Let’s delve into the scary world of parvo to answer what is parvo in dogs and can they have it twice? You’ll find the answer to these and many of your other questions about parvo in dogs.
We’ve only experienced parvo once on the farm and that was enough to last a lifetime. We had taken in a dog belonging to a relative. She had been kept in poor conditions and, unknown to us, was carrying parvo.
Fortunately, the dogs we had were in good overall health and able to survive, but it was touch and go for a bit. Parvo is a heartbreaking contagious disease and has many different strains among living creatures, even humans.
What is Parvo in Dogs?
Parvo is a virus which in dogs is called canine parvovirus. Sounds innocent enough, right? Wrong. Parvo is among the smallest viral particles known to man but it brings death more often than not to the animals who contract it.
A brief history of the disease will help us understand it a little better. We won’t delve into all the various strands of parvovirus because there are just too many.
In 1967, what is known as CPV-1 was discovered. Eleven years later another strain of parvovirus infection was noted called CPV-2. This second strain is thought to be a mutation of the feline parvovirus in cats called feline panleukopenia.
CPV-2 affects all canines: wolves, coyotes, foxes, and dogs, etc. The CPV-2 strain has been broken down into CPV-2a, CPV-2b, and the most common CPV-2C. Scary I know to realize there are so many strains but their treatments and their actions are pretty much the same. There are microscopic differences in the parvo virus chains so the science makes it seem more confusing.
The Parvo Vaccine
Right out of the box someone will say, “There’s a vaccine for it.” Yes, there is, but as our vet told us, “As with all vaccinations, it doesn’t guarantee protection. For some vaccinated dogs, it seems to make a difference but dogs that are vaccinated still develop parvo about 50% of the time. This doesn’t even take into consideration the side effects and other health issues related to vaccines.” Our dogs had the proper vaccination but they still endured this deadly virus.
Parvo is highly contagious, in fact, it’s one of the most contagious viruses known. However, the strains don’t cross.
This means a human can’t catch parvo from a dog, a cat can’t catch parvo from a mouse, chickens can’t catch it from a pig…you see where I’m going with this, right?
Parvo manifests itself in two forms. Most often it’s the gastrointestinal tract that is affected.
Clinical Signs of Gastrointestal Form Include:
- Severe vomiting
- Severe diarrhea
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Severe dehydration
- Electrolyte imbalances from vomiting and dehydration
The least common manifestation is in the cardiac system. In cardiac form, the virus attacks the heart muscles which will lead to sudden death. This is usually only seen in puppies.
Puppies and elderly dogs are at a higher risk for parvovirus. Dogs living in unclean housing and who have weakened immune systems are susceptible as well. There is no known cure for parvo and the mortality rate is high.
How is Parvo Contracted?
Like all viruses, parvo must have a living host. When an animal comes in contact with the vomit or feces of an animal infected with its relative strain, it is exposed.
When an uninfected dog sniffs or walks on the feces of an infected dog or its vomit or even on the ground where the infected dog’s feces or vomit has been, the virus can be transmitted.
This means if dog owners are walking their dog in an area where parvo is in the ground…yeah, it’s scary. Once a dog is exposed it can carry the virus for 2-3 weeks and expel it in its normal poop even if it doesn’t become sick. This creates an infected environment.
There is an incubation period after exposure of 3-10 days.
You can also bring the virus to our homestead or dog on your shoes if you walk through an infected area. The harsh reality is that the hardy virus can live in the soil for up to one year. It is virulent.
Once the vomit or feces has decayed the virus is left in the soil. Now the transmission isn’t as simple as your dog padding over the area. Your dog would have to lay on or scratch up the soil to allow time for transmission. At least this is the current thinking.
Since dogs are in the same family as the wolf, coyote, and fox, your homestead dog can be exposed by an infected critter crossing your farm and leaving the virus behind. Even healthy dogs can be exposed and carry the disease. Knowing the signs of parvo will lead to early intervention on your part.
Good hygiene and environmental management is key to prevention. As homesteaders or pet owners, if you walk through an area where the risk of being exposed to parvo exists, you should be careful to wash your hands and remove your shoes or clean the soles of them before petting or caring for any pets or livestock.
Livestock guardian dogs are at high risk because of the nature of their jobs. They patrol areas where predators such as wolves and coyotes pass through possibly leaving the virus behind.
Cleaning an Area Exposed to Parvo
Most cleaning products can’t kill parvo. If you have to clean an area exposed to the virus, pick up the feces or vomit using gloves and dispose of it in the trash or burn it. I would recommend burning it as the best way to avoid the risk of viral infection.
Clean the area with a 1:1 solution of white vinegar or apple cider vinegar and hydrogen peroxide or a 1:1 solution of bleach and water. These are the widely-recognized cleaners to kill the virus.
For carpets and furniture, it’s recommended to use a steam cleaner and run it on the hottest setting. Use vinegar in the water if possible.
Remember, freezing or extreme heat in outdoor conditions doesn’t kill the virus in the soil or on surfaces. Parvovirus can live outside a of host for up to a year so don’t think old poop or vomit is safe for your dog to investigate.
Exposure to direct sunlight can kill the virus but it takes a long time and other weather conditions affect the rate of destruction so it can’t be counted on.
Our vet told me extended exposure to temperatures of 140 degrees F or higher will kill the virus after 10 hours but this is in a lab not out in the real world of grass, dirt, and weather.
Cleaning An Outdoor Exposed Area
It is difficult to clean outdoor areas just because of their nature. Here are a few tips for a better chance at killing this nasty disease.
1) Be sure the area receives plenty of sunlight. This may mean cutting back shrubs or trees to allow exposure.
2) Keep the grass cut short and water thoroughly to help get the virus below the topsoil surface.
3) Remove and destroy (I would burn it) any bedding or trash exposed to the virus.
4) Add a fresh layer of topsoil or sand to the area. Be sure it’s at least 2 inches deep for the best coverage. If you are adding it to an existing lawn or some area you don’t want the grass smothered, add the layers ½ inch at a time.
How Long Does Parvo Last?
The answer to this question depends on a couple of things like how healthy your dog is. Your dog’s diet directly affects the immune system and the severity of the infection. A week to 10 days is normal for the symptoms.
If the dog survives the first three days, the chance of a complete recovery increases.
Survival Rate of Parvo in Dogs
Sadly, the survival rate of parvovirus is 50/50 without proper treatment. With veterinarian care, which is expensive, the survival rate is 75% on average. Your dog will stay at the clinic for about a week during the initial stages for aggressive treatment including intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration.
If an infected puppy is treated immediately and survives the first couple of days, he should be fully recovered in about a week. Older dogs have longer recovery times. If they survive the first couple of days they should be fully recovered in 10-14 days.
Signs and Symptoms of Parvo in Dogs
- Like we already talked about, the parvovirus has an incubation period of three to ten days so you may not see any symptoms when your dog is first exposed.
- The symptoms will vary from dog to dog based on their general health and ferocity of the virus.
- The first symptom you may see is lethargy. Your active dog may only lay around and sleep. It may barely be able to lift its head.
- They will probably run a high fever and won’t eat.
- You’ll probably see vomit next and then loose smelly diarrhea, probably bloody diarrhea. This is the beginning of rapid dehydration as the intestinal parvovirus damages the lining of the intestinal tract. The results can be sepsis, infection, anemia, and death.
Most often parvo can be diagnosed by physical examination and observation but the vet will be able to confirm it with a lab test.
ELISA (enzyme linked immunosorbent assay) is the standard test for parvo even though it’s not 100% accurate.
A stool sample is used for testing your dog for parvo no matter which other tests your vet runs.
They may also do a blood test to check for a low count of white blood cells to confirm their suspicions.
Treatment Options and Tips
There is no medication to cure parvo. The only treatment is to help the dog survive the symptoms with supportive care. Knowing the signs of parvo can ensure treatment begins quickly.
Keeping the dog hydrated is the number one priority. If you take your dog to a vet, he’ll start IV fluids. If you choose to treat your dog at home, you can use a syringe or an enema to keep fluid levels up.
At the vet, your dog may or may not receive antibiotics since they aren’t proven to help in any definitive way. He will receive injections to help with pain relief, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
In rare cases, your vet may recommend a blood transfusion.
Since the vet bill for the treatment of parvo can range from a few hundred dollars upwards of $7,000, many people choose to ride out the parvo storm at home.
- You should not feed your dog while it’s battling parvo.
- Keeping your dog warm to maintain a stable body temperature is important as well.
- One of the first treatments people use at home is Parvaid and colloidal silver. The thing to know about this is hourly doses are usually required. This means having more than one person or days of lack of sleep. The medicine can be given by dropper or enema.
When treating your dog at home, it’s probably a good idea to keep track of when and how you gave the last dose. I’m a list keeper so this is a natural thing for me to do, but it will help you keep track of what you need to do and when to do it.
- Once recovery is underway, offer a bland diet and plenty of water. Keep the meals to small amounts spread out over the day.
- Some people like to give Pedialyte but we prefer ACV water.
Just like the vet, you’re only giving palliative care and hoping for the best. The vet may be better set up with IVs and such but many vets will help you care for your pet at home so you can save money. Especially since there’s such a high risk with this severe illness the dog will not make it no matter what you do.
All of these choices are based on your beliefs, money situation, and farming practices. No one can make the decision for you or judge you in your decision. No one else is in your shoes or knows your situation.
We don’t usually use veterinary or even physician care. This is a decision we have made for our lives and the lives of those entrusted to us. Can I say that if my Roxie came down with parvo I wouldn’t take her to the vet? I don’t know, I’m not in the situation. Often, we don’t know what we would do until we have to do it.
There are a few over-the-counter meds that say they are helpful in treating parvo and you can get them at the local farm supply. I can’t tell you if they work or don’t work. Some people say they worked for them while others say they didn’t. I believe it all goes back to the general health of the animal.
Sometimes doing something is more important for the human psyche than for the dog. Parvo is far more complicated than treating a dog injury.
Estimated Costs of Treatment
Of course, these vary by region and veterinarian.
There are a few experimental treatments such as parvoOne. They average $75 a dose with multiple doses required depending on the severity of the case and size of the dog. This can add up quickly and they’re only experimental.
To have the dog seen by the vet, you’re looking at a national average of 10 days and $5,000. This cost will vary depending on your vet, your area, the length of stay, and the treatment options you choose. The fees can go as high as $10,000 according to VetMed.com
Can a Dog Have Parvo Twice?
There are two views of this question the most common is that, although rare, it could possibly contract a mutated form of canine parvovirus. If your dog survives parvovirus, it is not likely he will contract it again. It is possible but rare.
My vet, Dr. Lynn Brown, DNVM, is on the other side. In her years of experience she says they cannot contract the disease again. It will have a lifetime natural immunity that’s a little bit of good news.
Summary of Parvovirus in Dogs
1) Parvo vaccination is recommended but is no guarantee of prevention.
2) Once a dog has had parvo, it has immunity for life according to some vets.
Others believe, although rare, your dog could contract a mutation of the parvovirus is exposed.
3) Signs/symptoms of Parvo
Lethargy, fever, loss of appetite, not drinking, vomiting, and diarrhea
4) What’s happening to your dog
A simple explanation of what’s happening inside your dog’s body is the destruction of the cells inside the intestines with intestinal parvo and in the heart muscle with cardiac parvo. The bone marrow of your pet is being attacked as well.
5) Parvo Recovery
- Ensuring a healthy immune system in your pet at all times is the best thing you can do to ensure the survival rate. Once you see signs of recovery, you can know your pet will survive.
- They will probably continue to experience nausea and some diarrhea for a week or so as they improve but once recovery starts, they’ll survive.
- Depending on the dog, full recovery can take a month to two months from the time symptoms stop.
- Your dog will be hungry and thirsty. Be careful to ensure they take it slow. Start out with bland soft foods in frequent, small servings.
- It can have all the water he would like. I would add raw, organic apple cider vinegar to his water – 1 teaspoon to a ½ gallon of water to build his immune system and boost his gut health.
- If you’ve taken your pet to a vet, you may be sent home with an antibiotic for it to take.
- Keep your pet warm and comfortable avoiding any stressful situation until fully recovered.
- Keep him clean and dry as well from any vomit or diarrhea.
6) Disinfecting Your Home
Household cleaners will not kill parvovirus. Recommended cleaning solutions are a 1:1 bleach and water solution or a 1:1 vinegar (white or apple cider) and hydrogen peroxide solution for surfaces.
For carpets and upholstery, use a steam cleaner on the hottest setting with vinegar in the water tank.
7) Before You Bring a New Dog Into the Home
Your recovering pet will be infectious to other dogs for 4-6 weeks so keep him from public places like dog parks or other dogs.
This protects other dogs from the infection and your recovering dog as well. With a weakened immune system, the risk of catching something else is high for a recovering dog.
If you are planning to add a new dog to your pack, you should wait until your recovered dog has been its old self for 6 months. This is considered a safe time period by most vets although some say wait a full year to ensure the destruction of the virus.
I hope you never have to deal with parvovirus on your homestead and if you have, I hope you never have to again. It’s devastating.
Remember, the decision you make about taking your dog to the vet or helping it through on your own is yours to make. Your financial situation, personal beliefs, experience and skill level, and usual farm practices all come into play and they are all personal.
As always, I’m here to help.