Parvovirus – Prevention is Key

Parvo.  For some of you, this word will be depressing, while others are blissfully clueless.  Wherever you are in this spectrum, if you are looking to get a puppy, this message is important.

This Spring, I have seen more Parvo than I can remember.  For a family who has just acquired a new member of their family, the toll can be devastating, not only emotionally but financially.

What is Parvo?
Parvo is a highly contagious and resilient virus.  Some of the symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea (often with a bloody tinge), lethargy, and anorexia.  It is so devastating because it can survive in the environment for 6 months a year.  Due to this duration, you might not know an area is contaminated with the virus.

Once your puppy is infected with this virus, symptoms can take as little as 3-4 days to develop, but can take longer.  The virus attacks rapidly dividing cells which includes areas such as the GI tract and the stomach (vomiting and diarrhea).  It can take a while to recover because it destroys those cells in the intestines that absorb nutrients.

How is it treated?
Here is where the expense comes in.  In an ideal scenario, the best treatment requires several days of hospitalization and supportive care.  There is no Parvo injection treatment, or oral medication that targets this virus.  The goal is to treat the symptoms so that the puppy is able to stay alive long enough to recover.
– IV fluids: These are important to help supplement dehydration that occurs with vomiting and diarrhea.  When a puppy becomes severely dehydrated it is nearly impossible to rehydrate through oral methods.  This is especially true if they are vomiting.  Sometimes an additional fluid is used to help keep the fluid from leaking out of the vessels.  If the puppy loses too much protein, fluid starts leaking from the cells into the rest of the body.  This specific type of fluid keeps it in the vessels where it belongs.
– Injectable antiemetic: Logical since if the puppy is vomiting, we would want them to stop.
– Injectable antibiotic: Even though this is a viral infection, with the gut stripped of its protective barriers, it is not uncommon for a secondary infection to develop.
– Heat Support
– Dewormer: Parasites are not uncommon in puppies.  They can cause further problems to an already debilitated puppy.

These are common treatments for the broad disease.  If something else develops during the course of the disease,  it will have to be addressed.  Every veterinarian is going to have slightly different ways of treating.  None of them are wrong.  I do believe an aggressive treatment gives the puppy the best chance for survival.  What can be frustrating is that even with aggressive therapy, the disease can still be fatal.  There is no magic potion or perfect situation.

Now, knowing all of the depressing information, where is the silver lining?

How do I prevent this?
To reduce the chances of your puppy contracting parvo here are some suggestions:

– Appropriate vaccinations: I strongly believe that vaccinations should be given by a licensed veterinarian.  I seem like a biased source, but I am also informed.  Vaccinations from a feed store can be unreliable.  What is your assurance that they were kept the right temperature consistently?  How do you know that the vaccine you are buying is for the same strain of Parvo that is most prevalent today?  Are you completely comfortable giving a vaccination?  Are you 100% sure that your puppy is -healthy- enough to receive this vaccination (trick question-only veterinarians are trained to answer this question)?  Do you know the appropriate intervals to give a vaccination?  Puppies need a series of vaccinations.  Give them too early, too far apart or for too short a duration and they are ineffective against the disease.  Why take that chance?  Your veterinarian has gone to school and has paid money for an education that teaches them these things.
–  Before your puppy is completely vaccinated, their immune system is compromised.  This means that essentially, they need to be kept in a bubble.  I would caution against taking them any place that could have been accessed by other dogs.  This includes puppy parks, neighborhoods, Petsmart/Petco, etc etc.  Since the virus lives for a while in the environment, you are exposing your puppy each time they go to these places.  That being said, socialization is important.  Leash training is important.  Use your backyard or around your house for some of these important training opportunities.  Calling on friends with healthy, vaccinated dogs can lessen the chance that your puppy with gain exposure.*
– Even though I speak of puppies in this article, adult unvaccinated dogs are susceptible as well.  If you even think about introducing a new puppy into the home, make sure your adult dog is completely vaccinated.

* If these dogs frequent high traffic areas with other dogs, there is still the possibility that they could pick the virus up at one of these visits.  Weigh the risks.  It isn’t always the smartest decision to keep your puppy in a bubble but know that there still might be some chance for exposure.


This website is great.  They are a veterinary community website that has fashioned a lot of information for pet owners.  Among other subjects, they have done great articles on Parvovirus.

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