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The Perils of Puppyhood - Parvovirus Edition

By Nicole Haney RVT

Puppies are a joyful and adorable addition to many families. They can also be a source of heartbreak if you are not educated about the basic health needs of puppies. One of the most devastating health crises that a family and puppy can face is Parvovirus.

Parvovirus, as the name indicates, is an infectious viral disease, usually passed from animal to animal when an infected, but possibly asymptomatic canine, vomits or leaves stool in an area where an unvaccinated animal encounters the virus-loaded material. Birds may carry the virus on their feet from kennel to kennel as they pick dog kibble from bowls, but the most common exposure is when we take our cute, bundle of furry joy out to show friends and relatives. We jump into house-training and our new puppy is being walked on the grass in the park, near Micky D’s, or shown off around town on the sidewalk or dog park. Even our own yard may not be safe, if we do not routinely clean the dog feces up or if we have had another dog with parvo that contaminated the area. Even if not required by law, be a thoughtful pet owner and pick up behind your dog. The little bags don’t cost much and may save another dogs life.

Being a virus, prevention is key, in the form of properly given vaccinations, generally three, given at intervals to attempt to take advantage of the puppies maturing immune system as soon as possible, as well as ensuring the best physical health with good diet, and prevention of external and internal parasites that might cause anemia. Take care not to tire the puppy or take it out to areas where there may be parvovirus exposure. Your puppy is like a baby, still rather fragile and still needing special care.

Currently, there are no anti-viral medications that are a sure-fire cure for parvovirus. If your puppy is lethargic, vomiting, having diarrhea, or not eating previously accepted diets, there is a problem. Puppies in good health do not show any of these signs, but puppies with parvo will show at least one, often more. Call and give the veterinary office all the information available about the puppies age, state of vaccination, worming, and when you noticed the onset of signs of illness. You will be asked to come to the office for a parvo test. Often, the sample is taken from your pup in your car, where you will wait for results. This keeps the chance of exposure out of the public areas of the office. Your puppy will probably be hospitalized. During hospitalization, your vet will give antibiotics to attempt to stop secondary bacterial infections, intestinal tract protectants to minimize the damage and hemorrhage, and supportive care in the form of IV fluids to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. The pet must be kept in isolation to prevent exposure to other animals. The care provider must be scrupulously clean, washing and disinfecting anything that the puppy, the equipment or the provider might encounter. You will be given advice on how to accomplish this at home. If all goes well, food and water can be introduced to your pup, and it will be released to go home. This treatment is expensive. Depending on the age of the pup, the basic health of the pup and how many vaccinations with quality, properly stored and reconstituted vaccine the puppy has had, survival is possible. (The fatality rate is higher with younger pups; the fatality rate is higher in unvaccinated pups; one vaccination is not enough; multiple vaccinations with lesser quality vaccine, improperly stored and reconstituted are not enough.)

The final words about Parvovirus: it’s here, it’s deadly…Vaccinate, Vaccinate, Vaccinate!


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