Massachusetts has had several Parvo outbreaks this year. This is a viral disease of dogs that causes loss of appetite, severe diarrhea – often bloody, vomiting, dehydration, shock, sepsis, and, if not treated, often death.
The virus attacks and destroys the newly formed cells that line the small intestine. Without the new cells to replace the aging intestinal cells, the intestines effectively lose their lining, can’t absorb nutrients, and can’t protect the animal from systemic bacterial infection.
Dogs are at risk if they are not vaccinated. That is usually puppies or unvaccinated adult dogs. Also at risk are dogs with a weakened immune system, such as those with a systemic illness or on cancer chemotherapy. Most dogs are vaccinated for Parvo when they get their distemper vaccination, as Parvo is one of the vaccines included with the distemper vaccine.
Parvo is extremely contagious via the fecal-oral route. That is, viruses are contained in the feces of infected dogs, and a healthy dog then ingests the virus whenever its mouth contacts an object or the ground that has, or had, the infective feces on it. One thing that makes Parvo so insidious is the long life of the virus, which is able to live in the environment, such as the ground or on floors, for seven or more months. Only a few environmental cleaning products are able to kill this very resistant virus, one of which is bleach diluted to 1:32 with water.
The treatment for Parvo is immediate hospitalization with IV fluid therapy, antibiotics, anti-vomiting medications, and sometimes plasma. The hospital stay is usually for several days. With proper therapy the survival rate can be over 90%.
Fortunately, the Parvo vaccine is very effective, and once puppies have had their vaccination series they are well protected. A few breeds, however, are more susceptible to Parvo than most, even when vaccinated. These are Dobermans, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, pit bulls, and Dachshunds. Many vets recommend a forth distemper vaccination for these breeds at about 16 weeks of age.
Until a puppy has had at least two distemper vaccinations, I recommend to my clients that they avoid taking their puppy to anyplace where there are many dogs, such as pet supply stores and dog parks, etc.