Monday, August 22, 2011

Protecting our Friends From Parvo

Parvo is one of the most well known diseases we fear.  The average person knows it exists, knows it tends to afflict puppies, and they know it's very serious and contagious.  This is all very true!  Because that may summarize the extent of most people's knowledge, I decided to offer some additional information you may find valuable to know!  It's not just about protecting your new puppy, but also about spreading knowledge to friends and family so they understand this disease too!

Parvo is a virus affecting your dog and potentially other canids.  Your ferret cannot get it, and neither can you or your cat (cats have their own comparable virus).  There are two main strains of this virus: one causing gastrointestinal signs (what we think of) and the other causes signs in puppies less than 3 weeks old, impacting their hearts.

Our pups get this virus through feces, which they tend to ingest orally.  Saliva and vomit are potential transmission modes, but less certain.  It can also be spread through vectors (a bug that, let's say, rests on infected feces and then lands on your pet) or fomites (fomites are inanimate objects..  floors, door knobs) which can be touched with infected feces and then touched again and spread.  Humans can pass this by holding an infected pup and then picking up an uninfected pup.  Our dogs get it from walking on floors that infected dogs walked on.  It gets on their paws, and then they lick their paws!

For all these reasons, if you believe your pup to potentially have Parvo, tell your doc before you bring him into the clinic.  They may have you enter through a different door, as well as keep your pup off of surfaces that healthy dogs may touch.  Everything your Parvo pup has touched will need to be disinfected.

Parvo tends to impacts dogs between 2-6 months old.  Symptoms of the gastrointestinal strain include fever, vomit/diarrhea, and lethargy.  It breaks down the cells in their intestines, thusly diarrhea being the symptom we most think of.  Their diarrhea can be bloody, and usually has a distinct odor. They can die in only a couple of days if they are not treated, but if hospitalized/treated, they can recover in a week. There are no symptoms of the heart (myocardial) strain of the virus which impacts our newborns between 1-3 weeks of age.  The only way to know that was the cause of death is necropsy.

It takes about 1 week to see signs in your pup after exposure.  They also become able to spread the virus 3 days before signs appear;  so if you realize your pup has Parvo, you'll want to think back to who they interacted with a few days before you got them diagnosed.  Ask your friends who played with your pup if they have pups at home, or touched anyone else's puppies!

Your vet will be able to diagnose your puppy in house with a quick Parvo test using their stool.  They will be hospitalized and put on fluids to replace what they are losing through vomit & diarrhea.  It may resolve in a couple of days, and it may take a week.  In addition to fluids, your doc will have them on anti-biotics.  Why anti-biotics?  Isn't it a virus?  Yep.  Often when our animals are fighting off something else, their immune system spends a lot of energy killing that virus.  It makes them susceptible to other bad things.  Anti-biotics will help support their immune system in fighting off whatever else may be trying to gain access to their little bodies!  Your doc may also give them something to help stop them from vomiting.

Don't freak out if your pup is diagnosed with Parvo.  It's potentially very serious, but no reason to think right away that you will lose them.  Survival rate is 80% with treatment, which will likely include hospitalization. 

Once your pup is being treated, they can still pass the virus for 3 weeks even after they have recovered.  So your pup may be okay to bring home, but he will still need to be quarantined and his surfaces disinfected. 

Another thing to be aware of, is that while this primarily impacts puppies, dogs of any age can technically contract it.  We tend to think of older dogs with compromised immune systems being at most risk.  And of course, there is a vaccination available that most owners will already be getting.  It's contained in your "combo shot" your vet gives you. I have to say, I've seen puppies who've received the combo shot still get Parvo.  After receiving a vaccination, our dogs don't walk out of the clinic immune.  It takes time for things to build in their bodies; ask your vet about timing and when it's okay. 

Additionally, everyone's pup is still susceptible to Parvo until they've completed their entire early vaccination series!  Too many pups get Parvo because they are "under-vaccinated".  Just because your pup has gotten 1 combo shot in his series, don't ever mistake that for him being impervious to the things we're trying to prevent in that combo shot.  His immunity still isn't strong enough!  Keep him off the floor at Petsmart!  Don't let him play with other puppies yet!  Please wait until your vet says it's okay for you to exposure your new friend to high risk areas.

To me, one of the most important things for everyone to know about this virus, is that is remains tough in the environment.  If you've moved into a new house with a back yard that hosted a Parvo

The bottom line in Parvo prevention in your young dogs and puppies is vaccination and resisting the urge to shop your new family around too much before he's completed his puppy vaccination series.  We can prevent this horrible virus by refraining from taking our puppy everywhere we go; to Petsmart, to other dog areas.. to friends houses.  Resist the urge to want to show your pup off to the entire world!  I know it's hard.. they're so damn cute.  Just be cautious;  they are at risk, and while it is treatable, hospitalization is expensive.  Diarrhea and vomiting are always reasons to get your dog or puppy into the vet ASAP, and if your young puppy his showing these signs, isolate them from other dogs and get them into your vet as soon as possible.

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