Parvo 101

Veterinarians dread dealing with a dog who has bloody diarrhea or is throwing up blood. It usually means the dog has parvo, an extremely contagious virus that often kills the dog. Even if it doesn’t kill the dog, it means days on an IV while the dog recovers. The dog must be kept in isolation so it does not infect other dogs, too. Treatment is expensive.

Parvovirus was first identified in 1978 but has become so widespread that everyone needs to vaccinate their dog against this disease. Even if your dog never goes around other dogs, the vaccine is a good idea. Parvo is spread through contaminated feces. It can also get on anything the dog has touched while ill. You can even track it into your house from a dog show or by visiting a friend’s house where the virus is present.

DogUnfortunately for us, wild canines can carry this disease, too. Coyotes are a big source in some areas, for example. For a virus, parvo can live a long time in the environment. Heat, cold, water and dryness do nothing to kill it. However, a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water will kill the virus.

If a dog gets parvo, first he becomes lethargic, stops eating, runs high fever, vomits, and has diarrhea. The vomiting and diarrhea begin to have blood in them and the dog will bleed to death if not treated quickly. The smell of a parvo dog is unique and is instantly recognizable once you have seen it. Treatment is supportive, since the virus does not respond to antibiotics. Dogs are usually put on an IV and given fluids, steroids, antibiotics and something to stop the vomiting and diarrhea. The goal is to keep the dog strong enough so that his body can defeat the virus.

If caught early and treated aggressively, many dogs survive this disease. However, they tend to have cognitive deficits due to the high fever and serious illness. In the words of one owner, “He was never quite right again.” Treatment is also expensive. Dogs typically spend five days in the hospital on IVs and being given lots of medication.

If you have a puppy, it is best not to take the dog to parks, pet shops, groomers, and other places dogs have been until he has had his full set of shots and they have had time to work. Dog parks, in particular, are places to avoid as they are notorious for harboring parvo. Consult your veterinarian about when it is safe to visit those places.

Some breeds seem particularly susceptible to parvo and may get it even if fully vaccinated. Rottweilers, in particular, are at risk. Ask your veterinarian about whether your breed is particularly vulnerable and how to handle that vulnerability.

This is General. He was the product of an accidental mating and an inexperienced breeder. The person gave him one dose of a 6-in-1 vaccine he got from a feed store at 6 weeks of age. He gave him one more at 10 weeks of age and then sent him on the plane four hours away. Two days later, General started having bloody diarrhea. He spent five days in the hospital and nearly died. His fever went up very high and he was not very old at the time. General recovered, but had some significant cognitive deficits his entire life. In other words, he was dumb as a box of rocks. That could have been avoided so easily, too. Proper vaccination would have given him a chance to develop normally.

Now that you know what parvo is and the devastating effect it has on a dog, perhaps you will be moved to vaccinate your dog for it. That will save him, and you, a lot of pain.