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Canine Parvovirus, Some Basics to Know

Is it surprising to find that the veterinary community diagnoses parvovirus on a very frequent basis since this is a preventable disease?

Well, it is true. Canine parvovirus or CPV-2 is one of the most common infectious diseases of dogs worldwide with a greater than 90% mortality rate in untreated cases. However, if medical supportive care is initiated shortly after clinical signs develop there is an 80% to 90% survival rate.

So why is it so prevalent?

There seems to be a lack of education amongst pet owners, and therefore lack of vaccination. This is a highly contagious disease and can affect the young, the old, the immune-compromised, and more specifically, the unvaccinated. Infection of a breeding female can lead to infertility, resorption of fetuses, or abortion. Puppies infected in utero may develop inflammation of the heart muscle which might result in congestive heart failure or sudden death.

Here are some things to know!

CPV-2 is transmitted by direct contact with the virus in vomitus and feces, but perhaps unknown, is that it can survive in the environment and on objects that have been contaminated with the virus for months to years depending on the environmental conditions. The virus is shed primarily in feces for 3 to 12 days from initial infection, usually before any clinical signs appear. The incubation period is 5 to 14 days. Clinical signs occur about 5 to 12 days after exposure.

A puppy’s initial immunization series should start between 6 to 8 weeks of age and the vaccine should be given every 3 to 4 weeks until 16 to 20 weeks of age. Puppies should be isolated until 7 to 10 days after the last booster to ensure proper protection. A booster is given at 1 year of age and then at 3-year intervals thereafter. Immunity that follows natural infection is probably lifelong, however, those pets should still be properly vaccinated. Puppies that have not been completely vaccinated should not be introduced to environments where there is a known history of parvovirus or public areas where there is potential for infection. Remember too that parvovirus can never be completely eliminated from a previously infected environment but with proper sanitizing techniques exposure can be greatly reduced.

How can it be prevented?

Proper vaccination protocol is the most effective method of prevention. Quarantine, isolation, cleaning and disinfecting properly are also key in preventing the spread of the virus. Quarantine should last for 2 weeks, as shedding rarely occurs after 10 to 12 days. Bathing of an infected dog can help to remove the virus from the coat. Sanitizing some surfaces is more effective than others. Many disinfectants can become ineffective when in contact with organic material, like stool. Those areas need to be cleaned thoroughly first. Once a surface is clean, a 1:32 household bleach and water dilution can be used to saturate that area, let sit for at least 10 minutes and after appropriate contact time rinse and allow to dry completely, in direct sunlight if possible. Bedding and soft toys can be washed with laundry detergent and bleach on a hot water setting. Bowls and plastic toys can be sanitized in the dishwasher at temperatures greater than 165 degrees Fahrenheit. It is nearly impossible to disinfect grass or dirt areas but controlling insect and rodent populations can help to decrease the spread of the virus in an outdoor environment.

If your pet is not properly vaccinated against canine parvovirus and starts with signs of lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea with decreased or no appetite, seek veterinary attention immediately! An in-house test can be performed within the first few minutes of your visit. Early intervention either for preferred hospitalized care or for less recommended, outpatient care will increase survival rates dramatically. Treatment is extremely expensive and not a guarantee for survival which is why prevention is the best method.

Let’s get vaccinated!

- Denise C. Mulholland, CVT

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