I don’t know about you, but I love the weather we have been having recently. Working on outdoor projects, visiting parks, and hiking are some of my favorite things to do this time of year. I know I am in good company when I see the packed parking lots at the local pools and dog parks. I also know that with good weather, the risk for infectious diseases increases. The spring and summer time are usually when we see the most parvovirus cases at Diley Hill Emergency Center.

Parvovirus was first discovered in the late 1970s and primarily affects unvaccinated puppies (<1 year old). However I have diagnosed parvovirus in a 5 year old dog before that had never been vaccinated. As you can tell, vaccination is the key! There are many myths about vaccinations and parvovirus that you need to know, so I do not see you at the emergency hospital.

Myth #1: My puppy received a vaccination from the breeder before I got him. He should be protected against the parvovirus infection.

FALSE: Puppies need a series of booster vaccinations when they are young to achieve full immunity. They typically get their first vaccination at 6-8 weeks of age then they need a booster every 3-4 weeks until they are about 16 weeks old. This means puppies need at least 3-4 vaccinations to be fully protected against parvovirus. Then they need their yearly (or every 3 year) boosters as they grow. Just one vaccination does not provide any amount of protection against parvovirus or other diseases.

Myth #2: I give my puppy a 5 way vaccination from a store (like Tractor Supply) every 3-4 weeks like I am supposed to. He should be protected.

FALSE: Vaccinations that are not from a veterinary clinic are not as effective. They are not handled and stored the same way and do not have the guarantee that vaccinations from veterinary clinics do. I see many cases at Diley where an owner comes in who has given his/her puppy the appropriate number of vaccinations along the appropriate timeline, and the puppy still gets parvovirus. Vaccinations from vendors other than a veterinary clinic are not effective.

Myth #3: My dog doesn’t go to any dog parks or doggie day care, so he doesn’t need to be vaccinated.

FALSE: The actual parvovirus is a very resilient virus and can stay in the environment for up to a year. The virus begins to shed in the feces before clinical signs develop and can shed (or in other words spread from the dog to the environment) for about 10 days. The virus can be easily transmitted on clothing, shoes, hair/feet of infected dogs, and by other contaminated objects. You could walk your dog down the street, and he steps in grass that a dog with parvovirus pooped or vomited in. He gets the virus on his feet then licks them when he gets home, and now he has parvovirus. It is very important that every dog gets vaccinated.

Clinical signs and diagnostics:
The most common signs of parvovirus that we see are vomiting and diarrhea. Dogs may also have a lack of appetite and seem depressed. When you come in to the clinic, we will recommend a parvovirus test. This requires a fresh rectal swab. Occasionally a dog with parvovirus will test negative. If that happens, we typically recommend bloodwork to evaluate your dog’s immune system.

Treatment and Survival Rate:
Parovirus is a virus, which means we cannot just give an antiviral medication and fix the problem. The dogs we treat need intensive supportive care. This includes fluids, antibiotics for secondary infections, electrolytes, and gastrointestinal protective medications. We also often place nasogastric tubes to supplement nutrition. Usually the quicker we do this, the faster they will respond. The parvovirus cases we have in hospital are typically here for at least 3-5 days. This virus can be fatal if left untreated or not treated aggressively. The maximum survival rate of parvo patients is achieved with hospitalization where all basic treatment goals are met.