Symptoms of Parvovirus in Dogs

Parvovirus in dogs is an incurable disease affecting the intestines of older dogs but the heart muscles of puppies. Since there is no cure, the only course of action is alleviating the secondary symptoms in order to provide a better quality of life, but not necessarily an extension of life.

What Exactly Is Parvovirus?

Being a highly contagious virus among canines, parvovirus is transmitted through an infected dog’s stool. The virus is heavily concentrated in the stool and so whenever another dog sniffs an area where an infected dog has eliminated, that dog can possibly be infected with the parvovirus. Transmission of the virus can occur for up to 3 weeks after being infected even without visible signs of infection. Without the outward signs of infection during this incubation period, it is greatly possible that an infected dog can spread the disease unsuspectingly.

Parvovirus affects any gender, size, age or breed of dog or puppy. Usually the first symptoms are rapid dehydration brought on by the vomiting and bloody diarrhea, both of which are common symptoms of the disease. The dog’s health and age will determine the severity of the disease. Survivors, though rare, can be carriers of the virus for more than a year. In fact, this sturdy virus can survive up to 6 months outside of the body on surfaces. Surfaces can include porous or non-porous materials, such as clothing, shoes, beds, bowls, doghouses, etc. Coming into contact with any infected material can indirectly infect a dog with the virus. Only bleach (1 to 30 parts water) and sunlight can kill this virus.

Symptoms Vary

  • Symptoms include any one or several combined of the following:
  • Bloody diarrhea, usually with a very foul odor
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid dehydration due to the vomiting and diarrhea
  • Low white blood cell count
  • Decreased or lack of appetite
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Possible shock, often leading to death
  • Difficulties breathing (puppy symptom only)
  • Crying (puppy symptom only)
  • Irregular heartbeat (puppy symptom only)
  • Unwillingness to nurse (puppy symptom only)

Treatment for Parvovirus

Unfortunately, there is cure for parvovirus. Therefore, treatment consists of preventing or alleviating any other infections, treating the dehydration prevalent to parvovirus caused by the vomiting and bloody diarrhea and preventing heart attacks (for puppies) since the virus attacks the heart muscles rather than the intestines in puppies.

Early intravenous fluid therapy will address the dehydration, which is the primary cause of death. Antibiotics will treat any other infections. Odds are improved with hospitalization to prevent further infections, but not guaranteed.

Prevention Is The Best Line Of Defense

Vaccinating a dog for parvovirus is the best defense. It is important to remember that a dog will remain highly susceptible to the virus until 2 to 4 weeks after the last injection of the full immunization series.

It is unfortunate that the maternal antibodies in the mother’s milk impede the effectiveness of the vaccinations in puppies. Usually, antibiotics found in mother’s milk provides some immunity from diseases. Therefore, a puppy must be vaccinated every 3 to 4 weeks until he is at least 16 to 18 weeks of age.