Veterinarian Reviewed on May 27, 2010 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
Signs and Symptoms
Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious viral disease that can have a devastating effect on a dog’s health. Relatively new, this disease first appeared in the late 1970s and quickly spread around the world within a very short span of time. Today, parvovirus remains a serious threat to our canine companions, especially for puppies and older dogs. While many dogs that contract this virus will not show any symptoms, those that do develop the disease typically begin to exhibit a number of warning signs within three to ten days of becoming infected. Once symptoms begin to arise, it’s imperative to seek veterinary help immediately; canine parvovirus strikes swiftly and mercilessly, and can lead to death very quickly.
When a dog develops disease from canine parvovirus, symptoms can include lethargy and depression. An animal with this illness will spend more time sleeping and lose interest in normal daily activities. Loss of appetite and an elevated Dog Fever are also common symptoms of this disease. Canine parvovirus attacks an animal’s intestinal tract, causing Dog Vomiting and Dog Diarrhea. Normally, vomiting begins first, followed by diarrhea. The ailing dog’s diarrhea will typically be accompanied by a particularly foul smell. The dog’s liquid stools may also contain lots of mucus, be yellowish in color, or contain blood. Generally, vomiting and diarrhea will be severe and will occur repetitively. This then leads to severe dehydration. While not every dog that becomes ill from canine parvovirus will exhibit all of these symptoms together, vomiting and diarrhea are the most common warning signs displayed by dogs with this disease.
Due to the severe dehydration and the internal damage that canine parvovirus can cause, most deaths from this disease occur within forty-eight to seventy-two hours of the onset of symptoms. This is why it’s so important to contact a veterinarian as soon as symptoms arise. Even if you’re not sure whether your dog is suffering from canine parvovirus or another, less serious ailment, it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry.
A diagnosis of canine parvovirus is based upon clinical signs and laboratory tests. A veterinarian will take a complete medical history of the canine patient and conduct a thorough physical examination. At this point, it’s helpful for the pet owner to describe to the veterinarian exactly what symptoms and behaviors have been observed in the home environment. Once other possible causes of the dog’s vomiting and diarrhea have been ruled out, a number of tests may be performed in order to conclusively determine whether or not the animal is suffering from canine parvovirus.
Blood tests may be performed in order to check for signs of infection. In addition, a number of tests may be conducted on the canine patient’s feces in an attempt to directly identify the presence of canine parvovirus. Such tests may include an Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSorbent Assay (ELISA), which is a biochemical technique that allows for the detection of antibodies or antigens in a sample. Electron microscopy may also be used to examine the patient’s feces for signs of the virus. Both of these forms of fecal analysis allow a veterinarian to conclusively determine whether this viral disease is at the root of the dog’s problem. However, in the case of an unvaccinated dog, bloody diarrhea and evidence of an infection will often be sufficient for a veterinarian to make a diagnosis of canine parvovirus.
Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious, single-stranded DNA virus that affects dogs and other canines. This viral disease was first observed in 1978 and is now present all around the world. There are two main forms of this disease — cardiac and intestinal. The cardiac form of canine parvovirus infects puppies in utero or just after birth, quickly causing symptoms of heart failure, as the virus attacks the animal’s heart muscle. However, this form of the disease is now quite rare due to widespread vaccination practices.
The intestinal form of canine parvovirus is more common and affects puppies as well as older dogs. This intestinal disease likes the lining of the intestines because this is an area where there are many rapidly dividing cells, especially in puppies. The disease attacks and destroys these cells in the gastrointestinal tract, and this is what leads to the classic symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. The ability of canine parvovirus to damage heart muscle and to cause rapid and severe dehydration through vomiting and diarrhea are the characteristics that make this disease so dangerous. Dogs that survive this disease often sustain permanent heart or intestinal damage.
This contagious disease is transmitted via contact with infected feces or soil. When a dog with canine parvovirus defecates, the virus will be present in its feces. When another dog comes in oral contact with infected feces or with soil that has absorbed the virus from the feces, the animal will pick up the virus. Thus, either direct or indirect contact with infected fecal matter can cause a dog to contract canine parvovirus. While humans cannot contract this canine disease, they can inadvertently contribute to its transmission by carrying infected fecal matter around on their shoes and spreading the virus to other locations.
One of the reasons that canine parvovirus is so contagious is that it is capable of surviving for long periods of time outside of a dog’s body. In fact, this virus is known to be able to survive in organic matter such as soil for as long as one year, even through extreme changes in temperature. Dogs that recover from canine parvovirus are still contagious and capable of spreading the disease for up to two months and, therefore, must be kept isolated from other canines in order to prevent the spread of the disease. Furthermore, even dogs that do not show any symptoms of disease are capable of transmitting the virus in their feces for up to eighteen days after exposure to the virus.
The most likely places for a dog to become infected with this virus are communal areas where many dogs gather, such as at parks, kennels, shelters, pet stores, and dog shows. Generally, it will take between three and ten days for an infected dog to begin showing symptoms. All dogs are at risk of contracting canine parvovirus, but puppies less than four months of age and unvaccinated dogs are at a higher risk. Also, certain breeds of dogs seem to be more prone to developing this disease. These breeds include Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and other breeds with black or tan coloring. However, it’s important to remember that all dogs are endangered by canine parvovirus and should be protected against it.
Unfortunately, there is no drug available to kill canine parvovirus and, therefore, there is no cure for the disease. Canine parvovirus does not directly cause the death of an infected animal. Rather, the virus causes intestinal damage, which leads to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and infection of the bloodstream. It is these conditions that ultimately cause the animal to die. As a result, when a dog is sick with this disease, treatment focuses on reducing the impact of these three conditions. Intravenous fluids and electrolytes are administered in order to counteract dehydration and imbalances of sodium and potassium. In addition, antibiotics are provided in order to prevent secondary infections and other medications are used to relieve symptoms such as nausea and intestinal cramping. Treatment must begin immediately in order to provide the dog with a chance for survival, and careful care and monitoring must be continued throughout the treatment process.
In some cases, it may be appropriate to use homeopathic remedies in addition to the above treatment methods. Natural products designed to help dogs survive canine parvovirus contain a number of different herbs and natural ingredients with a variety of beneficial properties. For example, Echinacea, goldenseal, and Oregon grape are some ingredients often found in such remedies. Natural ingredients like these help to reduce inflammation, boost the immune system, soothe the digestive system, and prevent secondary bacterial infections.
Since canine parvovirus is such a contagious and dangerous disease, prevention is the best way to protect your dog from succumbing to this illness. The very best way to ensure that your pet is protected against this disease is to make sure that your dog’s vaccinations are always up to date. In addition, any potentially contaminated areas should be thoroughly cleaned with a chlorine bleach solution mixed with water in a 1:30 ratio. All bedding, floors, and water bowls that have come in contact with an infected animal should be cleaned with this chlorine bleach. Other cleaning solutions are not strong enough to kill this hardy virus. Other important steps that pet owners can take include cleaning up feces and preventing dogs from investigating or coming in contact with the stools of other dogs.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan