Parvovirus is probably not new to you if you’ve had dogs for a while. It is a most dreaded word in dog owner circles. For a first-time dog owner and newbie, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. If you belong in this second category, this post is for you. On the flip side, if you consider yourself a veteran dog owner or breeder kindly read on, you might learn something new.
WHY IS PARVOVIRUS A DREADED DISEASE?
The best way I can think of to describe the fatality of parvovirus is to liken it to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa a few years ago. It was mighty scary! Why? Because Ebola is a viral disease that is highly contagious with a high mortality rate and no cure. In other words, it was a deadly disease. All these parameters are true for parvovirus as well except it affects mainly dogs (humans do not get it). That is why dog owners, breeders and veterinarians tremble when they hear the word, PARVO (as it is colloquially called).
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
As established, Parvovirus is a highly contagious viral disease of dogs. It affects young puppies from about 6 weeks to 6 months (very rarely adults) with the gastrointestinal system being majorly involved and seldomly the heart. Common symptoms include:
- Lethargy ( fatigue )
- Bloody diarrhoea ( foul-smelling )
- Loss of appetite
In my years of practice in Nigeria, I’ve seen my fair share of parvo and would love to share a few steps dog owners can take to help prevent their puppies from getting infected.
5 STEPS TO HELP PREVENT PARVOVIRUS
Parvovirus is a viral disease, hence, there is no known cure for now. The best and most effective way to prevent your puppies coming down with parvovirus is to have your vet administer ALL three DHLPP vaccines as at when due (I’ll write another post on this later on). I should also note that even though a puppy has gotten one, two or even sometimes all three vaccinations, the dog might still come down with parvo. Being vaccinated does not provide a 100% guarantee of not being infected. The major advantage of the vaccinations at this point will be that your puppy will have a better chance of fighting off this infection because his/her immunity will be much stronger than a puppy who has never been vaccinated.
I have in the past treated a dog for parvo that I personally had given the first two shots of vaccination. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised that the dog came down with parvo at all. The good news though is that the dog survived without having a severe form of the disease. (I’ll write about this case in a subsequent dog chronicles post).
Adult dogs should be vaccinated once annually.
You might be interested in reading about a case I handled involving a beautiful boerboel with parvovirus.
- QUARANTINE AND ISOLATION
One of the first steps to take on getting a new puppy (especially in a case where you have other dogs) is to quarantine the puppy. This is basically putting the puppy in a separate kennel not close to the others and observing it for any symptoms. Also, if you suspect that your puppy has been exposed to another sick dog, quarantine said puppy immediately for about 2 weeks because it takes about 4-14 days for the symptoms to manifest ( this is called the incubation period ).
Isolate puppies that are sick immediately. This is important because one of the ways the virus is spread is by direct contact via faeces (the virus is shed in the poop and dogs often lick their paws and furs, thereby getting infected).
- PERSONAL AND STAFF SANITATION
Many are unaware that they can be the conduit through which their dogs get infected. As the highly contagious disease that Parvo is, high levels of sanitation both of the owner, handler and kennel assistants (if any) are required. The virus can be passed on to another dog indirectly by hands, clothing, and equipment. Thus, strict levels of biosecurity must be adhered to (especially where sick animals are involved). Where possible, different people should care for sick and healthy animals respectively. Constant hand washing and sanitizing is a MUST.
Shoes and boots covers should be used in isolation areas. A properly maintained foot dip/bath is also a good idea. A good disinfectant to use for this purpose is Trifectant.
- VISITATION RESTRICTIONS
Just like in the previous step, kennel visitors should be treated with caution especially when there is a parvo endemic like there currently is in Nigeria (parvo outbreaks are common and severe in the harmattan months- December to February). If by all means a visitor must see your dogs (especially the puppies), insist that he/she follow the biosecurity measures you’ve put in place and wear disposable latex gloves (provided by you).
In a similar light, avoid taking young unvaccinated / incompletely-vaccinated puppies to public spaces. I know in Nigeria, we do not have dog parks etc but events like Dog walks and shows are not suitable for these dogs because their immunity isn’t strong enough at this stage.
- CLEANING AND DISINFECTION
This step can literally save your future dogs. In the unfortunate event that your dog(s) come down with parvovirus, proper cleaning and disinfecting can help reduce the chances of another dog being infected. Parvovirus is a stubborn virus that can stay in the environments for months on end. It is resistant to heat, cold, humidity and drying.
In case of an infection, it is advised that the kennels, dog feeding bowls, drinking troughs, grooming kit and what have you be disinfected and cleaned. In fact, I would advise that the entire compound / surrounding environment (or inside the house if that is where your dog stays) be disinfected.
The most effective disinfecting agent for parvo is BLEACH also known as the brand name, HYPO. It should be diluted with water in a ratio 1: 30 that is 1 part bleach, 30 parts water.
Also, when cleaning or washing infected kennels or equipment, avoid using cleaning items like mops as this can keep the virus in the environment longer. Try to dispose of cleaning materials once used to clean an infected facility.
Establish a cleaning and disinfecting protocol. Even if your dogs aren’t infected, having this in place will reduce the chances of your dog coming down with parvovirus.
Finally, ensure that cleaning materials are restricted to individual kennels.
ONE MORE EXTRA TIP, JUST FOR YOU:
- MANAGING STRESS
Stressful conditions such as overcrowding and malnutrition with coexisting intestinal parasitism such as worms have been associated with more severe parvo cases. Therefore, ensure that your puppies are well fed with a balanced diet and dewormed as at when due.
That’s it, 5 steps to prevent parvovirus. It is possible some of you might be thinking but that’s a lot to do and might cost a small fortune, what I’ll say is prevention they say, is better than cure. In the long run, it will most likely cost more to try to treat your dog than to prevent it from getting parvo.
Have you dealt with parvovirus in the past? What lessons did you learn and how have you managed to keep parvo away from your kennel ever since? Do share, I would love to know.