The common clinical signs of parvovirus infection include vomiting and diarrhea (especially with blood), retching, lethargy, inappetance and fever. This virus affects the cells in the body that are rapidly dividing – usually this means the lining of the gastrointestinal tract (which leads to vomiting and diarrhea) and the white blood cells in the body (which help fight infection). This vomiting and diarrhea can be very severe and can last for days – to the point where dogs (especially young puppies) very quickly become dehydrated and go into a state of shock. It is not uncommon for dogs to die if a parvo viral infection is left untreated.
Usually treatment for this disease involves putting your pet on intravenous fluids and administering intravenous anti-vomiting medications and antibiotics because they are not able to nor willing to eat and drink to maintain normal hydration. This occurs in a veterinary hospital. There is no specific treatment for the parvovirus. Like many other viruses, it needs to run it’s course, and the veterinarians and owners have to help their dogs through the crisis.
The virus is ubiquitous in the environment, which means it can basically be found everywhere – in fields, at dog parks, etc. It is transmitted from dog to dog via the fecal-oral route (which means when your dog is sniffing or licking an infected dog’s feces on the ground) or by direct contact with an infected dog. This virus is highly contagious! Some breeds, such as Rottweilers and Pit bulls may be more susceptible to this disease, but it can affect any breed.
You can substantially decrease your dog’s risk of getting parvovirus by making sure all necessary vaccinations are given and your dog has had some of his mother’s milk. Only your veterinarian will know which vaccinations should be given, when they should be given and how far apart. Puppies must have multiple vaccinations when they are young because the protection that they received through antibodies in their mother’s milk slowly decrease over time and multiple vaccines help enhance the puppy’s immune system. Until a puppy has completed its puppy vaccinations (usually at about 16 or so weeks of age), you may want to limit the contact it has with other dogs that may not be vaccinated (ie, avoid dog parks until your pet is fully vaccinated).
Your veterinarian can easily test for this disease using a “snap test” on a fecal sample that is available in most veterinary offices. This disease typically does not affect older dogs that have been vaccinated, but rare reports of very aggressive strains have been seen.