How to keep your dog safe from parvovirus

April 26th 2018

By Dr. Kay Thompson, DVM

Spring has sprung finally and we are all enjoying watching the snow banks recede and all kinds of things thawing from the winter freeze…. Crocus, tulips and the not so pretty ‘poopsicles!’

For us at the clinic spring brings with it important changes in our routine too.  It’s time to re-visit the risks of all manner of things thawing from inside the ‘poopsicles’.
We have sadly had our first parvo infection of the season.

Canine parvovirus is a serious disease throughout the year and we often have spring outbreaks. Last year at this time the Calgary Humane Society had to temporarily close due to a parvo outbreak.

Your young puppies are at the highest risk for getting this serious, and all too often fatal, gastrointestinal virus. 

How do dogs get parvovirus?

The virus is shed in dog poop and is very hardy.

As those forgotten ‘poopsicles’ thaw they can release canine parvovirus into the environment where your dog can pick it up on their feet or a family member can carry it into the home on their shoes!

Good hygiene benefits our pets in general and limits risks to our pets and family.
Contaminated footware and feet can be cleaned with soapy water or shampoo as appropriate before entering the yard or main part of the house. This can’t control all of the risks, but can help limit exposure to parasite eggs and more readily killed disease-causing agents. 
Parvo is an especially tough virus and we encourage you to reach out to your veterinarian with specific concerns about controlling exposure. 

Signs your dog might have parvovirus 

Most parvo cases are diagnosed in puppies and young dogs that have been exposed to the virus and have either received no prior vaccinations or have been inadequately vaccinated.
Typical symptoms of parvo are a sudden onset (within hours or a day) of profound lethargy, frequent vomiting and severe diarrhea and a complete loss of appetite. The vomit, and especially diarrhea, are often bloody.
Because the virus greatly suppresses the dog’s immune system, he or she is unable to combat secondary bacterial infections. It is these secondary infections combined with the weakening of the dog’s body from dehydration and the inability to keep any food down that sadly takes so many lives.

When should I vaccinate my dog against parvo?

To add to the threat, it can take more than the first vaccines to protect your puppy. That’s why we ask you to keep them close to home and only exposed to vaccinated pets until their puppy vaccine series is finished.

Vaccine protocols protect against a number of diseases along with the parvovirus. Your puppy should have a protocol determined by a veterinarian based on their general wellness and exposure risks. 

For the typical puppy the series starts at six or eight weeks of age and is repeated every three to four weeks until 16 weeks of age. 

For clients interested in titer testing we would then do a test four weeks after the last vaccine to confirm the puppy has responded. At a year of age these pets will either receive their one-year boosters or a titer check along with a complete physical exam.  

Parvovirus treatment

Treatment can only be supportive because there are no specific anti-parvo drugs yet. In the vast majority of cases, parvo needs to be treated in clinic, in an isolation area. The typical stay is four to seven days.

Supportive care involves intravenous fluids, antibiotics, medications to control the vomiting and diarrhea and other measures to sustain the dog until it is able to boost its own immune response against the virus.

Because the treatment is so intensive it often is expensive and sadly there is no guarantee that the dog will survive.
So enjoy the sunshine and emerging new growth, but check in with your vet to be sure you are ready with the preventative care needed for their unique lifestyle risks. Whether your dog is young or old, yard dog, mountain climber, or vagabond traveller we’ll have the solution to protect them.

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