In the late 1970’s, dogs in Europe started getting sick. They didn’t get just a little sick, they got really sick. Many of the infected dogs died. By 1978, the cause had been identified as a new type of virus in the family Parvoviridae, Canine Parvovirus Type 2. It quickly and efficiently spread worldwide. In a matter of 2 years, this tiny virus (little more than a tiny piece of DNA) exploded into existence. Doesn’t this sound uncomfortably close to our current Pandemic life? Viruses have one job to do: spread. Unfortunately, they are good at that job.
It’s hard to believe that less than 50 years ago, Canine Parvovirus didn’t exist. Today veterinary staff hear the characteristic symptoms and start to feel the rising anxiety! There is no question: parvo virus is bad. As is the case with most viruses, there is no specific treatment for parvo. The virus infects rapidly dividing cells, especially cells of the GI tract and bone marrow. It causes diarrhea, vomiting, inappetence, and low white blood cell count. Dogs die from secondary infection, dehydration, and hypovolemic shock. Treatment consists of managing clinical signs and preventing secondary infection.
To make matters worse, this virus has perfected the art of spreading. Parvo is shed in the feces of infected dogs. It causes voluminous diarrhea, which ensures plenty of infectious virus enters the environment. It is an non-enveloped virus, which means it is very hard to kill. Standard soap and water aren’t enough. Bleach or an accelerated peroxide is required to kill the virus once it is in the environment. In comparison, our old friend COVID-19 is an enveloped virus, and is killed by most standard cleaners because the envelope portion of the virus is very easy to disable. Dogs that have recovered from Parvo continue to shed the virus for at least 3-4 weeks, and the virus they shed can persist for at least a month.
Because this virus has become so efficient at replicating and spreading, it is here to stay. Recently, Highland Pet Hospital and Animal Emergency Clinic have seen a large uptick in the number of cases of parvo we are diagnosing and treating. It’s common for parvo cases to present in small outbreaks, simply because it is a hard virus to kill once it is in the environment.
So, what can you do? Vaccinate. Fully vaccinated, adult dogs are extremely well protected from parvo virus. The parvo vaccine is considered to be a core vaccine, and is generally administered in a combination vaccination for Distemper, Adenovirus, Parainfluenza, and Parvo (DAPP). Puppies are particularly at risk. Until they are fully vaccinated, puppies should be kept separate from other dogs, especially dogs that are not up to date on their vaccines. The DAPP combination of vaccines is given to puppies every 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age. It is boostered at 1 year, then boostered every 3 years. Protect puppies from contact with other dogs until the entire series has been completed.
Concerned that your dog might contract an infectious disease when they come to visit us here at Highland? We take every precaution we can in order to prevent transmission of this disease within our facility. When a pet is presented with suspicious symptoms, we ask the owners of this pet to wait in their car until a parvo test confirms infection. If that dog is going to be hospitalized, we have a special isolation ward where they are kept away from other patients. People entering that room will wear gloves, gowns, and booties. When leaving the room the staff members step into and out of a tray of disinfectant. Staff members are assigned to care of the infectious patient for the entire day, and refrain from interacting with unvaccinated or young dogs for the rest of the day. We also ask owners of dogs that have been confirmed to have parvo to stay in their car at all times, we try to avoid allowing these owners into the building, and when they must enter the building, we mop behind them with a disinfectant. We do our best to prevent accidental transmission to our other patients.
If your dog is undervaccinated (overdue for the DAPP vaccine) or is a puppy and has symptoms of Parvo Virus (vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy) you will be asked to wait in your car until a staff member does a screening. Sometimes this means that pets that do not have parvo are asked to wait in the car. Have patience! This is one of our attempts to protect all of our patients, and we try to be overly cautious out of safety for everyone!
Viruses. How very frustrating they can be! Fortunately we have a very good defense against this particular culprit! The parvo vaccine is very effective. If you plan to get a puppy, get an appointment scheduled with a veterinarian right away. If you already have a puppy, talk with your veterinary staff to make sure your puppy’s vaccines are up to date. If you have older dogs at home, get their vaccines up to date before you bring your new puppy home! We won’t ever eliminate parvo, but we have all the tools we need to protect our dogs from this disease!