There is currently an outbreak of parvo virus infection in dogs in the Vernon area.
Parvo virus in dogs is a highly contagious and often deadly disease.
The virus is found in the sick dog’s feces, and spread from dog to dog by direct contact or indirect contact. The virus is extremely resistant and can stay in the environment for many months, able to survive in extreme cold and hot temperatures.
Puppies are the most susceptible. Certain breeds, such as rottweilers, Doberman pinschers and pit bull terriers as well as other black and tan coloured dogs, may be more susceptible then other breeds.
There are two forms of canine parvo virus infection: intestinal and cardiac. The cardiac form is less common and affects puppies infected in the uterus or shortly after birth until about eight weeks of age.
The virus attacks the heart muscle and the puppy often dies suddenly or after a short period of breathing difficulty.
The intestinal form is much more common.
The disease is manifested by signs of lethargy, diarrhea that shortly becomes bloody, vomiting and fever.
The profound vomiting and diarrhea lead to severe dehydration. In addition, the virus causes weakness of the immune system and the dog becomes prone to secondary bacterial infection.
Dogs that catch parvo virus usually die from the dehydration or secondary infection rather than the virus itself. With severe disease, dogs can die within 48 to 72 hours without treatment.
Dogs show symptoms five to 10 days after the infection occurs. The earliest the disease is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances of the dog to survive. Without treatment the mortality rate is around 90 per cent. Even with treatment, recovery is not guaranteed but the survival rate is in the range of 80 per cent.
The treatment consists of hospitalization, rehydration by IV fluids, antibiotics for the secondary bacterial infection, anti-nausea medication, vitamins and minerals, and sometimes supplementation of blood plasma to provide passive immunity and protein supplementation. A dog that successfully recovers from parvo virus sheds the disease in a few days. Ongoing infection risk is primarily from fecal contamination of the environment due to the virus’s ability to survive many months in the environment.
Neighbours and family members with dogs should be notified of infected animals so that they can ensure that their dogs are vaccinated or tested for immunity.
The house and the dog’s close environment should also be cleaned with bleach.
Prevention is the only way to ensure that a puppy or dog remains healthy because the disease is extremely virulent and contagious.
Puppies are getting series of three vaccines, three to four weeks apart starting at the age of six to eight weeks. Vaccine will take up to two weeks to reach effective levels of immunity. For unprotected dogs, when parvo virus infection is suspected it is extremely important to contact your veterinarian right away. Look for lethargy in your puppy or a lack of appetite as potential warning signs of the disease.
Dr. Moshe Oz operates the Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital in West Kelowna