Plan ahead to ward off parvo

Posted: Sunday, June 26, 2005


  Part of the responsibility of being a pet owner is protecting young pups from potentially harmful or fatal diseases, such as parvo. Photo by Joseph Robertia

Part of the responsibility of being a pet owner is protecting young pups from potentially harmful or fatal diseases, such as parvo.

Photo by Joseph Robertia

Summer is here, a time when many puppies enter the world to the delight of those who acquire them. However, part of the newfound responsibility of being a pet owner is protecting the young pup from potentially harmful or fatal diseases, and few are as deadly as the dreaded "P word."

Parvo, like an Old World plague, is a deadly virus that with great fury attacks the digestive system of dogs — most typically puppies from 6 weeks to 6 months in age — often killing them in as little as 48 hours.

Once it gets a foothold, it can decimate a puppy litter, boarding or breeding kennel, animal shelter or pet store. Yet, this scourge can be easily prevented with a series of shots.

"Vaccinations are really, really effective against parvo," said Jim Delker, a veterinarian at Twin Cities Veterinary Clinic in Soldotna.

Vaccinations are a pet owner's best line of defense against parvo and other contagious diseases that can be potentially serious and even fatal to their furry friends.

Delker, like most veterinarians, suggests beginning the vaccination series at 6 to 8 weeks of age, then repeating the vaccines every three to four weeks after that until roughly 16 weeks of age.

"Vaccines are given to puppies at this age to gradually phase in immunity as the passive-immune antibodies they have been receiving from their mother's milk begins to wear off," Delker said.

Also, if given before weaning, maternal antibodies may prevent a vaccine from being totally effective.

Pets are then given boosters annually to continue to protect them, since it is believed the vaccines in their system gradually decline over time.

Delker said some pet owners opt to skip vaccines in the series or skip the whole series altogether in the hopes of saving money.

However, these people can learn the hard way that they stand to lose a lot more, both emotionally and financially, by doing so.

"Prevention is not just the best thing to avoid any unnecessary pain or suffering to the pet, but it is also much cheaper," Delker said.

"It's roughly $35 for a puppy vaccination (that also protects against other potentially fatal canine diseases) and physical exam. Whereas to treat a case of parvo — depending on how early it is detected, how sick the dog is and how long the treatment lasts — it can be anywhere from $350 up to $1,000," he said.

Treatment can require electrolyte supplementation, antibiotics, subcutaneous or intravenous fluids and, in extreme cases, even blood transfusions.

The treatment is so expensive and intensive because it attacks rapidly affected cells, such as those lining the gastrointestinal tract, but also those in bone marrow, lymph nodes and the heart.

Due to the serious nature of parvo, some puppies — roughly 20 percent — may die even with treatment. However, without treatment, roughly 80 percent of puppies may die.

"Signs of the disease include loss of appetite, vomiting and profuse diarrhea that can be bloody and has a foul odor. Others signs include fever and lethargy," Delker said.

That's not to say that if a puppy vomits once, it has parvo, but if it vomits more than once or has some of these other symptoms, it is important to get the pup to a veterinarian right away.

"Once they come down with it, it's quick," Delker said.

They can be active, playful and acting normally, then just hours later be so weak and sick that it's obvious something is seriously wrong with them.

Delker said transmission of the disease occurs through contact with infected dogs or their infected stool or saliva, but indirect infection — from contact with shoes, floors, beds and other inanimate objects and surfaces — is also common due to how hardy the virus is.

"Parvovirus can live in the environment year round, it's able to withstand extreme temperature changes — even temperatures below freezing — and it can withstand exposure to most household disinfectants," Delker said.

"Bleach can kill parvo, though, and if an outbreak occurs it should be used to sanitize the area thoroughly," he said.

Delker said the dilution ratio of bleach to water is 1:32, or roughly a capful of bleach per gallon of water.

If their is any suspicion that a puppy or a dog has been exposed to the disease or if a pet is already showing symptoms, contact a veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital immediately.

Parvo attacks swiftly and time is of the essence.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at

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