Parvovirus is a highly-contagious virus causing severe, potentially fatal, vomiting and diarrhoea in puppies and adult dogs. It is spread by direct contact between dogs, as well as through the environment, where the virus can survive for many months. It is a constant risk to unvaccinated dogs but can be easily prevented through vaccination.
Signs of parvovirus include:
- loss of appetite
- diarrhoea (often profuse and foul-smelling)
- in very young puppies from unvaccinated mothers, it can lead to heart disease and cause sudden death or severe breathing difficulties
The vomiting and diarrhoea leads to rapid dehydration, and this is the main cause of death. Treatment needs to be swift.
Parvovirus is diagnosed using a faecal test. Many veterinary practices will have a rapid test which can give a diagnosis within minutes.
Puppies are most at risk of parvovirus, particularly those from puppy farms or illegally imported puppies. However, any dog is potentially at risk.
Treatment for parvovirus
Dogs with parvovirus must be kept isolated from other dogs and strict hygiene measures used. Rapid treatment is highly important and will consist of:
- intravenous fluids to correct and prevent dehydration
- antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infection
- giving intravenous glucose and electrolytes as needed to correct imbalances
- symptomatic treatment to reduce vomiting
- there is some success using antiviral medication if used early in the disease but this is very expensive
Treatment for parvovirus can be very costly and unfortunately is not often covered by insurance due to it being easily preventable with vaccination.
If you have had a dog with parvovirus, thorough disinfection of your house with an appropriate product should be undertaken before allowing any other dogs to stay. The virus can survive for many months and is resistant to some disinfectants.
Parvovirus can be prevented by vaccination.
If a mother dog has been vaccinated, her immunity to parvovirus will be passed onto her puppies through the milk and will protect them for the first few weeks of life. As the level of this immunity wanes, the puppy will need to be vaccinated, this usually takes place from 8 weeks of age. If the puppy is vaccinated too early, there is a risk that the mother’s antibodies will deal with the virus in the vaccine, meaning that the puppy has not developed an immune response themselves and will therefore not be protected in the future.
To protect against this, the WSAVA recommendations are for puppies to be vaccinated every 2-4 weeks from 6-8 weeks of age with the final vaccination given at 16 weeks of age or older.
Most of the vaccines licensed in the UK are licensed to finish the primary course by 10 weeks of age, but there is always a small risk with this that the puppy may not be fully protected, and in case of local outbreaks, a 16 week vaccine is highly advisable. The first year booster vaccination is very important to ensure full protection (the WSAVA recommends that this is brought forward to 6 months of age to minimise any at-risk period). Once this ‘booster’ vaccination has been given, vaccination against parvovirus is needed every 3 years (annual vaccination against other diseases may be required).
Vaccination is low-risk and is the best way to ensure protection against this deadly disease. Some people prefer to test for immunity with blood tests, rather than having regular re-vaccination. There are antibody titre tests available and these can give an indication of immunity but do not give the whole picture. They also only give a snap-shot of potential protection with no indication of how quickly this protection will wane so should be done annually if preferred to routine vaccination.