What is Parvovirus?

Two young dogs died today. Both dogs were perfect, bright, normal animals just  three days ago. They came into my surgery with mild diarrhoea and a loss of appetite. Despite intensive treatment, by this morning they had both collapsed into a coma, and by this evening, both had passed away. The dogs belonged to different owners who lived some distance apart, and the dogs had never met. They were both victims of a disease which is a constant threat to dogs in this part of the world – a disease called Parvovirus.

Many dog owners are vaguely aware of Parvovirus – but most people do not know the full facts of the disease. The virus causing the illness is one of the hardiest viruses found in the animal world. It can live for many weeks in the environment. Normal disinfectants do not destroy it – special  “Parvovirus-killing” chemicals are needed for this purpose.

The virus is highly infectious. If an unvaccinated animal encounters it, the full blown Parvovirus disease is almost inevitable. Dogs which are infected shed Parvovirus particles into the environment for up to two weeks before they show any signs of illness. Droppings from these infected dogs are seething with virus particles. Wherever the dog passes faeces, a focus of infection is left, which could be a danger to any passing dog for many weeks. It is obvious why it is common to see outbreaks of Parvovirus, often based in housing estates where many dogs frequent the same grassy areas and the same lamp-posts. Everybody has seen how a dog sniffs an area before passing faeces and urine. During this sniffing, a dog will inhale any Parvovirus particles within range, and if they are not vaccinated, the Parvovirus disease will follow.

The disease itself is overwhelming. The virus causes serious damage to the lining of the small intestine. Affected dogs pass bloody diarrhoea which has a distinct, unforgettable, foul odour. Dehydration develops rapidly, and even with intensive intravenous fluid therapy, it can be impossible to save these animals. I feel particularly sad when animals die of Parvovirus because it is a disease which is preventable.  When people take their unvaccinated puppy for a walk down the seafront, they don’t realise that they are putting their new pet’s life seriously at risk. When people glibly tell me that their six year old dog has not had ‘his shots’ since he was a puppy, they don’t realise how serious this situation can be.

I have condensed the essential facts of Parvovirus down to three statements which should be memorised by every dog owner.

1. All dogs, of any age, must have a full course of vaccinations against Parvovirus before being allowed outside their own home.
2. All dogs must have a booster vaccination against Parvovirus regularly for their entire life, to ensure that they remain fully protected.
3. Vaccinations must be given in the correct way, at the correct age, using the correct product. If in doubt, ask your local veterinary surgeon.

Blog post by Pete Wedderburn. Check out his site at www.petewedderburn.com

Pete Wedderburn


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