All About Parvo

Canine parvovirus (CPV or Parvo) is a highly contagious and often fatal viral illness that affects dogs. Puppies between six weeks and six months old comprise the majority of cases; however, unvaccinated dogs are susceptible and even vaccinated dogs can contract the virus if the conditions are right. Certain breeds, including Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, English Springer Spaniels, and Alaskan sled dogs, are particularly vulnerable to the disease.

The virus spreads by direct dog-to-dog contact, as well as contact with contaminated feces, environments, or people. The virus can also contaminate kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes, and the hands and clothing of people who handle infected dogs. It is resistant to heat, cold, humidity, and drying, and it can survive in the environment for a very long time. Parvo is easily transmitted from place-to-place by contaminated shoes or other objects. Even trace amounts of feces from an infected dog may harbor the virus and infect other dogs that come into the environment.

Once a dog or puppy is infected, there is an incubation period of three to seven days before the onset of symptoms—primarily gastrointestintal symptoms—such as diarrhea and vomiting.  Parvo affects the body's ability to absorb nutrients, and an affected animal quickly becomes dehydrated and weak from lack of protein and fluid absorption. The wet tissue of the mouth and eyes may become noticeably red; the heart may beat too rapidly; and the abdominal area may be tender. Dogs who have contracted Parvo may also have a low body temperature, rather than a fever.

There’s no drug that will kill the virus. Treatment options involve supportive care and management of symptoms. A hospital stay is often necessary so that the dog can receive intravenous fluids and nutrients to replace the vast quantities lost via vomiting and diarrhea. Treatment is often expensive, and the dog may die despite intervention; however, a successful outcome is possible with early recognition of the disease and aggressive treatment.

Since parvovirus is highly contagious, isolation of infected dogs is necessary to minimize spread of infection. Infected dogs shed heavy concentrations of the virus in their stool. There is evidence that the virus can live in ground soil for up to a year. If you need to clean a Parvo-contaminated area, first pick up and safely dispose of all organic material (vomit, feces, etc.), then thoroughly wash the area with a concentrated household bleach solution, one of the few disinfectants known to kill the virus. If a dog has had Parvo in a home, it is best not to have a puppy in that home for several years.