Whether you are breeding dogs or rescuing them, Parvovirus is a hot topic because of the virus’s impact on our puppies’ health. If puppies contract the disease, it can be weeks before they have recovered enough to move to a new home. Parvo causes more dollar loss than any other disease in kennels and rescues.
How Does a Puppy Get Parvo
Parvovirus is an aggressive, highly contagious, often fatal disease that usually affects young or poorly vaccinated animals. In the majority of cases, the virus attacks the intestine (Parvovirus enteritis), but it can attack the heart muscle of very young puppies. The virus is shed in the stool and can live for six to nine months outside the dog, even in harsh climates. Puppies six weeks to six months of age are particularly vulnerable.
Signs of Parvo in Puppies
Parvovirus enteritis starts abruptly with anorexia and depression. It quickly progresses to vomiting and then diarrhea, if puppies have not died before this point. If a puppy is vomiting hard, it will often have little diarrhea until later in the course of the disease. Any dog with depression and GI signs should be considered to have Parvo, until it is proven to be something else. Delay in treatment results in death.
In 2006, Oklahoma State diagnosed Parvovirus 2c in the United States. The 2c strain is very aggressive, leaving puppies so extremely sick that they don’t even want to raise their head. These puppies might die quickly with few signs. As one breeder put it, the puppies have the “want to die” look that reminds you of the original Parvo. 2c Parvo has a very quick incubation period, and dogs could show clinical signs as quickly as three to four days.
Where Did Parvo Come From?
The original Parvo crossed from feline Panleukopenia (a Parvovirus) and affected the gut of dogs. We had Parvo in dogs that caused little issues so this new “diarrhea Parvo” was named Parvo 2, affecting only dogs. The newer strains of Parvo, including 2a and 2b, reproduced in wildlife and cats, but still preferred canines. 2c Parvo will readily go back and forth to wildlife and cats, where it reproduces and spreads. That gives the new strains a competitive advantage and keeps the wild virus in the environment.
When to Give Puppy Parvo Vaccine
You can’t avoid Parvo in the kennel. However, you can keep the immunity higher than the wild virus and avoid seeing the disease. You can do this with vaccine timing and keeping the wild virus low with disinfection. Your goal is protection from puppy loss.
- Evaluate the Parvo vaccine and disinfection protocol you are using and decide if you are positioned to prevent all Parvo strains.
- Start vaccination early and be sure to give two Parvo vaccines, two weeks apart—one week before your puppies leave the kennel.
- Rescue and humane kennels should strive to get Parvo and Distemper vaccines in the dog before they breathe the kennel air. Timing is that important!
- Keep your cats vaccinated in the kennel and avoid the issue. If the cat is vaccinated for feline distemper (Panleukopenia), they cannot get Canine Parvovirus.
Disinfecting for Parvo
A disinfectant’s contact time to kill the virus is important – some are 20 minutes and not practical. Virkon and Oxine® work in seconds. Bleach should not be used around puppies, as it is one that was implicated in Fading Puppy Syndrome, along with the quaternary ammonia family of disinfectants. Puppies’ skin is translucent, so they absorb disinfectant quickly, and this can become toxic – they fade out.
- Virkon® penetrates organic matter and gets the virus. This is the one often used to spray gravel runs once a week.
- Oxine® is excellent as well and penetrates. You have to mix two products together and that is one extra step. Oxine is used in the food industry. Fog with Oxine in pet shops is used to target respiratory viruses. Fogging is an excellent tool for managing a Kennel Cough outbreak!
- Bleach is excellent, but you have to be an excellent cleaner as it will not penetrate. If you have smeared diarrhea or the virus is under smeared oil (puppy food is high fat), bleach will sterilize the surface but not the virus under it.
- Use Health Guard™ in the laundry to protect the washer, but also get the Parvovirus out of towels.
Parvo Treatment for Puppies
If puppies get Parvo, they dehydrate quickly. They are very painful from cramping and because Parvo wipes out the lining of the gut, many bacteria are absorbed. White blood cell numbers are suppressed so they have little fight in them. The treatment is straightforward.
- Fluids and lots of them. We like Saline and add 50 cc of 50 percent Dextrose to get a five percent Dextrose solution. You will keep the glucose up and hydrate. Start with 5 ml/pound/twice a day and add any time you see diarrhea stool. Don’t forget to add the diarrhea loss on top of the 5 ml/lb – most forget this one. Two tablespoons of diarrhea needs 30 cc of fluid to replace.
- It is also possible to give fluids to a dehydrated pet via an enema into the colon. Saline is absorbed quickly via this route, and this is often effective when no other way is possible. The dehydrated neonates with no blood pressure need fluids quickly. Warm colonic fluids and then an IV catheter are often utilized. The warm rectal fluids bring the body temp up and the increased blood pressure makes catheter placement easier. Colonic fluids start warming and rehydrate before we get a central IV line in place. The improved blood pressure makes catheter placement easier and safer. Use the same dose as SQ and always warm fluids to the same temp as a milk replacer. Hold the tail down for a few minutes after removing the tube to avoid straining and repeat if needed.
- Use antibiotics to handle the absorbed bacteria and immune suppression. Tylosin is preferred as it is effective and helps with the cramping. Do not use Lincocin or Gentocin in babies that are dehydrated, or you will damage the kidneys!
- Slow and stop the vomiting. Reglan is preferred here, but Cerenia® is also effective.
- Early feeding is very helpful in the recovery. As soon as puppies can handle it, start them on high fat/protein food. Do not use high carbohydrates or you get Clostridium overgrowth and sudden death. Many use all-meat baby food or Royal Canine Recovery diet.
Keep them comfortable, use pet safe disinfectant around them, and provide lots of paper to remove any diarrhea when it happens.
Never Give Up
When Parvo happens, you have to get aggressive as there are now millions of Parvovirus in the kennel.
- Disinfect with Virkon® or Oxine® – they penetrate cracks and kill the virus. Use Health Guard™ in laundry.
- Move vaccine to six and eight weeks, starting with a Parvo-only vaccine at six weeks.
- Every litter over six weeks and over one pound should be vaccinated immediately and given a booster in two weeks.
- Put oral electrolytes (Breeder’s Edge®Puppy Lyte) in front of all puppies from weaning to eight weeks. Do this for all puppies for 30 days.
Re-evaluate every week and stay aggressive for 90 days. It takes 90 days for us to feel comfortable that the Parvo is under control.
Stay aggressive with your vaccine program. Keep wild virus numbers low and immunity high in your kennel. Never give Parvo a place to live!
If you have more questions on how to prevent Parvo in puppies, call us at 800.786.4751.
Original article written by Donald Bramlage, DVM
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Written by: Marty Greer, DVM
Director of Veterinary Services
Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.