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Parvovirus Enteritis

Authored By:  Kathryn R. Krueger, DVM

What is Parvovirus?  

Parvovirus is a highly contagious disease spread by the fecal material of affected animals. The virus infects the walls of the intestines, causing the interior lining of the intestines to slough.  It is a serious disease, and can be over 90% fatal if untreated.  It causes vomiting, diarrhea (which is often bloody), lethargy (depression), pain, and life threatening dehydration. 
Prevention is the key.
Parvovirus typically causes disease in puppies, but can infect any unvaccinated or improperly vaccinated dog.  This means that if the vaccine was stored incorrectly or improperly refrigerated, it may not be effective against preventing disease.  If the vaccine was given at the wrong time in the puppy’s life, improper intervals, or inadequate doses, the puppy may not be completely protected against the disease.  This is one of the most important reasons to visit your veterinarian! 
We can talk to you about proper vaccination protocols. 
We can discuss with you how to protect your puppy from environments which may contain the virus. 
We can help you learn about disinfecting and virus containment in your home if you have had a dog recently infected with the virus. 
Can my cat get Parvovirus?
Yes, but it’s very unlikely.  We vaccinate cats with the FVRCP vaccine to prevent this disease in cats.  You never hear of a kitten having parvovirus because it is called something different in cats.  It’s called the panleukopenia virus.  Unvaccinated cats can contract the virus from dogs, but only under very extreme circumstances.   
How will I know if my puppy has this disease? 
Vomiting, bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and lethargy are the hallmarks of the disease.  In any incompletely vaccinated puppy, parvovirus is a consideration.  We can easily diagnose this with an in hospital test and typically have the results within an hour. 
What happens if my puppy gets parvo virus?
This not something you should attempt to treat at home.  Usually, depending on the puppy’s immune system and vaccine status, it will require a hospital stay, which should be until the patient is not vomiting, having diarrhea, and the puppy’s appetite returns.  It may require a day or two in the hospital or can be up to a week or two, depending on the immune status of the puppy, how quickly it was treated, what strain of the virus was contracted, and response to treatment. 
Why Do I have to leave my pet in the hospital?
Intravenous fluid therapy is one of the most important things we can do to save puppies affected with the virus.  It doesn’t take long to die from shock from dehydration, and electrolyte disturbances.  An IV (intravenous catheter) is placed and fluid therapy is started immediately to rehydrate the patient.  There are often additions to the fluid therapy to correct low blood glucose, low potassium, and sodium.  We give medication to control pain, anti-nausea medications, antibiotics to treat sepsis (bacterial invasion into the bloodstream from the gastrointestinal tract), treat concurrent parasitic infections.  We give medications to protect the lining of the stomach.  In extreme instances, it is sometimes necessary to give a plasma transfusion.  We perform a physical examination daily to be certain that there are not intussusceptions (when the small intestine telescopes into a section of itself, an emergency that requires surgery to fix).  Medications that might normally be taken orally cannot be given to an animal that is vomiting.  In these instances, the medications must be given into the bloodstream via an IV catheter.