Parvovirus is a highly contagious disease of dogs. It mainly affects puppies under a year of age. The virus is shed in the stool of infected dogs and infects the puppy when it ingests the virus. The virus can survive in the environment for months to years. The virus is often shed by infected dogs before they develop clinical signs. It only affects dogs, despite its common name of cat flu.
What Parvovirus does:
The virus attacks cells in the body that divide quickly. These cells are mainly found in the intestine (gut), lymph nodes and bone marrow. The virus thus causes the intestinal cells to die and come loose from the intestine. These cells are then shed as bloody diarrhea. At the same time the virus also causes immunosuppression at a time when the body needs to be able to fight the viral infection. This makes parvoviral enteritis a very dangerous disease that can lead to the death of the puppy.
Symptoms of Parvoviral enteritis:
- Loss of appetite
- Diarrhoea (with or without blood)
- Weakness or collapse
If any of these symptoms are seen in a puppy under one year old, it could potentially be Parvoviral enteritis.
Parvoviral enteritis is diagnosed by doing a test on the stool that identifies the virus.
There is no cure for parvoviral enteritis.
Parvoviral enteritis is treated by providing intensive, supportive care. Intravenous fluids (drip) is given to try to correct dehydration and maintain a normal hydration status. Electrolytes and glucose are also given with the drip. Puppies are placed on intravenous antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections. The puppies are extremely nauseous and are given intravenous anti-emetics to reduce vomiting. Puppies are sometimes given intravenous plasma when their protein levels become too low.
Unfortunately treatment is not always effective and puppies can still die despite intensive treatment.
Prevention of Parvoviral enteritis:
Prevention is always better than cure!
The disease needs to be prevented by vaccinating your puppy at 6 weeks, 9 weeks and 12 weeks of age. In rare cases even puppies that have had all their vaccinations still get the disease.
Dogs need booster vaccinations every year.
Parvovirus can survive in the environment for months to years.
Diluted bleach can be used to disinfect areas if there was a puppy with parvovirus. The bleach needs to be left in contact with the area for 10 minutes before removing it.
Remember that the virus will often also have been shed in the garden area and it is thus impossible to rid your property of this virus completely.