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Parvo - practical considerations

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Recent parvo outbreaks, including three areas of Massachusetts, have led to a mild panic among dog owners. Panic is not called for - sensible precautions are.

It is important to recognize possible signs of parvo in your dog. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea as the classic signs but lethargy and a loss of appetite could be the first tip off or the only signs for a mild case. Dogs, especially puppies, with parvo quickly become dehydrated and may have a high fever. The characteristic odor of parvo comes from bloody discharge in the diarrhea.

Maddie's Institute is an organization dedicated to providing information to help shelters provide the best possible care for dogs and cats during their stay. A recent webinar on parvo in shelters provided a great deal of useful information for pet owners as well.

Parvo is a virus that is hardy and difficult to kill. It can survive in the environment, including over cold winters. There are some different strains but they are all similar enough that the current vaccines and tests for diagnosing parvo cover all strains. Unvaccinated puppies of six weeks to six months in age are the most susceptible to parvo. Many adult dogs have already been exposed or been vaccinated.

The virus will incubate in a dog for three to fourteen days but the usual time frame is four to six days. Dogs will shed the virus for two to three days before clinical signs show up. Some dogs may shed for weeks after they recover but there are not true "carriers" of parvo.

Vaccination is absolutely the best way to protect your dog from this potentially fatal disease. The current modified live vaccines will offer some protection within four days. The one exception to that is puppies who still have protective maternal antibody. This is why puppies need a series of vaccines - to help them develop their own immunity as the maternal immunity wears off.

The quick screening test - a SNAP test from Idexx - is ideal for rapidly checking out ill dogs. A small blood sample provides results very quickly and has very few false positive results. Sick dogs should be isolated and care taken that the disease is not spread by shoes, gloves, clothing or tools used to care for multiple dogs. Food and water bowls should be disinfected as should kennels and crate areas. Quaternary ammonia compounds will not kill parvo. Recommended disinfectants include bleach and accelerated hydrogen peroxide products such as Trifectant. Infected dogs should be thoroughly bathed once recovered so they don't bring virus on their coats into the environment.

Ill dogs can be treated for parvo. Recommended therapy includes fluids for hydration, Cerenia for nausea and Convenia for an antibiotic. Tamiflu does not help dogs with parvo. Deworming can also be done.

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