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Articles > Dogs

Parvovirus Most Common Contagious Disease in Canines

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Tags: Parvo-virus, Health Problems, Health, Digestive Disorders, Acquired Disorders

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"Parvovirus" is a word guaranteed to remove the smile from the face of any dog owner. There are several strains of "parvo," all of which are lumped together and produce the same symptoms. The virus is the single most contagious of all diseases that strike dogs, and it is spread in multiple ways. The virus can survive for five months and longer on hands and on inanimate objects like food pans, cage floors and clothing. It is also readily transferred by insects, rodents and through infected feces. All strains of parvovirus are hardy, able to survive exposure to heat and other harsh environmental conditions.

Cleaning a dog's cages, food areas and any other areas the pet inhabits with a diluted bleach solution (about a half-cup of bleach mixed with 1 gallon of water) will kill the virus. Exposure to ultraviolet light also can cause the virus to become inactive. Once an animal has been exposed to parvovirus, it will take seven to 14 days for symptoms of the disease to appear. Cleaning with a bleach solution or other cleaning agent is recommended, since infected animals can begin spreading the disease through infected feces within three days after exposure, long before they display any symptoms.

Most people have their dogs vaccinated against parvovirus at an early age, and for most animals this provides ample protection. Even with the vaccination, however, some dogs do still contract and die from parvovirus. Dogs with the disease usually experience a severe intestinal syndrome known as gastric enteritis. This condition produces severe diarrhea and vomiting, dehydration, bloody stools, fever and lowered white blood cell count (resulting in lowered immunity against other diseases).

Symptoms of the virus vary widely from dog to dog. Most adult dogs with parvovirus show very few symptoms. Since most pet owners have their dogs vaccinated at an early age, the majority of parvovirus cases occur in puppies younger than six months. The worst symptoms usually appear in pups younger than 12 weeks. The disease strikes and progresses rapidly, and death can occur as early as two days after the onset of symptoms.

There are many illnesses besides parvovirus that cause vomiting and diarrhea. To make sure it is indeed parvo, your veterinarian must perform a test on the dog's feces. Formerly the disease was diagnosed through a multi-step blood test, which was more time-consuming than the newer method. A definitive diagnosis of parvo is not possible, however, without at least one of these tests.

Sadly, even with modern medications and treatment, most dogs with parvovirus will die, especially puppies. Animals that contract the disease are treated with carefully balanced electrolyte solutions and other fluids to counteract the dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea. Medications to stop the vomiting may be needed. Antibiotics also are prescribed to help prevent the dog from developing additional bacterial infections while its immunity is compromised. If and when the dog's intestinal symptoms begin to let up, then most veterinarians prescribe a broad-spectrum de-working medicine. The dog's food also may need to be restricted or changed to minimizing vomiting and diarrhea.

Parvovirus can affect dogs of any age, breed and gender. The most susceptible breeds include: Doberman Pinschers, Labrador Retrievers and Rottweilers.


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