Historically, this virus developed as a mutation from the cat distemper virus in the mid 1970’s. At that time the disease spread rapidly throughout the United States resulting in an epidemic. While this virus was of no threat to cats or humans it was deadly to dogs. Many, many dogs lost their lives before a vaccine became available.
Incubation of the disease after exposure can be as little as one day and up to three days. The virus is shed in the stool for one to two weeks; however, it can live outside the body for as long as six months. The diagnosis is usually made by identifying antibodies in the stool during the first two weeks and in the bloodstream after the two-week period.
Parvovirus causes a temporary suppression of the immune system and the white blood cells. This allows the bacteria normally held in check within the intestine to flourish, resulting in death of the cells in the lining and subsequent shutting down of the intestinal tract. Vomiting and/or diarrhea, that is often bloody, is the symptom most commonly seen by the owners.
Treatment is centered on correcting the fluid loss (dehydration) and providing broad-spectrum antibiotic support until the immune system recovers. Once the cells of the intestine have reestablished themselves then absorption of digested nutrients can occur again. A general rule of thumb suggests that as long as the white blood cell count does not fall below 2,000 the pet will usually survive. Occasionally, the cardiac form of the disease is seen and this is almost always fatal.
As a result of the superior antibiotics of today the temporary suppression of the immune system is not generally considered to be a big concern. There can be, however, a significant loss of blood form the intestines resulting in an anemia. As the pet recovers from this disease solid food should be introduced gradually and should be fairly bland. Once recovered, the pet will suffer no permanent damage to the organs systems and may be immune to this disease for life.
Prevention is unquestionably the best approach to take when dealing with this tough virus disease. While the puppy is protected for a short time by the maternal antibodies absorbed from its mothers milk during the first week of life, it is necessary that the puppy form it’s own antibody protection as soon as possible. This is one reason that giving multiple puppy vaccines and yearly booster vaccines is important.
If you think your dog has come into contact with a carrier or another infected dog please call your veterinarian for advice. Household bleach diluted one capful to one quart of water is strong enough to kill the parvovirus germ instantly.
Norwalk Animal Hospital
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