Published: March 2021 | Updated: January 2023
Happy, healthy puppies who suddenly turn deathly ill in a matter of days, with survival rates as low as 9%, grab everyone’s attention. And what is the culprit? Every dog owner and veterinarian’s nightmare: parvovirus.
What is Parvovirus?
Canine parvovirus, or commonly “parvo,” is just what the name indicates: a virus. In short, parvovirus is a single strand of DNA, which infects cells so that it may replicate, and then kills the cells in the process.
The strain of parvovirus in puppies that is commonly observed is CPV-2. This strain of the virus infects cells that multiply rapidly, especially those in the lining of the intestines. When the virus damages these intestinal cells, the gastrointestinal tract is no longer fully functional, causing larger problems for the dog.
How Do Puppies Get Parvo?
Parvovirus is a highly contagious virus, so it can spread rapidly from dog to dog. Parvovirus is shed from an infected dog (whether showing symptoms or not) through the feces. Subsequently, any dog who comes into contact with the fecal matter may become infected by the virus.
Unfortunately, the virus is resistant to many things, including heat, cold, dry temperatures, and even many disinfectants. It can be transported on lots of different surfaces, meaning that even if you unknowingly step in dog poop that is contaminated, you may bring the virus home with you.
Parvovirus more commonly infects young puppies, 6 weeks to 6 months of age. Puppies do not have fully developed immune systems at this age, because immunity given by their mothers is short-lived, and they have not yet developed their own full immune system or been vaccinated.
As the immunity from their mothers declines prior to vaccination, puppies become susceptible to the virus. Additionally, adult unvaccinated dogs or those who have not been fully vaccinated may be at risk of contracting the virus.
Signs of Parvo in Puppies
Parvovirus symptoms in puppies include:
- Severe diarrhea
- Lethargy or depression
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
If your puppy exhibits any signs of parvovirus, it is important to contact your veterinarian right away to get a proper diagnosis. You need to act fast, as the first 48-72 hours are pivotal for potential treatment. Even if they do not have parvo, these symptoms could indicate another problem that needs to be treated as quickly as possible.
My Puppy Has Parvo. What's Next?
If your puppy is diagnosed with parvo, it is likely not going to be an easy road ahead. However, the good news is that you got your puppy to the vet and diagnosed, which is a huge step towards having your pup make a full recovery.
With proper treatment, up to 90% of the dogs who contract parvo will survive, compared to far worse survival rates in those left untreated.
It is likely that your puppy will have to be hospitalized for proper treatment. Because parvo is a virus, there isn’t a specific medication that can treat it alone, like some antibiotics can treat bacterial infections. Instead, the main focus of treatment is supportive care to the dog.
IV fluids will be given to dogs with parvo to help combat severe dehydration that is associated with diarrhea and vomiting. The vet will also determine if other medications are needed, which may include: electrolytes, antimicrobials to prevent secondary infections, analgesics (pain relievers), anti-nausea drugs, nutritional support, and more.
Nutritional support is becoming more important in parvo treatment for puppies. Originally, it was common to treat parvo patients with nil per os, or NPO for short, which means feed was withheld from the patient.
However, more recently, research has shown that enteral nutrition (nutrition to the digestive tract via a feeding tube) is an important factor in healing and recovery. While the exact methodology and feeding program will vary by veterinarian and patient, this nutritional intervention may help shorten hospital stays, and improve healing of the enterocytes, the absorptive cells in the small intestine.
Other research has shown therapeutic effects of probiotic supplements for puppies with parvo. Probiotics promote optimal gut health conditions by promoting healthy bacteria, removing toxins from the gut, and aiding in proper digestion.
One study found that puppies treated with probiotics had shortened recovery times compared to those not receiving probiotics. Additionally, probiotics are beneficial to restore the health of the gastrointestinal tract when receiving treatments such as pain medications and antibiotics which may be given in the treatment of parvo, and therefore are a good addition to a recovery program.
How Can I Avoid Parvovirus in Puppies?
There are some steps that you can take to prevent your puppy (or dog) from contracting parvovirus.
- Keep puppy areas clean and free of any fecal matter.
If you take your puppy or dog outside to play or to go on a walk, prevent them from coming into contact with another dog’s fecal matter. If puppies have not been fully vaccinated, it is not recommended to take them to places such as dog parks, daycare or boarding facilities, kennels, or puppy training classes, because you do not know if other dogs have been vaccinated or may carry the virus.
- Once dogs are of the proper age, be sure to get their parvovirus vaccine series, and keep them up to date on their proper boosters.
- As parvovirus attacks the gastrointestinal tract, supporting a healthy gut may help reduce the risk of contracting the virus, or limit the damage that occurs. FullBucket’s Puppy Probiotic is formulated specifically for puppies, and promotes gut health, proper digestion, and immune function.
Additionally, FullBucket’s Puppy Probiotic is specially formulated by veterinarians to include parvo antibodies. This can help protect puppies from contracting the virus if they become exposed by boosting their immune system specifically against parvovirus.
Take Home Message
Parvovirus is a virus that attacks the canine digestive system, especially puppies who have not yet developed full immunity. If your puppy begins showing symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and fever, it is important to get them to a veterinarian immediately for treatment.
In order to prevent your puppy from contracting parvo, make sure to keep them in a clean environment, and prevent them from being exposed to fecal matter or other dogs who may carry parvo.
When you can, get your puppy vaccinated for parvo and stay on top of their booster shots so they are protected for life. In the meantime, you can provide your puppy with FullBucket’s Puppy Probiotic to support gut health and immunity, and provide them with antibodies to protect against parvovirus.