Nov 14 2012

Parvovirus 101

Hello everyone!  Just wanted to introduce myself.  I am Erica Freihaut and I am a veterinarian working with Dr. Cleland at Briarcliff Animal Clinic College Park.  I originally started at the Briarcliff Emory location and transferred to College Park part-time over a year ago.  Since then, I moved down here full time and love it!  I grew up in Marietta and never knew much about College Park, other than it was near the airport.  The community feel of the area is absolutely amazing and such a great place to be!  Being a veterinarian is like a roller coaster.  You never know what a new day will bring.  It may begin with a new litter of puppies and end with an euthanasia.  They are all part of the job – but being able to help people with their animals is a very rewarding experience.

I hate to make my first post a sad one but this is something that has recently touched my heart.  This past week yet another puppy died due to parvovirus.  These are some of the most devastating patients to lose since you know the disease is completely preventable.  To make it even worse, we have seen several of these puppies in the last few weeks.  Normally, we will see a string of parvo cases during the summer, but they tend to slow down as the weather gets cooler.  Everything seems to have been affected since we never had a good freeze this past year.  Fleas, allergies, and now parvo are all much worse than previous years.  Cross your fingers that this winter is a cold one!


What it is:


A little information on parvovirus to better understand how it works and why it is such an important part of our preventative care: Parvovirus is an enveloped DNA virus.  The “envelope” gives the virus extra protection in the environment.   Since it is a DNA virus, parvo needs cells to replicate.  Parvo especially loves rapidly dividing cells, like those in the digestive and immune systems, so it can replicate faster as well.  Which animals are full of rapidly dividing cells?  Puppies!  Puppies grow like weeds and they grow by cells dividing.  Adult dogs are not immune to the virus but have a better chance fighting it if exposed.


How it works:


Parvovirus attacks the intestines and begins to break them down.  As they break down, the bacteria that normally lives in the intestines are allowed to get into the bloodstream.  As a result, this bacteria can travel to all parts of the body and make the puppy very sick.  An unvaccinated puppy’s immune system is not strong enough to fight off this attack and they end up succumbing to the virus.  This leads to the most common symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea (often bloody), dehydration, inappetance, fever, and even death.

How does a dog get parvovirus?  This virus is transmitted between dogs by coming into contact with contaminated fecal matter.  This can be transferred by housing dogs in the same areas, dirty food and water bowls, or even using the same areas to use the bathroom.  Since this virus is extremely resistant to the environment (even freezing temperatures), it can last up to 6 months in its surroundings.




Unfortunately, the best treatment for parvovirus is prevention.  As a young puppy, vaccines are recommended starting at around 6-8 weeks old, and continuing every 3 weeks until around 18 weeks old.  This allows the puppy’s immune system to learn how to fight this virus.  You should continue these vaccines through adulthood to be sure the immune system is always ready to attack the virus if necessary.

If prevention is not possible, there are treatments available for those puppies affected with the virus.  Unfortunately, these are not always guaranteed to be successful.  Good news is the earlier treatment starts, the better the chances.  One of the most important parts of treatment is controlling the symptoms.  We can give anti-nausea medications for vomiting and antibiotics for the secondary bacterial infection, which causes the fever.  One of the most important parts of therapy is rehydration, so fluids are also given to support the body’s basic needs.  

I know you are wondering, why don’t we just give the poor dog something to kill the virus instead of just trying to treat all the symptoms caused by the virus?  That’s the catch.  There are no effective anti-viral medications.  As with most viral infections, the best therapy we have is the body’s own immune system.  This is why we support the rest of the body – so that the immune system has time to respond the to virus and eventually clear it.   

What is the best way to get rid of parvo?  Get rid of anything used by the infected dog.  This includes beds, bowls, etc.  For those things that you can’t throw away, including your backyard, what’s your secret weapon?  BLEACH!  Spray everything possible with a dilute bleach mixture – even grass.

Hopefully these simple tips will help keep your puppy or dog from contracting this dangerous virus.  If you do think your puppy or dog is showing the signs of parvovirus, please bring him or her to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Please help us keep as many dogs healthy as possible and share your knowledge with any new dog owners!

Dr. Freihaut


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