Parvovirus infection is a serious cause of vomiting and
diarrhea and can be life threatening. The majority of mammals are
susceptible to parvoviruses. Each species of family of animals are affected by
their own parvovirus and cannot be infected by a parvovirus specific for
another species. For example, humans or cats cannot be infected by the canine
The parvovirus is effective at infecting rapidly dividing
cells including intestinal cells, bone marrow cells, lymphatic cells and fetal
cells. Infected dogs may not show any clinical signs or will show
gastrointestinal signs. These signs include a sudden onset of lethargy (animal
may be more quiet or tired than normal), reduced or absent appetite, fever,
vomiting and diarrhea. Often the diarrhea may contain mucus or blood.
The virus is transmitted by direct contact with infected
animals or indirectly with objects including the environment that have been
contaminated with feces of an infected animal.
The virus is shed in large numbers by infected animals and
is able to survive very well in the environment including freezing
temperatures. Due to these reasons, it is assumed that most dogs are exposed to
the parvovirus in the environment. Just because a dog is exposed to the virus
does not mean that he/she will become infected. The chance of a particular dog
becoming infected depends on the amount of virus the dog was exposed to, the
amount of natural antibodies circulating in the blood obtained from their
mother?s milk and the vaccination status of the animal. The majority of dogs
who become infected are young and unvaccinated.
The virus can be life threatening as severe vomiting and
diarrhea can lead to fluid loss, dehydration, shock and then death. In
addition, when the gastrointestinal cells are infected, the natural intestinal
barrier is lost. When the barrier is lost, bacteria can invade the body, and
result in septic death.
Any animal suffering from vomiting and diarrhea should be
examined by a veterinarian. Depending on the physical examination, a test to
detect the parvovirus may be performed. This test is called the Enzyme Linked
Immunosorbant Asssy (ELISA) and detects the virus in feces. Although the ELISA
test is not 100% accurate it is our best diagnostic tool at this time.
If an animal tests positive for parvovirus, immediate
treatment should be initiated. Treatment includes hospitalization, intravenous
fluid therapy, antibiotics, anti-vomiting agents and various other therapies.
Fortunately most dogs that are treated early and appropriately will survive.
Treatment can be long and costly. Since the virus is extremely hardy, it is
important to disinfect the environment, including any area where the infected
animal has been. The virus is killed by diluted bleach.
The most important way to prevent your animal from becoming
infected with parvovirus is to ensure that your puppy gets a full set of
vaccinations against parvovirus and that you continue to vaccinate your dog as
he/she gets older. It is also recommended to restrict your puppy from public areas
where other dogs have been until they have received three puppy vaccines.
Although parvovirus infection is a potentially life threatening disease, the
risks of infection can be greatly reduced by following a regular vaccine
protocol. For more information on parvovirus and other animal diseases, please
refer to www.vspn.org