Dog’s Eye View: A parvovirus primer |

Dog’s Eye View: A parvovirus primer

Sandra Kruczek/For Steamboat Pilot & Today

I recently received a new article on parvovirus, the virus against which our veterinarians urge all pet owners to vaccinate their puppies.   The article is timely and up to date.

I thought a little history might give some perspective about how far we have come in the world of science, research and veterinary medicine.  Parvovirus was discovered in 1978.  Coincidentally my husband, Dr. Ron Kruczek, and I had just opened our small animal veterinary clinic in Craig in October 1977.  We, among other veterinarians, were blindsided by this aggressive, highly contagious and often fatal disease.  There was no vaccine available.  My husband and I lost one of our own Siberian huskies to parvovirus and saw many cases with a similar sad end.  You can only imagine our relief when a vaccine was developed and we could begin prevention strategies.

The following are some salient points taken from the article.

“Parvovirus is a very common virus in the environment.  It is spread not only by dogs, but by other wild canids such as coyotes and raccoons.  It is a fairly stable virus and lasts a long time in the environment.  It is spread through feces, but can last in the soil long after the feces is gone.  It’s easy for puppies without a healthy immune system to get exposed.”

A person who has worked with sick puppies may recognize the sometimes metallic smell of the severe diarrhea that may contain blood. 

“Vomiting and anorexia are two other common signs of parvovirus.  The virus invades the lining of the intestine and causes cell death.  Nutrients are then not absorbed well which causes fluid loss through the intestines. Increased absorption of bacteria from the gut into the blood stream can lead to septicemia.  To make matters worse, parvovirus has the ability to migrate into the bone marrow.  This reduces white blood cell production which can reduce the puppy’s immune response.”

“Without treatment, the end result is severe dehydration and possible systemic infection, invariably leading to death.  Treatment involves aggressive IV fluid therapy, antibiotics, nutritional support and IV protein support.  The goal is to give the puppy enough time for the virus to run its course. Even with aggressive therapy the chance of survival is not 100 percent.  Size of the puppy, age and previous vaccine status may support a more realistic prognosis of 50- to 80-percent survival rate.”

“Puppies are born with natural immunity derived from their mothers.  This can last up to 12 weeks of age depending on how immunized the mother was.  This immunity blocks the ability of vaccines to work.  Any individual puppy’s natural immunity can stop during this time period.  For this reason, vaccinating puppies monthly starting at 8 weeks of age until they are 4 months of age is recommended.”

“By far prevention is the best medicine when it comes to parvovirus.  Unfortunately, unlike other diseases, there is not a great vaccine strategy that is 100 percent in protecting younger puppies.  It’s best to avoid areas where exposure might occur.  This might include  pet stores (leave your puppy in the car), dog parks or trails where a lot of dogs are walked.”

“While parvovirus is an unavoidable disease in many cases, it’s one that can be prevented in most. Taking care to ensure your puppy’s chance of exposure is minimized and being diligent with your veterinarian’s  vaccine recommendations will give your puppy the greatest chance of avoiding this serious illness.” 

The heartbreak your veterinarian and his staff feel every time they see a positive diagnosis will be avoided as well.

Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC with more than 30 years of experience.

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