Canine Parvovirus Infection in Dogs
The canine parvovirus (CPV) infection is a highly contagious viral illness that affects dogs. The virus manifests itself in two different forms: the more common form is the intestinal form, which is characterized by vomiting, diarrhoea, weight loss and lack of appetite (anorexia). The less common form is the cardiac form, which attacks the heart muscles of fetuses and very young puppies, often leading to death.
The majority of cases are seen in puppies that are between six weeks and six months old. The incidence of canine parvovirus infections has been reduced radically by early vaccination in young puppies. It is recommended that puppies as young as 6 weeks old should get the vaccine if going to a new home.
Signs & Symptoms of Parvo in Dogs
The major symptoms associated with the intestinal form of a canine parvovirus infection include:
- Severe, bloody diarrhoea
- Severe weight loss
The intestinal form of CPV affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, and an affected animal will quickly become dehydrated and weak from lack of protein and fluid absorption. The wet tissue of the mouth and eyes may become noticeably red, and the heart may beat too rapidly.
When your veterinarian examines your dog’s abdominal area, your dog may respond due to pain or discomfort. Dogs who have contracted CPV may also have a low body temperature (hypothermia), rather than a fever.
How is Parvo Spread?
Most cases of CPV infections are caused by a genetic alteration of the original canine parvovirus: the canine parvovirus type 2b. There are a variety of risk factors that can increase a dog’s susceptibility to the disease, but mainly, parvovirus is spread either by direct contact with an infected dog or indirectly, by the faecal-oral route.
Heavy concentrations of the virus are found in an infected dog’s stool, so when a healthy dog sniffs an infected dog’s stool (or anus), that dog can contract the disease. The virus can also be brought into a dog’s environment by way of shoes that have come into contact with infected faeces.
There is evidence that the virus can live in the ground soil for up to a year. It is resistant to most cleaning products, or even to weather changes. If you need to clean up a parvovirus-contaminated area, first pick up and safely dispose of all organic material (vomit, faeces, etc.), and then thoroughly wash the area with a concentrated household bleach solution, one of the few disinfectants known to kill the virus. If a dog has had parvovirus in a home, it is best not to have a puppy in that home for several years.
Due to the density of dogs, breeding kennels and dog shelters that hold a large number of unvaccinated puppies are particularly hazardous places. This is why your veterinarian will want to re-vaccinate your puppy even if records from the breeder indicate it has had a vaccination. Shelters and rescue groups will often place puppies into foster homes until they are ready for adoption to minimize the risk of spreading parvovirus.
Diagnosis of Parvovirus in Dogs
CPV is diagnosed with a physical examination, biochemical tests, and a special test for the parvovirus in faeces. A urine analysis, abdominal radiographs and abdominal ultrasounds may also be performed. Low white blood cell levels and significant dehydration are indicative of CPV infection, especially in association with bloody stools.
Biochemical and urine analysis may reveal elevated liver enzymes, lymphopenia, and electrolyte imbalances. Abdominal radiograph imaging may show intestinal obstruction, while an abdominal ultrasound may reveal enlarged lymph nodes in the groin, or throughout the body, and fluid-filled intestinal segments.
You will need to give your vet a thorough history of your pet’s health, vaccination history, recent activities and onset of symptoms. It is important to retrace your dog’s steps for both possible exposure and potential contamination.
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