With recent reports of an outbreak of the deadly parvovirus continuing, we have put together a range of information that will help you to keep your dog safe and protected. 

What is parvovirus?

Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious virus which can be spread from one dog to another via both direct and indirect contact with their faeces. Unfortunately, it is very common and often has fatal consequences. With early veterinary treatment, the survival rate of dogs infected with parvovirus is around 80 percent, so it is important that you know the procedures to follow if your dog does become infected. Most deaths happen within 48 to 72 hours after the symptoms begin - the quicker you seek help, the greater your pet's chance of survival.

How does infection occur?

Your dogs are exposed to parvovirus every time they sniff, lick, or consume faeces left by an already-infected dog. Indirect transmission occurs when the said dog encounters a contaminated object, such as bowls, collars, and the clothing or hands of people who have handled infected dogs.

How does it affect animals?

Parvovirus in dogs often affects the small intestine. Here, it destroys cells, impairs absorption, and disrupts the gut barrier. In puppies, it may also affect the bone marrow, lymphopoietic tissues, and heart.

Viruses like parvo weaken the canine immune system and lower the white blood cell count, reducing the animal's ability to fight off secondary bacterial infections. A damaged intestinal wall increases the likelihood of a secondary infection.

Certain breeds of dogs are at an increased risk of parvo (listed below), although it is important to take precaution with any and all breeds.

  • rottweilers
  • doberman pinschers
  • american staffordshire terriers
  • english springer spaniels
  • german shepherd dogs
  • labrador retrievers

Prevention

Parvovirus is preventable. Vaccinations can protect dogs from the devastating effects parvovirus can have, which shows the importance of vaccinating your pets. All puppies should be vaccinated against parvo at 8 weeks, with a second dose to be administered 2-4 weeks later. They will be vulnerable to the disease until both doses have been received, which means owners must take extra precaution during this period. Your dog will require an annual booster to maintain a high level of protection against the virus.

Symptoms

The below symptoms are serious by themselves and could either be a sign of parvovirus or another illness. You should contact your vet immediately if your dog is feeling 'under the weather' in any way, and should notify the vet if you know that your dog has come into contact with a confirmed case of parvovirus, so that they can take the necessary quarantine procedures to avoid your dog infecting other dogs. It can take up to 7 days for a dog to show clinical signs of having parvovirus.

  • bloody diarrhoea
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • lethargy
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • weakness
  • dehydration
  • depression

Treatment

There is no direct cure for parvovirus. Instead, treatment is designed to support a dog's immune system and help their body become strong enough to fight off the disease. 

After diagnosing parvovirus, your vet will offer individual supportive care over the course of your dog's illness, aiming to target and treat specific symptoms.

Dogs with parvovirus are likely to need hospitalisation. They will be put on a drip and given intravenous fluids to stop them becoming dehydrated. They may be given treatment to help control vomiting, which also helps with the prevention of dehydration.

If your dog contracts a secondary infection as a result of a weakened immune system, they may be put on an antibiotic medication to combat this.

Recovery times vary depending on the severity of the case, and although the average recovery time for puppies is one week, the virus can survive indoors for at least one month after infection, and outdoors for up to a year, dependent on conditions. Ask your vets for advice on how to remove parvovirus from your home so that it doesn't infect any other dogs.