Canine Parvovirus: What You Need To Know

What is Canine Parvovirus?

Parvovirus is a very serious and highly contagious gastrointestinal virus that can cause a puppy to go from a perfectly healthy state to fatally ill in just a matter of days. Puppies from six weeks to six months old, as well as unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated dogs are at the highest risk of contracting the virus. While parvo can be prevented and treated, it is crucial to understand the preventative methods as well as the warning signs and what to do if your dog contracts the disease, especially because it can spread so easily throughout canine populations.

The Spread of Parvo

The virus can spread through direct contact with an infected dog or fecal matter, or through indirect contact with infected clothing, equipment, human skin, and in the environment. An infected dog can begin to shed the virus before symptoms even surface and can continue to do so for up to ten days after recovery. This is a major reason why the virus is so deadly; it can spread easily and is difficult to catch when first contracted, but is still highly contagious at this stage.

Canine Parvovirus & Purchasing Puppies

When choosing to purchase a puppy (rather than rescue and adopt), most buyers opt for a pet store or a breeder found online. This can be extremely dangerous and has a very high potential to give you a new puppy infected with parvo. Why? A large sum of online breeders operate as puppy mills, or an establishment that breeds puppies for sale, typically on an intensive basis regarded as inhumane.

Simply put, puppies in puppy mills are bred at a very large scale, at a very rapid pace, and are kept in deplorable conditions. They are housed in small, tight cages from the time they are born, often stacked under and on top of other cages, never seeing sunlight or feeling grass. This leads to dogs urinating and defecating in their cages, which then seeps through into the cages below, thus becoming a breeding ground for the spread of parvo. What’s more, these potentially infected puppies are then usually sold off to pet stores for purchase or bought via the internet.

One of the best ways to avoid getting a puppy infected with parvo is to adopt from a local shelter or rescue organization. While there’s no guarantee your puppy will not contract the virus, it will have a better chance than if it was purchased from a large-scale breeder or pet store.

Symptoms of Parvo

  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Severe, bloody diarrhea
  • Anorexia
  • Depression 

Parvo Treatment

If your puppy or dog is showing any of the above symptoms, seek veterinary attention right away. Intensive care is required to fight parvo, so the sooner treatment starts, the better the chances of recovery. It’s also likely that your vet will recommend your dog stay in an isolation ward at a veterinary hospital, that way it receives the specialized care and monitoring it needs without the risk of spreading the infection or contracting others in addition. 

Your dog will be treated based on the severity of its case. Supportive fluids and nutrition are used to work to increase your dog’s ability to fight off the infection, and medication can be prescribed to prevent the infection from entering into the rest of the body from the intestines.

Parvo Prevention

Even though a dog cannot be completely protected from parvo, getting yours the necessary preventative vaccinations is a huge step in keeping it safe and healthy. The parvo vaccination is usually given as a series of three shots; the first given at 6-8 weeks old, the second at 10-12 weeks, and the third at 14-16 weeks. After the series is completed, a booster is administered a year later and then every three years to follow. 

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