Parvovirus infection is a very serious contagious illness that affects dogs. The virus causing this disease is very small and so the name - 'Parvo' means 'small'. It has replaced Canine Distemper as one of the most feared and fatal illnesses that affect dogs. It was first detected and observed in the late nineteen-seventies. At the time, there were several serious outbreaks of this disease simultaneously in Australia, the United States, and in many parts of Europe. No one is quite sure how this illness came about - there is a theory that the virus mutated from the Feline Panlencopaenia virus that causes Distemper in cats.
This is very easily transmitted illness. It is especially prevalent in places where unvaccinated dogs congregate. The virus is shed through stools and remains active in the environment for a long time. It is not air-borne and canine-specific, but it is very easily passed on by even the slightest contact, through footwear, or handling food utensils or bedding of the infected animals. Even a bird pecking at the infected fecal matter and then landing next to peck into your pet's food bowl could pass on the disease. The symptoms appear around about 10 days after the dog has being exposed.
The first signs of Parvovirus are high fever and general depression. The dog usually stops eating and soon suffers from intense vomiting and foul-smelling, yellowish, diarrhea with bloody traces. If not controlled, this can rapidly lead to dehydration and death.
Chances of Survival
The younger the infected dog, the higher are the chances of the disease proving fatal. The virus directly attacks the heart muscles or intestines of puppies and this usually leads to death. On the slim possibility that the dog survives, it is difficult to have a long and healthy life. The infection will in all likelihood have left it with a permanently damaged heart. Such animals sooner rather than later succumb to heart failure.
When the virus strikes older dogs, the result is usually, as mentioned, a severe case of enteritis, often of the hemorrhagic sort, together with vomiting. The affected dog will soon collapse from dehydration and will require an intravenous drip to keep it alive. Recovery is very slow and again with lasting damage. The virus will have destroyed the intestinal lining and this leads to permanent digestive problems.
There is no definite cure as yet, but the disease can be controlled by giving antibiotics, intravenous fluids, and preventing the rapid setting of dehydration. Dogs who have survived parvo can get it again, although it is less likely.
Prevention is the Best Cure
The only way to avoid this illness is by vaccinating your pets and avoiding all contact with unvaccinated animals. At the time of the mass outbreak in the nineteen-seventies, vaccines intended for cats were used to treat the illness in infected dogs. Now canine-specific vaccines have been produced. Vaccinating puppies against this disease, first when they are about 6 weeks of age and then with an interval of a month, is highly recommended. Vaccinations against Parvovirus are continued in this manner till the puppy reaches the age of 20 weeks and from then on a yearly inoculation is considered enough.
Special care should be taken to clean the area and its surroundings after or during an infection, as the virus is not easily destroyed. Unlike the Canine Distemper virus, which is not particularly stable outside a host body, the Parvovirus doesn't need a host body for survival. It can remain active on its own in the environment for several years. It is also immune to most disinfectants - to destroy it you need chlorine bleach and other disinfectants made from the aldehyde group.