Parvo is a hard to kill virus

Published 2:53 am Saturday, January 23, 2021

Yesterday, we took our ninth parvo puppy in two weeks.

One is a cute Rottweiler puppy. She is also the last of three puppies in her litter to break with parvo.

For some strange reason only known to this vet’s staff, she is known as One.

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Canine parvovirus is a common, highly contagious virus. It is often fatal.

The virus kills the rapidly dividing cells in the dog. This is most apparent in the intestinal tract because of the speed of cell replacement in the guts. (It is hard work getting nutrition out of the things pups eat!)

Parvovirus will also attack the bone marrow where red and white blood cells are being produced. In very, very young animals, the heart muscle can be damaged.

Parvovirus causes lethargy, severe vomiting, loss of appetite and bloody, foul-smelling diarrhea that can lead to life-threatening electrolyte imbalance and dehydration. The characteristic smell is that of dead intestine and happens always with parvovirus and sometimes with a few other serious diseases.

The virus particles are extremely small and very hard to kill. It doesn’t take much of the virus to infect a dog or pup.

Parvovirus is extremely contagious and can be transmitted by anything that comes in contact with an infected dog’s poop.

Combine this with the fact the virus is highly resistant to disinfectants in the environment and you begin to see why veterinarians are so keen on vaccinations.

The virus can live in the environment for months, if not years. Food bowls, shoes, clothes, carpet and floors can have virus particles for a very long time.

Parvovirus particles are extremely common in the environment.

When One came in vomiting and not eating, we did a fecal sample (whoa, the smell!) and a parvo test.

There is a special Enzyme Linked ImmunoSorbant Assay (ELISA) test for parvovirus that is carried by most vet offices. Within twenty minutes, we knew One’s parvo test was strongly positive. While it is possible to have a mild case of parvo that does not require much treatment, this was not the case for One. Actually, it is usually not the case.

Parvovirus is treated with IV fluids, IV electrolytes, IV antibiotics and IV intensive care. None of these things kill the virus, but we try to keep the dog alive long enough to survive the virus.

A typical case requires aggressive IV supportive care. Often, we need medicine to control the vomiting and pain also. Dogs may spend five to seven days of intensive care, so treatment can add up. If this expense is too much, there are some home treatments, but they are not as effective. With hospitalization, we save 90 percent now. At home, 20–25 percent live. Some dogs die in spite of the best treatment.

Also, not all vomiting, sick, diarrhea pups have parvo.

Parasites, other viruses, stress, foreign body ingestions or garbage gut enteritis can cause similar symptoms. Getting an accurate diagnosis is important.

After One’s test, she got and IV with antibiotics, dextrose, electrolytes, antiemetic (anti-vomiting) and pain meds.

With blood from her IV catheter, we did a CBC or Complete Blood Count. This tells us about red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

The bone marrow depression by parvovirus is an indication of the immune status and the severity of the disease. She was significantly affected.

Parvovirus is common enough that we have a special isolation room with isolation cages.

The cages have their own drain, light and exhaust. It makes it easier to clean and cleaner, brighter, better smelling cages keeps the pup’s spirits up.

We wear gloves, and special jackets or gowns to prevent the spread of the disease.

Most of our cases of parvovirus are unvaccinated, under-vaccinated or over-the-counter (OTC) vaccinated puppies, but parvo can affect any age dog or dog relative.

Parvo can kill wolves, coyotes, foxes, raccoons and even cougars.

Certain breeds such as Rottweiler, Doberman pinschers, Labrador retrievers, American Staffordshire terriers and German shepherds are more susceptible than others. One fell into this category.

The OTC vaccine that she got did not protect her, but it interfered with the vaccine that we gave her.

Even so, this vaccination may have saved her life. Since the entire litter was sick with parvovirus, the treatment was well over $2,000.

Because we had vaccinated the litter, the vaccine company stood behind their vaccines and is paying for almost all of the treatment.

Without this, I don’t know that the owner could have afforded to treat all the puppies.

By the way, I had this discussion with a client this morning about internet pharmacies. Guaranteed to an internet pharmacy for a heartworm positive dog on prevention means a new box of whatever you bought.

With most of the companies that we deal with it means your pet gets the treatment and care to fix the disease.

This is a huge difference!

Normally, we start vaccines at six to eight weeks and continue until they are old enough to mount their own immune response. That time actually varies by age, breed and history.

This is part of why they call this the practice of medicine or the art of medicine.

One probably caught parvo from one of her weekend caretakers.

Her owners knew the routine and that pups could spread parvo for three weeks after they recovered. They had been limiting exposure, doing excellent cleaning and disinfecting.

The weekend caretaker didn’t think it was a big deal and let her play where her brother just had been. Or maybe he didn’t clean well enough in between.

Parvo is resistant to many typical disinfectants. After cleaning, an ounce of bleach in a gallon of water should be used to disinfect.

Don’t forget to clean and disinfect the infected dog’s toys, food dish and water bowl.

The bleach solution must be in contact for 10 minutes. Outside areas can be saturated with a bleach solution.

Regardless, One caught parvo and is now on IV fluids, IV antibiotics and IV intensive care.

She does seem to be doing well. We hope she continues and goes home on Monday.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. 606-928-6566.