Parvovirus - what every dog owner should know
We generally see an increase in cases of parvovirus over the summer months, but this year has seen an especially high number of cases. This is partly because of the weather conditions being so favourable for virus survival, but also likely due to lower than normal vaccination rates over the lockdown last year.
If you are a dog or puppy owner, it is important to know about canine parvovirus, how to protect your puppy from getting it and what to do if you suspect your pet may have the virus.
What is Parvovirus?
Parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that causes vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and in many cases death.
It is transmitted through exposure to contaminated faeces on the ground, on bedding, blankets and bowls, between dogs or even just on the ground. Parvovirus is a very hardy virus that can survive for years in the environment. Indirect transmission can also occur if a person who has been with an infected dog strokes or pats your dog.
Parvovirus (also called Parvo) is most commonly thought of as a gastrointestinal disease, attacking the stomach and intestines, but it has an affinity for rapidly growing tissue, which is one of the reasons why it is so much more dangerous for puppies. It can also affect other organs such as the heart and nervous system.
Who can catch Parvovirus?
Any dog who has not been vaccinated can catch parvovirus but puppies between the ages of 6 weeks and 6 months old are at the highest risk.
The vaccine is very effective in preventing disease and so it should be prioritised. Talk to your local vet about booking this in as soon as possible. Until your puppy is fully vaccinated, they are susceptible and should not be socialising out and about in public.
Dogs of all ages can become infected with parvovirus and in fact older dogs, with good immune systems can shed the virus but have no symptoms. So, for the protection of your own and other dogs, it’s important that dogs of all ages are vaccinated.
Symptoms of Parvovirus
Parvovirus can take hold and make a puppy very sick, very quickly and so the sooner you get medical help the better. Symptoms of parvovirus include:
- vomiting and diarrhoea, especially with blood in it
- Loss of appetite
- Fever and lethargy
These symptoms are not specific and there are other illnesses that can cause them, but if your puppy has any of the symptoms above, call your vet.
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If your dog is diagnosed as having parvovirus, the sooner he or she can get treatment the better. If it is not treated, parvovirus will nearly always progress to a very serious illness in puppies. Getting medical help as quickly as possible can make the difference between life and death.
Not all of the dogs we see with Parvo need to be hospitalised. Many are treated with daily medications and fluids and with good nursing care from their owners can do really well, especially if treatment is started early in the course of the disease.
Without treatment the outlook is much bleaker especially if they have been sick for several days.
What to do if you think your dog has parvovirus?
Call your vet (or animal emergency service if it is out of hours) and let them know your dog’s symptoms. They will advise you on the best options for diagnosis and treatment.
When you arrive at the vets, it is very important that you stay in the car with your dog and call them to let them know you are there. This is both to prevent them spreading the virus if they have it, and to prevent them being potentially exposed to it if they haven’t been.
How to prevent parvovirus
Prevention is the best cure and the vaccination for parvovirus is very effective at preventing the disease.
If your dog or puppy is not fully vaccinated, contact your local vet today and get an appointment to get the course started.