Parvo is everywhere

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 15, 2011

It started with turning her nose up at her supper, then she just laid around.

She has a new home and her owners were concerned, but it was not until she vomited that they called. When they described the symptoms, we got her right in. The test confirmed Roxie has parvo virus.

Parvo virus is a dangerous viral disease that affects puppies and dogs, and the first time they are exposed. Exposure is easy, because it is virtually everywhere that has not been disinfected.

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The virus is ubiquitous. (Ubiquitous is a wonderful word that means that it is everywhere. Or that there is nowhere that it is not. A word that fits God and parvo virus.)

Roxie caught parvo virus at the shelter. She was a young puppy put in with other puppies. It is not the shelter’s fault.

Like any daycare that did not require vaccinations, young animals bring diseases and share them before they show any signs.

Roxie looked great when she went home and when she came in and got her first vaccinations. Once exposed to the virus, it grows and multiplies for three to 10 days before causing any of the signs we see.

Puppies and adolescent dogs catch parvo most often. Like humans and chickenpox, you get it the first time that you are susceptible and exposed.

Since it is everywhere, even tracked in from sidewalks to houses, exposure is common. Most puppies get some protection from their mother.

Maternal antibodies are passed in utero and through the mother’s milk. These antibodies protect the young puppies, but are not replaced as the puppy grows up. The maternal antibodies are both good and bad.

The young puppy needs the protection, but the same maternal antibodies can block the puppy’s own longer vaccination antibodies.

In Roxie’s case, her body was growing parvo virus by the time that we saw her and she got her veterinary vaccination. In other cases, the vaccine may be improperly handled or given on the wrong schedule or be an ineffective vaccine.

Whatever the cause, over half of our parvo cases have a history of an over-the-counter vaccine. Extremely few have veterinary vaccinations.

Parvo virus replicates in rapidly dividing cells. This includes the cells lining the intestine and white blood cell production in the bone marrow.

In very, very young puppies, it can even include the heart and cause heart failure. The gastrointestinal cells account for the vomiting and diarrhea.

The decrease in white blood cells mean that the dog is more susceptible to other diseases. Parvo virus is bad, but parvo with distemper is disastrous.

When most people think of parvo virus, they think of the foul smelling bloody diarrhea. Often the diarrhea is so watery that it is thought to be urine.

And the smell! There are other diseases that can cause that smell, but anyone who has been around a veterinary hospital will think of parvo when they smell it.

The smell has caused many a new employee to turn green.

Vomiting is another characteristic symptom of the disease. This is usually dry heaves, because the dog is not eating. Actually, the first and very occasionally only, symptom includes a period of not eating.

Treatment involves supportive care. The virus will run its course within a couple of weeks.

The problem becomes keeping the pup alive until the virus is gone. Supportive care is best in the hospital. IV fluids, electrolytes, antibiotics and drugs to help with vomiting and diarrhea are the core of the treatment.

Various other treatments help the immune system. In a hospital with intensive care, 90 percent can recover to go home and do fine. Home treatment is difficult and often fails, often less than one in four or five live without hospitalization.

And Roxie? Roxie is getting the best of the options. She is in the hospital on intensive care and her parents are praying for her. That is important, because as scientifically proven, prayer does help.

MJ Wixsom practices veterinarian medicine at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. For questions, call 606-928-6566.