Understanding parvovirus

Time to read: 8 mins

What is Parvovirus?

Parvovirus (‘parvo’) is a highly contagious virus that causes severe diarrhoea, vomiting, fever and dehydration. It can cause real suffering in our pets and without treatment it can be fatal.

Fortunately, you can protect your pet by regularly vaccinating them against parvovirus.

How common is it?

With demand for puppies,  many prospective owners are buying them without fully doing their research first. Vets are seeing an increase in parvovirus cases in puppies that have been bred by unscrupulous breeders in poor conditions, both in the UK and imported from abroad. There has also been a rise in the number of people not vaccinating their animals, despite the scientific evidence showing that vaccinations are much less risky for our pets than the deadly diseases they prevent.

Which types of dogs does parvovirus affect?

All unvaccinated dogs are at risk of catching parvovirus, but puppies under six months are often worst affected. Certain breeds may need an extra injection as puppies – your vet can advise you on this.

How do dogs catch parvovirus?

Parvovirus can be caught from an infected dog, its faeces (poo) or anything that an infected dog has touched, such as leads, bowls, bedding, human hands and clothes.

Parvovirus can survive for up to a year on all these surfaces and even longer in the ground. It’s also difficult to kill with household cleaners. That’s why it’s so important to keep your pet’s vaccinations up to date.

What is the treatment for parvovirus?

Treatment may involve several days of intensive care in isolation. Affected animals may need a drip, intravenous medications, regular stomach pumping and tube feeding.  

Complications can include permanent damage to the intestines, organ failure and sepsis. Due to the nature of the virus, there is unfortunately no guarantee that treatment will be successful. Dogs that do survive the virus are infectious for several weeks, so they need to be kept isolated.

How can I prevent my dog catching parvovirus?

  • Ensure you get your puppy or dog from a reputable breeder or rescue centre who take your pet’s welfare seriously. A breeder should let you see the litter in person with the mother before you decide to buy. People who sell puppies over the internet without doing this are unlikely to be reputable breeders.
  • Make sure you vaccinate your puppy and keep their boosters up to date throughout their life.
  • Don’t let unvaccinated puppies walk on the ground outside.
  • Don’t let your dog your dog sniff at (or eat) other dogs’ faeces.

How do vaccines work?

In common with vaccines for other infectious diseases, the parvovirus vaccine contains antigens – denatured parts or replicas of the pathogen that causes parvovirus. Antigens stimulate the body’s immune system to produce antibodies that ‘knock out’ the disease. The body remembers how to produce the correct antibodies if it encounters that antigen again. The vaccine doesn’t cause the actual illness in the body.

Why do pets need to have regular boosters?

After a certain length of time, your pet’s body no longer produces enough antibodies to fight the disease if they are exposed to it. This means they need timely top-up booster vaccinations to ‘boost’ the body’s immune response and keep them protected.

Cats and Parvovirus

Feline Parvovirus (also called feline panleukopaenia) causes similar effects in cats and is often fatal. Luckily, it can also be vaccinated against.

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