Can older dogs get parvo?

April 13, 2012

Canine parvovirus is a very contagious disease that can snuff the life of an infected dog a couple of days after symptoms were shown. The importance of vaccinations can never be stressed enough. Puppies have to be vaccinated before they are taken to their new home. New pet owners would always ask the breeders if the puppy have had inoculations as puppies are more susceptible to this dreaded disease than adult dogs. A vet visit is necessary before the family fell in love with the new pet. Parvovirus is more common in puppies but the virus also infects older dogs. What is more alarming is that the clinical symptoms may not be apparent in older dogs.

Other types of parvovirus have existed for decades but canine parvovirus is a newcomer having been around only since the 1970s. Parvovirus infection has three manifestations – asymptomatic, cardiac and intestinal. Intestinal infection is most common. Severe damage on the intestinal tract causes the sloughing up of the lining that acts as a barrier between the bloodstream and the intestines leaving the infected dog open to bacterial infections. This is most common in dogs less than a year old. Cardiac infection results from the severe inflammation of the cardiac muscles resulting to breathing difficulties. Cardiac infection has a very low rate of survival in puppies. Older dogs that survive may have heart muscle scarring. Parvovirus infection is asymptomatic when the infected dogs show no clinical signs of the disease. This situation is common in older and in vaccinated dogs.

Dogs, especially puppies are highly energetic. A vigilant pet owner will know that something is wrong with a pet that has suddenly become lethargic. Dogs infected with parvovirus would be depressed, refuse food and run a temperature. Bloody foul smelling diarrhea and vomiting are other manifestations of the disease. Incubation period is from 3 to 10 days. This viral disease is a puppy killer! A dog can get killed two to three days after showing the clinical signs. Parvovirus is more predominant in puppies as it thrives in rapidly dividing cells. In puppies, the cells of intestinal lining divide rapidly and completely renews every 3 to 5 days thus they are attacked. Additionally, the antibodies obtained by the puppies from the milk of the mother have waned leaving the pups open to disease-bearing bacteria and viruses. No dog is entirely safe from parvovirus. Vaccinated and older dogs can still get infected. The only dividing cells of adult dogs are the tips if the villi and yet adult dogs are still attacked by the virus. An adult dog may not show clinical signs even if these cells are attacked. Unlike puppies, older dogs have already developed an immune system. However, the immune system can be weakened by an existing medical concern leaving the dog open to infection. Vaccination is not an assurance that the dog will not be infected although it does reduce the risk of the dog catching the disease.

This viral disease is severe in puppies but may be a not so noticeable illness in older dogs. Older dogs may not be too susceptible to parvovirus. Nevertheless, treatment will still be necessary for the disease. It was noted that the competency of an older dog’s immune system decreases. The immune system will be weakened further if the dog has other health concerns. As always, prevention will be much better than cure. A yearly vaccination for an older dog will provide protection not only against parvovirus. Vets commonly combine parvovirus vaccination with vaccination for distemper, leptospirosis, adenovirus and parainfluenza. Vaccination is necessary especially in areas where there is a widespread canine parvovirus infection.

As with other viral infections, no effective antiviral drug can fight the infection. Treatment will be centered on giving the dog supportive care to keep the dog alive until it has generated sufficient immune response to the disease.

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