What you need to know about Parvo

Helping you keep your dog safe

Recently there have been parvovirus outbreaks across the country; the Horowhenua district has had its fair share of cases. Here is what you need to know about “Parvo”. 

What is “Parvo” ?

Parvo is caused by canine parvovirus. It is a very contagious, hardy virus that is easily spread and survives long periods of time in the environment (several years).  Because it lasts so long in the environment it is impossible to know where a dog might get it from. Dog parks, side-walks, public paths, roads and beaches may be contaminated and are not considered safe for unvaccinated dogs.  

Parvovirus attacks rapidly dividing cells in the body, particularly in the gut and the bone marrow. As the gut cells die dogs stop eating and develop severe vomiting and diarrhoea (the signs we usually associate with parvo, and the dog stops absorbing enough nutrients and becomes severely dehydrated.  

As the bone marrow dies, the dog stops being able to produce red and white blood cells. This causes the immune system to fail, preventing the dog from fighting the virus and other secondary infections. 

Left untreated, canine parvovirus infections are usually fatal.  

How to prevent Parvo 

Preventing canine parvoviral disease is easy. Vaccinate your dogs.  

We are lucky to have access to an extremely effective vaccine for canine parvovirus that is around 99% protective. However, the vaccine is only protective if the course has been completed and all booster shots are up to date.  

Usually a dog requires a minimum of three vaccines as a puppy with the last one being at 16 weeks old or older.   Puppies may not be protected until at least one week after their final 16 week old vaccine. 

Another vaccine is required 6-12 months later, followed by 3 yearly boosters. 

 Vaccine Protocols 

o    Puppies 

·         3-4 vaccines as a puppy finishing at or after 16 weeks of age 

·         A booster 6 months to 1 year after initial course (i.e. at 9-16 months of age) 

·         A follow up booster every three years. 

o    Adult dogs 

·         Unvaccinated or overdue adult dogs may require a single shot followed by a booster 6 months to 1 year later,  

·         Then a follow up booster every three years 

o    Vaccination protocols may vary geographically and depending on individual circumstance.  

Until a dog is fully vaccinated it is important to avoid all public areas. This means not taking your puppy out to dog parks or for walks in public until one week after their final shot. As puppies need to be socialised, it is usually recommended that you bring fully vaccinated dogs to play with them, or take them to properties of friends or family who have fully vaccinated dogs on “safe” properties (i.e. properties that are known not to have had a case of parvovirus for several years) 

Signs a dog might have Parvo 

The most common signs of parvovirus are vomiting and diarrhoea in an unvaccinated dog. Diarrhoea is often bloody and the dogs are usually lethargic, not eating and look miserable.  

However it may take several days for a dog with parvo to develop diarrhoea. Often in the early stages of the disease they may simply be “a bit off”, “not themselves”.  

The most important thing is to call your vet and seek advice for any sick unvaccinated dog.  

 If you think your dog has parvovirus do not take it off the property or bring it into a vet clinic without talking to a vet first.  

Most common signs of parvovirus 

o    Vomiting 

o    Bloody diarrhoea 

o    Fever 

o    Lethargy 

o    Inappetance 

o    Dehydration 

How do we treat Parvo?

Treating parvovirus in dogs is all about supportive care. Patients should be hospitalised and given intensive care. This involves IV (intravenous) fluid therapy, nutritional support, repeated blood tests, electrolyte support, antibiotics, antinausea and pain medication.  On top of this they have to be kept in isolation to prevent spread to any other dogs. This makes their management very difficult and often very expensive.  Cost of care can exceed $1000.  The majority of treated dogs will survive, but even with the best care, some dogs can still die. The best treatment therefore is prevention by regular vaccination.  

Cleaning up 

If you suspect a dog may have had parvovirus on your property, it is possible to clean your property to reduce risk to future dogs. It is a difficult task to clean a property and you should seek veterinary advice on how to clean up properly before you allow any unvaccinated dog onto your property again.