J.C. Hardin, DVM
Parvo is a viral disease that affects rapidly growing cells in a puppy’s body. Kittens also have their own parvo virus called panleukopenia. Parvo can affect the small intestine, heart, bone marrow, and other body tissues causing severe illness. There is no direct cure for parvo that we can give, as it is a virus. However, parvo causes ulcers in the small intestine allowing blood to get into the stool, and stool bacteria to get into the blood. This is why antibiotics are given. E Coli are one of the bacteria that get into the bloodstream and cause septic shock. When some bacteria like E Coli die, they release a substance from their cell walls called endotoxin. Endotoxin attaches to the inside lining of blood vessels, leading to endotoxic shock. IV fluids and sometimes Endoserum are given to help bind endotoxin in the blood stream, flush endotoxin out, and keep blood pressure up. Puppies that recover from parvo disease do so by making antibodies (not to be confused with antibiotics) that help fight the disease. The treatments provide supportive care and control of secondary issues until the body can manufacture sufficient antibodies to parvo to cure itself.
Complications from parvo can include aspiration pneumonia (secondary to vomiting), “telescoping” of the intestine (intussusception) requiring barium treatments or surgery, holes in the small intestine (perforation) from excessive virus and bacterial activity in one spot, stomach ulcers, heart failure, shock, DIC (clotting disorder), and others. These complications require additional treatment, and chances of successful recovery decrease as complications occur.
Parvo can stay in the soil for two years. It can be found almost everywhere in the United States. But if you have a puppy with parvo, as an extra precaution, be sure that any other puppies you allow onto your property in the next two years have been fully vaccinated against parvo, and it has been at least two weeks since the final puppy parvo vaccine. Some veterinarians have a saying of “four by four.” This helps people to remember that puppies need four rounds of parvo vaccine by four months of age. Vaccines should be spaced two to three weeks apart, and start no longer than the day after puppies are weaned (usually six weeks of age). Some parvo vaccines have a manufacturer’s claim that two vaccines are enough to stimulate adequate immunity. In the past, most parvo vaccines would create a false positive parvo test for a week or so after a parvo vaccine has been given. Currently there are no known false positive results with new laboratory testing. Puppies will not show symptoms of parvo (vomiting, bloody diarrhea, loss of appetite, depression, dehydration, pales gums) unless they have the real disease.
Puppies with parvo need to be kept isolated during their hospital stay. Even with aggressive treatment as above, only about 70% of puppies will recover. Factors that affect the survival rate include the number of properly administered parvo vaccines that were given before the puppy became ill, concurrent corona or distemper virus infection, concurrent intestinal parasite problems such as hookworms or coccidia, age of the puppy, degree of illness (dehydration, shock, etc.) already present when treatment is started, and the breed of the puppy. German breeds (Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Dobermans, and Dachshunds) and American PitBull dogs seem to have a greater susceptibility to parvo than others.
Some people attempt home care only for puppies with parvo. This is not advised, as only about 15% of puppies survive home care alone. Home care involves the owner administering sterile electrolyte solutions beneath the skin three times daily, giving metoclopramide injections under the skin three times daily, and giving either injectable or oral antibiotics regularly.
When the puppy wants to eat again, and eats without vomiting, we know the puppy has beaten the virus and can go home.
Keep in mind that puppies will continue to shed parvo virus in their stools for about 30 days after they get well. This will expose soil the stool contacts, and the virus can stay in the area for around two years. Although a dilute bleach solution can be used to kill parvo on nonporous surfaces (take precautions if you try this at home – safety goggles, rubber gloves, adequate ventilation, etc.) it should NEVER be given to a puppy to ingest in hopes of killing the parvo virus in the animal’s body. Spraying bleach solution on your yard will be of little help too. Tilling the soil won’t rid your yard of parvo either. To prevent puppies from getting parvo from your yard in the future, simply be sure that any puppies that come into your yard are fully vaccinated for parvo as described above.