Canine Parvovirus by Dr Jimmy Pan

What is Canine Parvovirus?

Canine Parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that can affect all dogs, especially unvaccinated and young puppies. It can cause serious disease and potentially be fatal. The virus targets cells that are rapidly dividing, such as bone marrow cells and intestinal epithelial cells, hence most affected dogs / puppies will have suppressed production of the white blood cells (decreased self-immunity protection) and severe diarrhoea. Mortality in untreated puppies may exceed 70%.


How is Parvovirus spread?

Parvovirus is highly robust and contagious, it can survive in the environment (especially organic matter) for long periods of time. It is spread by contact with contaminated faeces, environments or people. The virus can survive and contaminate kennel surfaces, food / water bowls and the hands and clothing of people who have had contact with infected dogs.


What are signs of Parvovirus infection?

Typical presentations begin with lethargy and loss of appetite. Fever may occur, vomiting, followed by severe, often bloody, diarrhoea. This can rapidly lead to dehydration. In more severe cases, white blood cells production will be hindered, along with the loss of intestinal integrity as a barrier, this may lead to bacterial sepsis and is often the cause of mortality in affected puppies.


How is Parvovirus diagnosed and treated?

Our vets will carefully obtain the dog’s history, along with physical examination and laboratory (blood and faecal) tests. With these tests a diagnosis can be confirmed.

There is no specific drug that is used to target and kill the Parvovirus in infected dogs. Patients are primarily treated with aggressive supportive care until the dog’s own immune system can fight off the viral infection. The treatments include: in-hospital fluid therapy to combat dehydration and electrolyte loss, controlling vomiting / diarrhoea, preventing secondary infections and pain relief control.

The treatments for Parvovirus infection can be expensive and extensive, sometimes, the patient may not respond despite aggressive treatments. Early recognition is very important in successful outcomes.


How is Parvovirus prevented?

Vaccination is vital for prevention. For young puppies, especially during the time when the natural immunity provided in their mother’s milk wears off and before their own immunity is mature enough to fight off infection. If a puppy is exposed to Parvovirus during this gap, it will have a high chance of being affected by the infection.

To develop adequate immunity and to reduce gaps in protection in puppies, a series of vaccinations are administered, to provide the best protection against parvovirus during the first few months of life. We recommend the first vaccination is at 6-8 weeks of age and finish up with the second vaccination at 11-12 weeks of age (early finish vaccination).

For adult dogs, the next vaccination is one year after their last puppy vaccination (usually around 15 months of age) and then every 3 years for parvovirus (please note your adult dog still needs an annual booster to protect from other diseases such as parainfluenza and bortadella).

There are some places you would wish to avoid until a puppy has received complete series of vaccinations. The high risk areas usually are the uncontrolled places where dogs congregate, like pet shops, dog parks, beaches, doggy daycare and grooming salons. If you are attending puppy class before your puppie’s full set of vaccines are complete, please ensure that the trainer insists all other puppies must have at least their first vaccine before attending.

Keeping your pet’s vaccinations up to date not only protects them but also increases herd vaccination which protects other young puppies and immune suppressed dogs in our community who may not be old enough or well enough to be vaccinated.

If you have any questions about vaccinations or parvovirus please don’t hesitate to contact us.