the dog owner. These are just a few ways it can be spread so you have to keep your eyes open. I don’t want to unnecessarily scare you but I feel that it is important to understand how easily a dog can be infected.

Other than maintaining proper environmental cleanliness the best line of defense is vaccination starting at a young age. If you are breeding puppies it is extremely important to make sure that the mother is current on all vaccinations prior to breeding. If the mother is not current on her vaccinations and gets infected it would be almost certain death if the pups contracted the virus. While it is most common for puppies to become infected, an adult dog is just as prone to infection. The much stronger adult dog is easier to bring back to health but the virus is potentially just as fatal.

I recommend starting a vaccination regimen between six and eight weeks of age. I prefer to start off with a series of at least three vaccinations administered separately four weeks apart. I would suggest a fourth shot if you have a Doberman, Rottweiler, or Pit Bull as these breeds seem to be more prone to infection. Start the vaccination regimen with a standard 5 way combination vaccine and finish off the last two with a 7 way vaccine.

If you are unsure where to start and what to use feel free to ask for assistance in any Zamzows store. Some may be wary of administering the vaccination themselves. If this is the case there is a convenient low cost vaccination clinic on the second Saturday every month at all Zamzows locations. This is an excellent way to forge a relationship with a veterinarian if you do not currently have one.

Signs of a Parvo infected dog are very noticeable. Severe lethargy and vomiting should be cause for concern. A fever and dehydration would not be far behind either. Severe diarrhea with a noticeable content of blood means you need to get to the vet. CALL THE VET FIRST! As I have explained this may be serious but no vets want you to come right in the front door where other patients may be. They usually have a quarantine area for cases like this. Always monitor the dog for shock as well. If the dog goes into shock the mortality rate drastically increases.

The parvovirus does permanent damage to the Villi in the intestine. This is why the dog passes blood in the stool. Severe diarrhea dehydrates as well as other factors. If gone unchecked the dog normally dies from lack of nutrition and dehydration.

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