Protect Your Puppy From Deadly Parvovirus
Parvovirus first made an appearance among the dog population in the late 1970''s. My first case I saw thirty years ago is still fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday. I was still in vet school on rounds in the newly remodeled small animal clinic of Texas A & M University. The dog in question was seen by a local veterinarian and the complaint the night before was simply, "He wouldn''t eat his cookies". By the next morning, he was dehydrated from the vomiting and bloody diarrhea and his temperature had soared to 106 degrees. Before we could even start any treatment, the dog died with in minutes of entering the hospital. Soon after that episode, we had hundreds of dogs and puppies entering the hospital with the same symptoms and hundreds more dying despite intensive care and treatments. We were baffled by the cause and were also perplexed as to how to treat the disease.
The epidemic was not just in Texas, but world wide. Veterinarians, researchers and drug companies scrambled to identify the cause of the disease and find a treatment to help those dogs that were infected. A parvovirus was soon identified as the culprit and was thought to be a mutation of the cat virus, feline panleukopenia. The first vaccinations attempted to help protect the dogs was the cat vaccine. Research continued until a parvovirus vaccine was manufactured and used to help protect puppies from the deadly disease. Now, thirty years later, the parvovirus is still wreaking havoc among the young, un-vaccinated puppies.
The reason the parvovirus is still around and infecting puppies is due to its protective shell around the virus. The virus can survive in the environment for up to 2 years and can be carried to your house on the souls of your shoes. Since it has had 30 or more years to get around, it is now simply everywhere. You cannot keep your puppy from being exposed to the virus, but you can protect him from the ravages of the disease with a simple series of vaccinations from your veterinarian.
The series of vaccinations is necessary because puppies received some protective proteins called anti-bodies from the colostrum in their mothers milk. As these anti-bodies decrease, a series of vaccinations are given to help stimulate the puppy to make his own anti-bodies that will protect him from disease. If the series is not completed, the anti-body protection can drop again and make the puppy susceptible to infection by the parvovirus. I sometimes see a lot of puppies between 6 months to a year old "break" with parvovirus because they were not fully vaccinated. Also. puppies that are infested with intestinal parasites, such as hookworms, seem to have a more severe case of parvovirus.
The parvovirus is so deadly because it attacks the fast growing cells of the intestinal tract resulting in vomiting and diarrhea. The virus also attacks the white blood cells that are responsible for fighting infections. Now that the lining of the intestine is damaged, bacteria and toxins that are naturally found in the intestinal tract can enter the blood stream resulting in an overwhelming toxemia or a toxic shock syndrome. Couple that with the dehydration and you have one very sick puppy.
Treatment can be expensive and may include intravenous fluids, antibiotics, anti-viral agents (tamiflu), anti-emetics (anti-vomiting) medications and sometimes even blood transfusions. If treatment is delayed and organ damage has occurred, the survival rate of the toxic puppies is very slim. Treatment works best when the puppies are caught early in the course of the disease, or when the owner first notices him not eating or vomiting. Diagnosis is confirmed with lab tests and low white blood cell counts.
Once the puppy recovers from the disease, vaccinations should be resumed to ensure he does not get the virus again. Older dogs can also be infected if they have missed some vaccinations and their immunity has dropped. The best defense against parvovirus is a good offense with vaccinations and a good preventative health plan designed by your veterinarian.
Debra Garrison is a veterinarian, mom and grandma and loves to garden, read books and quilt. She is also a reporter for the Veterinary News Network . For more information on dogs you can visit her dog blog at LuvUrDog.com
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