Canine parvovirus is a virus that usually affects unvaccinated dogs of approximately six to twenty weeks of age and is characterized by causing gastrointestinal signs like diarrhea and vomiting. All dogs are at risk, but Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, German Shepherds and Chihuahuas are at increased risk. Canine parvovirus can be found in the environment and it can live there for several years. It can be transmitted through direct and indirect contact with objects contaminated with fecal material from an infected dog. If left untreated, it can be fatal to dogs, but it is not transmissible to humans. The virus takes from three to eight days in the body before it causes clinical signs.
When an affected dog presents to the veterinarian, it is usually anorexic and lethargic. Diarrhea is present most of the times and may be associated with blood and mucus. Vomiting may also be observed and a fever may or may not be present, as well as excessive salivation. Diarrhea and vomiting not only cause abdominal pain, but also commonly lead to dehydration.
In order to diagnose a canine parvovirus infection, an in-house snap test can be performed using a sample of fecal material. Blood work and abdominal radiographs can also be performed to rule out other diseases. A fecal analysis is also recommended to determine if there are any intestinal parasites present. When considering canine parvovirus infection as a possible diagnosis, it is important to rule out other possible diseases like gastroenteritis, gastrointestinal obstruction, acute pancreatitis, intussusception, or a dietary indiscretion.
Treatment is targeted to provide supportive care. Intravenous fluids are a very important part of the treatment plan in order to correct the dehydration. Although antibiotics do not have an effect on the virus, they may be used in severely affected dogs to avoid a septicemia that may be caused by bacteria from the intestinal tract. If intestinal parasites are present, the treatment should also include dewormers. Medications against vomiting and to treat the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract can be given, as well as providing nutritional support. If treated aggressively early in the course of disease and no major complications are found, most dogs recover within several days. However, they can shed the virus in the feces for up to three weeks post infection.
Canine parvovirus infection can be prevented with vaccination beginning at the age of six to eight weeks and continuing in intervals of every two to three weeks until the dog is at least four months old. Afterwards, it is recommended to continue vaccinating once every year. During the time frame when the puppy is going through a vaccination protocol, it is advised to avoid places like dog parks and boarding facilities, where dogs may harbor the disease. In order to avoid further exposure, the contaminated area and any object that was in contact with the affected dog (bedding, feeding bowls and others) need to be clean with household bleach or any product that is specifically labeled for use against canine parvovirus.