Canine parvovirus enteritis is a highly contagious viral disease caused by a parvovirus. It can affect dogs of all ages but unvaccinated puppies between 6 weeks to 6 months are highly susceptible and at risk of infection.
It occurs mainly in two forms:
- Intestinal form. This occurs as a result of viral replication within the small intestines. It is characterized by vomiting, bloody diarrhea, lack of appetite, weight loss and dehydration.
- Cardiac form: Occurs when the virus replicates in the heart muscles of young puppies and fetuses. Often leads to death as a result of shock.
This virus is highly resistant and can stay outdoors and in the soil for years and indoors for up to 2 months. It is also very resistant to most cleaning agents.
Dogs also continue to shed the virus in their stool for about 2 months after recovery.
Parvovirus enteritis is transmitted either through direct contact with an infected dog either through licking or sniffing of infected stool (fecal-oral) or anus of an infected dog or indirectly by licking clothing, collars, leashes, kennel surfaces food tins, etc. carrying the virus.
Shoes contaminated by infected feces can also introduce the virus in the environment. Once a puppy is infected the virus replicates very fast either in the small intestines, heart muscles and lymph nodes leading to a systemic infection. Certain factors can also predispose puppies to parvo. These include:
- Stress during weaning
- High worm load
- A decrease of immunity when the maternal antibodies wear off
- Secondary infections
Certain breeds are also more predisposed to this disease. These include:
- German shepherd dogs
- Labrador retriever
- Doberman pinschers
- English Springer
Symptoms are usually evident 4 to 5 days after infection. These include:
- Bloody smelly diarrhea
- Weight loss
- Lack of appetite
- Abdominal pain
Dogs suspected or showing the above signs should be rushed to the veterinarian immediately for treatment. Death in acute cases may occur within 48 to 72 hours.
Veterinarians make a diagnosis from enquiring about the history of the dog, physical examination, performing biochemical tests and performing a special test for parvovirus. A low white blood cell counts and severe dehydration accompanied by bloody diarrhea is usually
indicative of the disease.
Being a viral disease, treatment is aimed at relieving the symptoms. Intravenous fluid therapy is instituted immediately to relieve dehydration, loss of electrolytes as well as proteins. Food is also given through fluids as affected dogs cannot keep food down.
Antiemetics are also prescribed to stop vomiting and nausea while antibiotics help prevent second bacterial infections. Dewormers are also given if the puppies are found to have a high worm load.
Parvovirus has no cure but with hospitalization, 70% of most cases recover. Dogs that survive past 3 to 4 days usually make a full recovery. Treating sick dogs at home may be a little stressful and may expose other dogs to the virus.
Death may occur in some cases and this is usually attributed to severe dehydration and bacterial infections that release toxins in the blood causing hemorrhage and consequently shock.
After recovery affected dogs should be isolated from other dogs for at least 2 months as they continue to shed the virus in their stool. The immunity of dogs during this time is also very low therefore they should be fed a well balanced, highly nutritious and easily digestible diet as the intestinal lining is also recovering. A bland diet is advised.
The kennel, plates, kennel, collars, leashes, and anything that the dog was in contact with should be cleaned with household bleach as it’s been shown to kill the virus.
Though incurable, parvovirus is a preventable disease. This is done through vaccination against the disease at 6 to 9 weeks, 10 to 12 weeks and at 16 weeks. This should be followed by annual boosters. In high-risk breeds, vaccinations extended vaccination protocols are indicated and can go up to 22 weeks.
It should, however, be noted r that vaccination does not offer 100% protection but greatly lower the risk of infection by building the body’s immunity against the virus. It is also good practice to pick dogs stool immediately to prevent the spread of the virus and contaminating the environment.