by Gigi McWhirter

Just the word alone strikes fear into the heart of a person with a puppy or dog in their family. Canine Parvovirus (CPV) is a very contagious viral illness that can affect all canines, especially puppies from age six weeks to six months. The virus may present itself in two different forms. The intestinal form is the most common. It presents with diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss and loss of appetite. Puppies may be happy and playful one day and the next day, show any of these symptoms. There is a very distinct odor that comes with parvo diarrhea. The scent is the result of the lining of the small intestine dying. The second form of parvo strikes the heart muscles of very young puppies and most often leads to death. Keeping the parvo virus from your dog can be greatly reduced by vaccinating puppies early. In our practice, we recommend vaccines start at six weeks with boosters given every two weeks until the pup has reached 16 weeks old. Discuss vaccine guidelines with your veterinarian. When purchasing a puppy from a breeder, ask that the breeder provide proof of vaccine – ideally from a licensed veterinarian.

Until your puppy is fully vaccinated, it is highly recommended that you keep it away from other non-family dogs, and when at the vet’s office, keep the pup in a carrier or on your lap. Do not place the pup on the floor.

The virus is typically passed on through direct contact with an infected dog or the not-so-direct method of sniffing the feces of a parvo-infected canine. The virus can also be passed through the soles of shoes that have come into contact with parvo-infected feces. CPV virus can remain in the soil for up to a year or longer. The best way to clear your yard of the virus is to spray the yard with a disinfectant of 10-parts water to 1-part bleach. It is recommended that you do this even if you are considering adding a new puppy or grown dog to your household or if you are moving into a new house.

Not following vaccine protocol and vaccination failure increases a parvo outbreak. Proper injection techniques and proper handling of the vaccine is also essential. Parvo virus can attack any puppy, but for reasons unknown, certain breeds are more vulnerable – Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Pit Bulls, Alaskan Sled Dogs, Labradors, German Shepherds and English Springer Spaniels.

Puppies that receive a proper diagnosis from a veterinarian (Not Dr. Google, a breeder, or a friend…) have a better chance of survival. To diagnose, the doctor will perform a physical exam, run a parvo test, and in some cases, take X-rays. As the vet palpates the dog’s abdominal area, it may respond with discomfort or pain. A low temperature may also occur instead of a fever. The wet tissues of the eyes and mouth may become red and the heartbeat may be rapid.

Because parvo is a viral infection, there is no real cure for it. The vet will create a treatment plan to cure the symptoms and to prevent secondary bacterial infections. Intensive treatment and system support are critical to recovery. IV therapy is crucial for treating the dehydration caused by diarrhea and vomiting. Medications to curb vomiting and reduce nausea along with antibiotics may also be used. The survival rate is about 70 percent. Severe dehydration or secondary infection, bacterial toxins in the blood or intestinal hemorrhage can lead to death. Puppies infected with CPV often suffer shock and sudden death. Parvo is painful and is best described as running a scrub brush along the walls of the intestines.

The best prevention you can offer your canines is to correctly follow the vaccine schedules as directed by your veterinarian. Vaccines are less expensive and far less painful than treating a parvo puppy.