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Canine parvo virus

Until the mid 1970s, canine parvo virus was unheard of. Suddenly, it burst upon the scene with a terrible, deadly vengeance. Breeders, kennels, humane shelters and veterinarians across the country were affected.

Entire litters of puppies died a quick, bloody death.

Once recognized, research soon found tests to diagnosis and vaccines to prevent the disease. There still isn’t a cure for it.

Parvo usually hits puppies but older Dogs can be susceptible. Puppies usually become sick sometime after five to six weeks of age, the time when the antibodies, from the mother’s colostrums (first milk) wear off. In older Dogs, stressed and unvaccinated pets are most commonly affected.

Parvo virus attacks the dog’s gastro-intestinal track. It produces copious amounts of vomiting, bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and if untreated, death.

A puppy presented with these symptoms will often be tested for intestinal worms first. If these are not found or if parvo is still suspected, a blood sample may be pulled to check the white cell count. A lowered white count is a common symptom of parvo virus. There are also tests that can be used on the feces. A very small amount is placed on a cotton swab, mixed with a solution and poured into a test device. This device works very similar to a home pregnancy test. It will have a colored control area as well as the results window. Although this test is very sensitive, false negatives can be had when testing occurs during certain stages of the disease.

There is no actual cure for parvo virus. A dog brought in will be treated systematically. Large amounts of IV fluids will be given for dehydration, a medication for slowing the GI tract will be given in hopes to give the intestines time to heal, another medication my be given for vomiting as well as antibiotics to prevent secondary infections. It must be remembered, that there is no guarantee for the survival of the pet, even with the best of medical care. The average rate for survival with proper care is 80%.

Some breeds have a better survival rate than others. Often, terriers that looked to be dead upon presentation will pull through where as Rottweillers and Dobermans will not. Von Willebraun’s disease is a common problem with these breeds. It inhibits the clotting factor in a dog’s blood. Without the needed clotting agents, the bleeding from the intestines can prove fatal.

Treatment for parvo virus is not cheap. It involves hospitalization, many tests that are repeatedly run, IV catheters, liters of fluids, massive amounts of antibiotics and enormous personal care by a veterinarian or a technician. A typical case of parvovirus can cause 10-30 bowel movements and bouts of vomiting in a single day. Usually, one technician will be in charge of care for the infected dog. This is because of the enormous risk of spreading the disease to other pets which may come in during the course of a normal day.

Parvo virus is highly contagious. It can be spread through saliva, feces and nose-to-nose contact. An example of the virulence of the disease can be seen, by looking at kennels, which allow prospective puppy buyers in. These buyers may check out several kennels in one day, never informing the owners of a litter, that they have looked at and handled other pups. If they inadvertently handled a contagious puppy at the first kennel stop of the day, the prospective buyer can then carry the disease on their hands and clothing to each kennel seen afterwards. It doesn’t matter if they see one or twenty in a day. All are infected. Meter readers and repairmen can walk through a contaminated area in one yard and carry the infection to all the yards he visits afterwards.

Parvo virus can remain viable in the environment up to six months and there is little an owner can do to eradicate it from the yard. Interiors can be washed with a strong bleach solution to cleanse the home.

Prevention is the key to keeping a puppy safe from parvo virus. Prevention includes not one but a minimum of four vaccinations. Puppies should receive their first immunization at six weeks, another at nine, a third at twelve and then a final one is given at nine months.

This schedule must be kept for a pet’s immunity to build correctly. Just because a puppy has had one or two of the vaccinations, complete immunity is NOT in effect. The first dose is a loading dose, the second and third ones actually give the immunity and the fourth dose is a booster.

If a puppy exhibits a sudden onset of symptoms, including bloody stool, vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy, seek veterinary help immediately. Dehydration can set in and cause death in a matter of hours.

The initial diagnosis of CPV can usually be made by a veterinarian after observing the dog’s symptoms; however, vomiting and diarrhea can be caused by a number of diseases. The rapid spread of illness in a group of Dogs is another indication that CPV may be the culprit. A more definitive diagnosis of CPV can be made by testing feces for the virus, either at the veterinarian's office or through an outside laboratory.

Treatment for CPV should be started immediately. Hospitalization is necessary, except in relatively mild cases. Dogs must be kept warm. Dehydration is treated by replacing electrolytes and fluids and controlling vomiting and diarrhea. Antibiotics are used to prevent secondary infections. No drug is yet available that will kill the virus.

The easiest way to prevent CPV in adult Dogs has been through annual vaccinations, although increasingly, veterinarians are recommending that vaccinations be administered every three years. Puppies need a series of booster shots, because of uncertainty about when maternal immunity wanes and the time the vaccine can provide puppies with their own immunity. This may be as early as six weeks of age or as late as fourteen weeks of age. If there is still a high level of maternal antibody present in the puppy, it will interfere with a vaccination. Veterinarians recommend that puppies get boosters every three weeks until they are sixteen weeks old, and they should be kept separate from unvaccinated Dogs. Vaccinations given to puppies as well as adults also protect against other serious canine diseases like distemper, infectious hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, and coronavirus.

Parvo vaccinations are usually required for participation in puppy obedience classes and for boarding your dog at kennels. A vaccination does not guarantee that your puppy will be safe from the virus, but it's good protective insurance.

A parvo-infected dog can shed the virus in his feces, which makes him extremely contagious to other Dogs. The following precautions will help prevent the spread of this disease.

· Keep the dog isolated from all other Dogs for at least a month after recovery.

· Pick up all the dog's stools in your yard.

· Use chlorine bleach and water to clean food and water bowls. Wash the dog's bedding in bleach and hot water. Disinfect all areas that the dog has been in, including linoleum floors, crates, etc.

· If you have any other Dogs who are two years old or younger, or who have not had parvo vaccinations, take them to your veterinarian immediately for a booster shot.

· Feed your dog a bland diet until he recovers. Reintroduce regular food slowly.

A healthy puppy or adult dog should never be allowed contact with the feces of other Dogs when walking or playing in public. Dispose of waste material properly and try to keep lawns, sidewalks, and street gutters clear of feces from neighborhood Dogs.

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