Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue

What is "Parvo"?

by User Not Found | Apr 07, 2013

Mikayla was found by animal control in a cage with two other dogs.  The three puppies were so crammed into the cage, that it was obvious they had not gotten there themselves.  It’s possible they were puppy mill dogs who were never sold and the owner needed a way to get rid of them. 

Mikayla was estimated to be about 6-8 months old and had only some worms and a bad ear infection.  Obviously, she also needed to be spayed, so we sent her to surgery just a couple days after she arrived at our vet’s office.  That night, her foster took her home.  She noticed a little vomiting and Mikayla sleeping a lot, but this is pretty normal for at least a day or so after surgery. 

The next morning, Mikayla was still vomiting.  She was unable to even keep water down by mid-afternoon and her foster knew something wasn’t right.  We rushed her back to the vet’s office and there she was diagnosed with Canine Parvovirus.

Have you heard of Parvo?  Perhaps only once a year or once every few years when someone rattles off that vaccination that your dog is due for…it sounds something like, oh yes, your dog is due for distemper/parvo vaccine.  Side note, this vaccine also contains other important vaccines, like parainfluenza and hepatitis, but most folks refer to the two big ones.  Parvo is actually short for canine parvovirus, yep there’s a human one too so the canine part is important.  Puppies are at the highest risk because they have not been fully vaccinated.  Puppies require a vaccination against Parvo about every 3-4 weeks starting when they are around eight weeks old.  Adult dogs who have completed their puppy series, or have had at least one and a booster can maintain immunity for much longer and usually only get vaccinated about every 3-5 years.  Vaccination means protection!  Poor little Mikayla had never been vaccinated.  We notified the shelter immediately and also found out later that both the other dogs in the cage had gotten Parvo as well.  Luckily, they all survived.

Canine Parvovirus is HIGHLY contagious.  Young dogs with no vaccination history that have come from a shelter are most susceptible.  With the high numbers of dogs passing thru shelters and poor disinfection processes, once this virus hits, it can spread like wildfire.  The sad part is, those dogs that aren’t treated, will die.  Dogs can get the virus by coming in to contact with the poop of dogs with the virus, but also from infected soil (there’s those darn wildlife critters again).  It first enters the body thru the mouth and targets the first rapidly dividing cells it can find, those of the throat.  This smart little virus multiplies every time a cell divides, again rapidly, making so much of itself in a short time that it “overflows” in to the blood.  Using the blood like a super highway, it makes its way to the GI tract where it really does its damage.  The result is a wicked diarrhea that accompanies the word explosive and vomiting too.  Parvo also attacks the bone marrow and can cause suppression of white blood cells (the cells that fight infection) allowing the damage in the GI tract to escalate quickly.  Symptoms are generally lethargy, bloody/mucusy diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and fever. 

Unfortunately it wasn’t until after her spay surgery that she really started to feel bad.   Typically it is about 3-7 days once the dog is exposed to the virus for them to start showing symptoms.  Her foster mom noticed her vomiting and although this is common after surgery, “mom” knew something wasn’t right.  A few short hours later, Mikayla was back at our vet offices exhibiting the tell-tale symptoms of Parvo.  For any dog, especially a puppy, vomiting and diarrhea are a fast track to dehydration, which can cause a slew of other problems.   There is a test for Parvo, but generally these symptoms are used for diagnosis and to treat, which involves intravenous fluids and antibiotics, also known as supportive care in the hopes that he/she can fight off the virus on their own.  Because she doesn’t have the disease and her infection fighting cells are not in full force, thanks to the Parvo, we have to give Mikayla antibiotics to keep her from developing another infection that could kill her.  With the parvovirus destroying the protective lining of the GI tract, bacteria can “leak” from the intestines.  As you probably know, there is a ton of bacteria in our intestines and this protective lining keeps it separated from sterile places in the body, like the blood.  Bacteria in the blood can lead to sepsis, a condition that causes a severe whole-body infection.  Parvovirus rarely kills a dog, but a dog with Parvovirus will not survive 80% of the time without treatment.  The two main reasons for death?  Dehydration and bacterial infection or sepsis.  And just think, all this could be avoided with a simple vaccination.

Luckily, thanks to the wonderful care of our vets and vet techs, Mikayla is now home with her foster brother and foster family.  She spent almost a week in the hospital.  Since her foster brother is vaccinated, he is safe from the virus.  Humans are also safe from this virus, since it only infects dogs, however, to keep the virus from spreading to other dogs who may not be vaccinated, you must call in Mr. Clean!  Most viruses can not survive outside a cell, but Parvo is extremely hardy.  The only household disinfectant that kills it is bleach.  And even though Mikayla has successfully recovered, she remains contagious for up to two weeks or more.  She shed’s virus in her poop during this time, so cleaning up after her is VERY important.  She can also carry the virus in her fur, if she or someone touches infected poop and then pets her.  Remember to wash your hands!  Crates are wiped down with a 1:10 bleach solution and blankets and beds should be washed and dried on HIGH heat.  Puppies who are not fully vaccinated are at the most risk so they shouldn’t be allowed to hang out with Mikayla for another few weeks.  Dogs that are unvaccinated should steer clear!  She should also not go to places like dog parks and pet stores because she is putting other dogs at risk by being in such public places where many dogs pass thru every day.  So if all this doesn’t sound appealing to you, perhaps you should consider a vaccine that takes less than 5 seconds to give and costs less than $25.  Mikayla’s treatment for Parvo, more than $2000.00 and we were lucky enough that she survived, thanks to the great eye of her foster mom. 

Happy Hand-Washing!


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