Canine parvo is a highly contagious and potentially deadly disease caused by the canine parvovirus (CPV). The virus is spread through the faeces of infected animals and can stay active in the environment for many months, even years. CPV can also spread through badly washed bedding, equipment, shoes, or other objects. CPV poses the greatest risk to puppies, but all unvaccinated dogs of any age can be infected. Puppies have the highest death rate due to their immature immune system and rapid loss of fluids. CPV is an equal opportunity pathogen, attacking all breeds of dogs, although there seems to be a slightly higher risk to Dobermans, German shepherds, Rottweilers, and pit bull terriers.

CPV causes diarrhoea, vomiting, inappetence and general weakness. The diarrhoea can be bloody and usually quite severe, leading to a rapid loss of water which can be fatal in very young animals. Additionally, the virus attacks the immune system, leaving the animal susceptible to other infections. Intestinal parasites, poor husbandry or other immunosuppressive conditions will affect the severity of the disease. Diagnosing CPV is generally quite straightforward, either based on the severe symptoms or with rapid laboratory tests.

There is no specific treatment for CPV, but supportive medical treatment is crucial for survival and the likelihood of survival increases with the administration of fluids, pain medication, antibiotics, and other drugs. Despite treatment, the fatality rate of this disease remains very high.

Vaccination is the main tool for CPV prevention. Vaccinating bitches before they become pregnant ensures that the puppies have maternal antibodies that protect them during their first few weeks. Unvaccinated mothers with puppies will have to be mechanically isolated until the puppies are fully vaccinated. Careful disinfection with bleach or similar products of all equipment and clothing must also be done to ensure the safety of unvaccinated puppies. As is the case with many viruses, CPV has evolved since its first appearance in the 1970s, but luckily the CPV vaccination offers satisfactory protection to all the current strains.

Some dogs might have sub-clinical infections with symptoms becoming apparent only after stressful events like moving to a new home or receiving medical treatment for other reasons. That is why it is important to keep new dogs separate from puppies and unvaccinated dogs for at least a period of 2 weeks. Dogs that have received two vaccinations for parvo are generally considered protected, provided it has been over two weeks since the last vaccination (very young puppies might require more than two vaccinations). Buying a puppy from an unknown or unreliable breeder will greatly increase the risk of getting an infected puppy. CPV thrives in facilities that are overcrowded, dirty, moist, dark and cold. Stressed or undernourished animals are more likely to get infected and to have a more severe form of the disease. When buying a puppy always make sure it has been appropriately vaccinated by an accredited veterinary surgeon.

Article by: Dr. Laura Wessmann
KSPCA Volunteer

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