Every year we treat patients with parvovirus, which is one of the deadliest infections our dogs can be exposed to.
Parvovirus is an extremely tough and resistant bug. The virus lives for long periods of time on floors, food containers and other household objects. It is thought that household vermin such as cockroaches move the virus from place to place. Although it takes one or two weeks for the dog to develop signs of disease, the virus is shed in the faeces from the third day of exposure. This means that dogs that appear healthy can already be shedding the virus and contaminate the home.
Four factors govern the severity of the disease: age at exposure, the size of the virus dose, the presence of maternal antibodies and the breed of dog.
Dogs usually receive transient maternal antibodies from their mothers through their first milk or colostrum. This antibody gives the puppy resistance to the disease. Puppies that are housed in a parvo-filled environment rarely break with the disease until they reach 10-14 weeks of age. At that time their mother’s immunity no longer protects them.
The most common form of parvovirus infection is a sudden inflammation of the small intestine. This is characterised by depression, vomiting, diarrhoea and profound dehydration. Some puppies die as soon as diarrhoea occurs but many linger on for four to six days. Those that survive eight days usually recover.
Treatment involves hospitalisation, correction of the life-threatening dehydration that accompanies the diarrhoea and medications.
Urgent veterinary care can save many infected dogs but mortality is very high. Therefore, prevention of parvovirus through regular vaccinations is key to protection.