Soon after the dog becomes infected, it can develop severe signs of disease including lethargy, vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration and even collapse. The vomiting and diarrhoea can be severe and may contain blood. Dogs can become very ill indeed, and blood tests performed by your veterinary surgeon can show reductions in both red and white blood cells. Death can occur even with intensive treatment. Unvaccinated puppies are particularly at risk. The disease can progress rapidly with dehydration, anaemia and shock followed by death.
The disease is caused by a parvovirus. The virus targets rapidly dividing cells and multiplies in the digestive tract and other tissues including the bone marrow. The virus is highly contagious and is excreted in the faeces and body fluids. It is very resistant in the environment and can survive for 5 months or longer. The Infection can be caused by direct contact with faeces from an infected dog, or indirectly by exposure to a contaminated environment or objects such as bedding, food dishes, or even handlers of infected dogs. Infection results from ingesting the virus. Outbreaks of this disease are more commonly associated with crowded environments and poor hygiene, or areas with a high dog population and low levels of dog vaccination,
Your veterinary surgeon can make a provisional diagnosis from the symptoms and history. Confirmation of parvovirus may be obtained from faecal testing or even samples obtained at post mortem should the dog die. Other infectious agents such as canine coronavirus, internal parasites (worms), and/or bacterial infections may be present too. These factors can worsen the severity of disease
There is no specific treatment for canine parvovirus. Treatment is aimed at supporting the patient through the disease and reducing the severity of clinical signs. It is usually necessary to hospitalise animals and intravenous fluids are essential to manage the dehydration and loss of electrolytes. Antibiotics may be used to control secondary infections and other medicines to help support the animal (for example to relieve pain or reduce vomiting) can be given. Infected animals must be isolated from other dogs. Stringent biosecurity regimes should be instituted using isolation and effective disinfectants to prevent the contamination of the environment and people’s clothing, shoes and hands
Vaccination is by far the most effective way of preventing canine parvovirus disease. All puppies should be vaccinated with a primary course and adult dogs should be given a booster vaccine as regularly as necessary to maintain protection throughout life Where puppies are likely to have been exposed to higher level of maternal derived antibodies, additional protection can be offered through specific vaccination. Speak to your veterinary surgeon about parvovirus protection which is appropriate for your dog.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: My puppy will never be allowed to come into contact with stray dogs. Is it safe not to vaccinate her?
Answer: No. Unfortunately, because canine parvovirus can survive in the environment it could be picked up on your clothing such as shoes and be brought home to infect your puppy, so she does need to be protected against this serious disease.
Question: I have an old dog and I want to reduce vaccinations do I have to keep giving him booster vaccinations because I have heard that immunity following vaccination can be life-long?
Answer: It is true that some expert veterinary committees have stated vaccination may confer protection for life, however there are several reports of canine parvovirus infection occurring in previously vaccinated dogs. In addition, elderly dogs may have impaired immune function for several reasons, and so they actually need to be vaccinated throughout life to maintain protection in case they come into contact with a virulent field virus. It is worth discussing this with your veterinary surgeon.
Question: I heard that there has been an outbreak of parvovirus in my area, what should I do?
Answer: It is common to get local outbreaks of this disease as owners fail or forget to vaccinate their dogs. Keep your dog away from these areas and check with your veterinary surgeon that your dog’s vaccinations are up to date. Remember to always clear up your dog’s faeces when you are out on a walk.