Parvo, short for canine parvovirus type 2, is an extremely contagious virus that has been largely eliminated in domestic dogs today, thanks to vaccinations given early in puppyhood. The most common form is spread through contaminated feces and has an extremely long life span outside of the dog. It is resistant to both hot and cold weather and can live in contaminated soil for up to a year. This means if Maxie isn’t vaccinated and a dog who had parvo used the bathroom in your front yard a year ago, Maxie can still contract it. For this reason, it’s extremely important to get him vaccinated for it as soon as you bring Maxie home. The parvo vaccination usually comes in unison with a vaccination for canine distemper, another hugely contagious and life-threatening virus, and is given through a series of shots and boosters.
Parvo comes in two forms with the most common being the intestinal form. In this version, the parvovirus attacks Maxie’s gastrointestinal system, causing all sorts of secondary infections and problems. When a dog dies of this intestinal parvovirus, it’s usually these secondary problems that are fatal, not the virus itself. Symptoms of this form include initial lethargy followed by extreme vomiting and diarrhea that can be very bloody. A stool sample done by your vet will be able to determine if parvovirus is the cause.
Without treatment, a dog with intestinal parvo will usually die of dehydration as a result of fluid loss from the diarrhea and vomiting. Untreated, over 90% of dogs who contract this version will die. If Maxie is exhibiting these symptoms, get him to the vet immediately. The sooner treatment starts, the more likely he is to survive. Parvo isn’t a death sentence if hospitalization occurs quickly and Maxie is able to get IV fluids and antibiotics to treat secondary infections. In fact, around 90% of dogs who do get treatment will be able to rid their bodies of the virus while still maintaining proper hydration. The key is early diagnosis and treatment.
The Other Parvo
The cardiac form of parvovirus is less common and is usually contracted by puppies neo-natally or shortly after birth by an infected mother. This form is a lot more rare these days because mothers are usually vaccinated before getting pregnant. In this form, the virus attacks the heart and causes breathing difficulties, and death can be very sudden.
If Maxie is diagnosed with parvo, he’ll usually have to stay in the hospital for around four to five days. There are no treatment to specifically attack the parvovirus, but accompanying symptoms will be treated, giving Maxie’s immune system a chance to fight and rid his body of the virus. The most important part of treatment is administering fluids that will keep him hydrated.
Antibiotics may be given to help fight off secondary infections caused by the parvo. In extreme cases, the plasma of a vaccinated dog may be transferred to Maxie’s blood, though the benefits of this are not as well proven. Survival rate depends on age, breed, and severity of symptoms based on strength of immune system. Certain breeds are known to be more susceptible to severe parvovirus, including Rottweilers, Dobermans and Pit Bulls and German Shepherds.
When it comes to parvovirus, the best action is preventative action. Maxie should be vaccinated for parvo as soon as possible after birth. When such a vaccination is so widely available, it’s senseless to leave him susceptible to such a traumatic and life-threatening virus. But it’s at least reassuring to know that even without a vaccination, his prospects, given prompt hospitalization, are positive.