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What is “parvo”?

Canine parvovirus (CPV) infection is a relatively new disease that appeared for the first time in dogs in 1978. Because of the severity of the disease and its rapid spread through the canine population, CPV has aroused a great deal of public interest. The virus that causes this disease is very similar to feline panleukopenia (feline distemper) and the two diseases are almost identical. Therefore, it has been speculated that the canine virus is a mutation of the feline virus. However, that has never been scientifically proven.

How does a dog become infected with parvovirus?

The main source of the virus is from the feces of infected dogs. The virus begins to be shed just before clinical signs develop and continues for about ten days. Susceptible dogs become infected by ingesting the virus. Subsequently, the virus is carried to the intestine where it invades the intestinal wall and causes inflammation. Unlike most other viruses, CPV is stable in the environment and is resistant to the effects of heat, detergents, alcohol, and many disinfectants. A 1:30 bleach solution will destroy the infective virus. CPV has been recovered from surfaces contaminated with dog feces even after three months at room temperature. Due to its stability, the virus is easily transmitted via the hair or feet of infected dogs, contaminated shoes, clothes, and other objects or areas contaminated by infected feces. Direct contact between dogs is not required to spread the virus. Dogs that become infected with the virus and show clinical signs will usually become ill within six to ten days of the initial infection.

What are the clinical signs of parvo?

The clinical signs and symptoms of CPV disease can vary, but generally they include severe vomiting and diarrhea. The diarrhea often has a very strong smell, may contain lots of mucus and may or may not contain blood. Additionally, affected dogs often exhibit a lack of appetite, marked listlessness and depression, and fever. It is important to note that many dogs may not show every clinical sign, but vomiting and diarrhea are the most common and consistent signs; vomiting usually begins first. Parvo may affect dogs of all ages, but is most common in dogs less than one year of age. Young puppies less than five months of age are usually the most severely affected, and the most difficult to treat. Any unvaccinated puppy that has vomiting or diarrhea should be tested for CPV.

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