Is parvovirus infection a killer illness?

April 13, 2012

Silent killer of dogs – Quick killer of dogs – these infamous names refer to a very small but highly dangerous virus that affects and kills dogs of all ages. No dog owner would want to hear the pet diagnosed to have parvovirus not only because of the expensive supportive treatment but also because this viral infection has no cure. Dogs would commonly develop immunity from a viral infection but not from parvovirus. In any case, most affected dogs may not need immunity because of the high rate of mortality. When the virus was first discovered in 1978, the viral attack has literally wiped out puppies under five months old. Adult dogs with weakened immune system are severely affected by the virus as well. Almost 50% of adult dogs were not able to survive.

Parvovirus is one of the concerns of dog owners as it is a highly contagious and virulent disease. Although the virus is not airborne, puppies and dogs unprotected by vaccination can easily get infected. This viral infection is a serious concern of multiple dog owners as one infected dog would easily transmit the virus to the other pets. An infected dog would shed the virus with the urine and with the feces. Parvo is a tough virus. The virus does not need a host to survive. It can stay in the environment for years as it is resistant to most disinfectants. Once the virus is shed with the fecal matter, it would stay in the fur of the infected dog and contaminate objects that have come in contact with its body. Thus the crate, the toys, beddings and feeding bowls can be contaminated. The ground where the dog has urinated and defecated will be contaminated as well. Transmission of the virus to other dogs will be very easy. Fortunately, this is one canine disease that cannot infect humans.

This dangerous virus is believed to have mutated from the virus that infects cats. The Feline panleukopenia virus that causes distemper in cats is 98% similar to CPV2 (Canine parvovirus type 2). Parvovirus is more virulent in puppies because of their weak immune system. At 8 weeks of age, the antibodies transferred to the puppies by the mother dog are almost depleted leaving the puppy unprotected from any viral attack. In puppies, the virus would damage the muscles of the heart. Puppies will suffer from respiratory and heart problems have a small chance of survival. This cardiac form of parvovirus infection known as myocarditis can affect puppies still in the uterus. Many dogs have died from the intestinal form of the disease. Dogs have the inclination to dig and to eat dirt. Once a contaminated soil is ingested, the virus would rapidly reproduce in the tissues of the throat and migrate into the bloodstream causing the depletion of the lymphocytes in the lymph nodes. Necrosis or the destruction and death of the tissues in the intestinal walls will result to foul smelling bloody diarrhea. The dog’s vomitus will be bloody as well. An infected dog will be lethargic and would have no inclination to eat. Severe diarrhea and vomiting would result to dehydration. If no supportive care and antibiotic treatments for secondary bacterial infection are administered, the dog can expire within 48 to 72 hours. Veterinary attention will be necessary to prevent dehydration. Antibiotics has to be administered to stop the virus from causing further damage to the digestive system of the pet. As the digestive system is damaged, the dog will not be able to cope with regular food intake thus saline drip would be necessary.

Deaths associated with parvovirus infection are no longer common these days because of vaccination programs. However, the fight against this life threatening illness is ongoing. Pet owners make sure that puppies are vaccinated and that the vaccination status of adult dogs is kept current.

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