Parvo” is a virus that kills many dogs each year in the North Country and around the world. It typically causes vomiting and diarrhea that often contains blood and has a very sour smell to it. The puppy gets very lethargic and dehydrated. The virus infects young dogs that are typically less than six months of age, but it can affect dogs of any age especially if they have not been kept up to date on vaccinations against the disease.
Parvo is typically seen in young dogs that have not had any vaccinations against the disease or did not finish the series of puppy vaccinations that will typically protect them from it. Most veterinarians recommend starting puppy vaccinations against parvo at six weeks of age and continuing every three weeks until the dog reaches sixteen weeks (4 months) of age. The vaccinations are very effective and if the full series of shots are given the puppy is usually protected for a year. After that the dog will get a booster shot that will need to be repeated every three years.
If a dog gets parvo he usually needs treatment with intravenous fluids, antibiotics and drugs that help to decrease the vomiting. The veterinary bills can be quite large. Sadly, some young puppies will die even with aggressive treatment. After exposure to the virus there is generally a several day incubation period before the animal shows signs of illness. Once clinically ill, the animal is usually dead or better in 5-7 days. The dog is infectious to other dogs while it is sick and for up to two weeks after recovery. If the dog is lucky enough to survive parvo he is probably immune to the disease for the rest of his life.
Dogs at highest risk for contracting this disease are ones that have not received the full series of puppy vaccinations (usually 3 or 4 shots). Dogs that are under stress are more likely to get the disease. This includes animals that are recently weaned, animals that have intestinal parasites (worms) and animals that are not well fed and kept warm and dry. Puppies that go to dog shows, obedience classes, boarding facilities and for walks in parks (where infected feces may be present) are also at increased risk.
This virus is very hardy and can live in the environment for months; especially in areas where infected vomit and feces from a sick dog have been. When I was in private practice I saw cases where the owner had a puppy die of parvo and then went and got another puppy a few weeks or months later, only to have that one also die from the disease within a few days of being on the same premises.
To avoid the heartache of losing a puppy to parvovirus, remember to complete the puppy vaccination series that your veterinarian recommends and be cautious about contact with other puppies until your puppy has completed his vaccination series at four months of age.