Parvovirus in dogs

Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious viral illness. It causes severe gastroenteritis and often bleeding complications. It can be fatal and is a disease that continues to affect the puppy population in the UK.
Puppy Jack Russell sitting on an examination table in a vets office.

What is canine parvovirus?

Canine parvovirus is highly contagious and is caused by an extremely resistant virus found in the external environment. It causes severe gastroenteritis and often bleeding complications.

If a bitch is contaminated during pregnancy, the virus will affect the foetuses as they develop. The virus can't replicate on its own, and as a result has to use other cells to help it multiply. In young puppies, canine parvovirus will colonise the cells of the digestive tract because they renew themselves at a fast rate.

Canine parvovirus can be fatal and is a disease that continues to affect the puppy population.

What are the symptoms of canine parvovirus?

A puppy or dog with canine parvovirus will show a variety of different symptoms. You should always look for:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhoea (possibly bloody)
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Severe weight loss

What causes canine parvovirus?

A dog that’s infected with canine parvovirus sheds a large amount of it through its faeces. Specifically, 1g of faeces can contain up to 1 million infectious doses – that’s enough to infect 1 million animals under experimental conditions.

It can be transmitted by any human, animal or object that comes into contact with an infected animal’s faeces.

The disease itself is extremely difficult to remove from an outside environment, such as a kennels or puppy breeders. In certain conditions, it can remain infectious for several months, even over a year.

Can my puppy be vaccinated against canine parvovirus?

Canine parvovirus can be prevented by vaccination, so it’s so important to make sure your puppy gets the necessary jabs at the right age.

Vaccinations are most effective when they are given at fixed dates with boosters. Puppies usually begin a vaccination programme at the age of 6 to 8 weeks, with the parvovirus vaccination given at between seven to nine weeks of age.

How do I know if my puppy needs the vaccine?

Some vaccines are mandatory, while others are recommended, depending on the risks your puppy faces from their lifestyle and environment. Canine parvovirus is a mandatory vaccination so your puppy will be given this jab in line with any agreed plan. Your puppy should not be socialised with outside dogs until at least two weeks after their last vaccination.

Will the vaccination always cover my dog for canine parvovirus?

Viruses do mutate. Some change a lot, some moderately, and others hardly at all.

Canine parvovirus is stable, meaning the vaccine stays the same and doesn’t have to be modified.

It has evolved since it was first seen in the 1970s. However, this evolution is reflected in tiny modifications on the surface of the virus (which is where the immune system, e.g. antibodies, will act). This has no effect on the protection provided by the vaccination, meaning once vaccinated your animal will be covered against all mutations of the virus.

How else to prevent my puppy from contracting canine parvovirus?

Canine parvovirus is highly resistant in the external environment. A breeding facility is a high-risk environment, meaning they should have an initial vaccine while still on the premises. This will help to prevent the spread of canine parvovirus between a litter.

The same is true for kennels, where many unfamiliar dogs will be in the same environment. To combat any possible outbreaks, kennels implement strict sanitary measures, including:

  • Ensuring the building is designed in the right way, inclusive of:
  • Implementation of the forward flow principle – meaning a one-way circuit is adopted from the sector with the animals at the highest risk, to the sector with the animals of the lowest risk
  • The kennel materials being resistant, impermeable (non-slip for flooring), smooth, insulating, easy to dismantle and clean
  • Sectorisation – specific sections for maternity, quarantine and infirmary

There should also be a protocol in place for adequate cleaning and disinfection.

What to do if I think my puppy is suffering?

If your puppy starts to present any of the symptoms of canine parvovirus you should consult a vet immediately. They will carry out a number of physical examinations, biochemical tests and urine analyses to determine whether your puppy is infected and recommend the best course of action.

Don’t be afraid to ask your breeder if they have preventative measures in place before collecting your puppy. If you have any questions about parvovirus, speak to a vet who will be able to give advice on the disease, its prevention and its treatment.

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