New puppies are one of the sweetest additions a family can experience. Fur, fun, and kisses are absolutely irresistible to most people, and sharing our new additions seems to be the next step. Stop! Puppies are susceptible to many different infections, particularly the dreaded canine parvovirus. Horrible gastrointestinal symptoms, expensive treatment, and sobering mortality rates make this virus a stressful and dangerous situation for all owners and their new additions. Despite the dangers and risks, prevention is relatively easy, and your veterinarian is here to help you.

What is canine parvovirus?
Canine parvovirus, or parvo for short, is a viral infection that invades the gastrointestinal tract. The result of this invasion is appetite loss, fever or low temperature, vomiting, and severe diarrhea that is often bloody. The result is a quickly fading puppy that needs immediate veterinary care. Most deaths from parvo occur within 48-72 hours after the first signs of illness, making immediate care a necessity. Even with treatment, which can be costly, the mortality rate is up to 30%. Without in hospital treatment, the rate is much higher.
Where does it come from?
Parvo is passed from dog to dog through direct contact or contact with contaminated stool from infected animals. It is a hardy virus and can survive in the environment of infected animals for a long period of time. This does not just indicate the home environment as it includes soil from parks and other areas that dogs may frequent. Unfortunately, there is a 3-14 day incubation period so others may not realize their animal is infected until the virus has already been shed into the environment.

Who is at risk?
Puppies under the age of 4 months are particularly vulnerable to this virus because they have a waning immunity from their mother’s milk and have not yet completed their full course of vaccinations. Additionally, adult dogs that have never received any type of vaccinations are also at high risk.
What are the signs?
The first sign something is not right with your new puppy might be fatigue. Puppies play hard and then rest hard but seldom are they inactive. After the onset of lethargy, your puppy may lose their appetite and then begin to vomit and/or have diarrhea. This diarrhea may be extremely loose and explosive as well as bloody. Additionally, puppies generally present with a fever or a low body temperature which can be determined by a visit to your veterinarian.

What is the treatment?
Supportive treatment is utilized for parvo. Because it is a virus, there is no cure for the infection. Instead, it is important to support the body while allowing it to fight the virus. This support comes in the form of fluids, anti-emetics for vomiting, antibiotics to prevent secondary infections, round the clock nursing care, and potentially a blood transfusion in some cases.

Prevention, prevention, prevention!
Rather than treating an existing case, it is much easier and cheaper to instead prevent the infection entirely. First of all, keep new puppies in a controlled and isolated environment. Resist the urge to take your puppy out into the world to meet everyone. Follow basic hygiene techniques when handling your puppy such as hand washing. Avoid animals with an unknown vaccination history around your new addition. And most importantly, complete a full series of puppy vaccinations that include canine parvovirus from 6-16 weeks of age. Puppies receive some immunity from their mothers when nursing. Unfortunately this immunity wanes, and it will be necessary to boost it with vaccinations. Boosters of vaccines are needed as the puppy’s immune system is changing and developing. The good news is that fully vaccinated animals are extremely well protected from the virus.

Although canine parvovirus is deadly and acts quickly, you are the key to prevention. Make an appointment today for your puppy to receive vaccinations. Also remember to booster older animal’s vaccinations as recommended by your veterinarian. Only through proper techniques and vaccination can this deadly disease be avoided.