Can dogs carry parvovirus without symptoms?

April 13, 2012

Parvovirus is a highly contagious viral disease that affects dogs of any age and sex. This life threatening disease frequently affects puppies more than it affects adult dogs. Parvovirus affects any breed as well but Doberman Pinschers, Rottweiler, German Shepherds and other black and tan coated breeds are more predisposed to this viral disease. Infected dogs have a 50-50 chance of survival. It is highly critical to identify affected dogs not only because the chance of survival depends on the correct diagnoses and on the accurate treatment but also because a dog identified to have parvovirus has to be isolated to prevent the spread of the disease. Unfortunately, some adult dogs may carry the disease without showing symptoms. A dog can carry the virus on its fur and feet without succumbing to the disease so that it is highly possible to transmit parvovirus to other canines.

Canine parvovirus was first reported in 1978. This viral illness is common in puppies between 6 weeks to 6 months of age. An infected dog would shed the virus through the feces which is in turn passed on to other dogs. This kind of virus is hardy. It can exist in the environment for months and even years as it can survive extremely hot and cold temperatures. Due to the virus’ high concentration, a very small piece of feces of an infected dog would be sufficient to spread the infection to other dogs. Another dog will be infected when it eats the infected feces or when it sniffs the ground where there are feces of other dogs. The virus can also be carried by flies or by a dog owner who happens to get in contact with an infected dog. The virus that is transmitted through the nasal and oral tissues will attack rapidly dividing cells. In puppies, this will be the intestinal tract and the cardiac muscles.

There are two forms of canine parvovirus – the diarrhea syndrome and the cardiac syndrome. In the diarrhea syndrome, the gastrointestinal lining is attacked thereby hindering the dog’s ability to absorb nutrients. The cells will be killed resulting to, depression, loss of appetite and fever. Grayish or bloody fluid stool is another symptom. The puppy can die three days after the onset of symptoms if treatment is not administered. When the virus attacks the rapidly dividing cells of the puppy’s immature heart, a puppy would stop suckling and can die in a matter of minutes. This form of canine parvovirus which is known as cardiac syndrome is less common. Unlike the diarrhea syndrome, cardiac syndrome shows no symptoms. Additionally, there is no effective treatment. Puppies that manage to survive will live with permanently damaged hearts. Older dogs can carry the disease without showing the symptoms. Puppies less than a year old will replace the intestine’s cellular lining about every five days. Because the virus preferentially attacks rapidly dividing cells, puppies are often seriously hit. Infected older dogs may not show any symptoms as only the villi, or the tip of the hair like protrusions of the intestines are replaced and not the entire intestinal cellular lining.

Parvovirus has no cure. “Treatment” means giving the dog utmost comfort and ensuring that the bodily functions are maintained. A dog infected with parvovirus would commonly need hospitalization for the administration of intravenous fluids and electrolytes to ward off dehydration. Antibiotics would need to be administered as well to combat secondary infections. Parvovirus can be prevented. Vaccination is the foundation of parvovirus prevention. Puppies are protected by natural antibodies from the mother’s milk. However, this natural immunity wanes. It is recommended that puppies 6 weeks of age must receive vaccinations every two to four weeks until they are 12 or 16 weeks of age.

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