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Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. Albert Einstein

The Notorious Canine Parvovirus

Canine Parvovirus. Does it sound familiar to you, most specially to dog owners? Probably you've heard it from your veterinarian who highly recommends vaccination against this virus. Or maybe you've already heard how this virus killed Oprah's Cocker spaniel puppies, Ivan and Saddie last 2009. What is "parvo" and why did I label it notorious?

Canine Parvovirus or "Parvo" is the most common serious viral disease of dogs predominantly affecting young puppies between 6  to 20 weeks of age. Unvaccinated pups and those which does not have maternal antibodies (found in the colostrum or first milk of their mothers) are more susceptible. Approximately 80% death rate has been reported in untreated infected pups. Puppies with existing parasitic and bacterial infections are susceptible in developing a more severe form of disease.

It can infect any dog breed but disease symptoms are also more severe in Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers and Pit Bull Terriers. The reasons behind this is still unknown.

Transmission is through contact with feces of infected dogs. The virus is also found in the vomit in some cases.
Vermins, such as the cockroach may move the virus from place to place which also increases the probability of infection.

Like any other virus, it has the ability to evolve into new strains and is resilient. It can live for a long period of time and is resistant to heat and phenolic disinfectants. An infected dog or puppy may show no sign of the disease in the first 1 to 2 weeks but is already shedding the virus in it's feces from the third day of exposure onwards, therefore contaminating the home and spreading infection to other dogs.

Parvovirus targets the rapidly dividing cells. The lining of the gastrointestinal tract of young puppies is a favorite target of the virus because this is where the most rapid cell division occurs in growing animals. The heart muscle tissue is another site of rapid cell division. Very young puppies (>8 weeks of age) infected with "parvo" may suffer severe myocardial problems which may lead to instant death.

Major clinical signs of the disease are vomiting and diarrhea. The feces starts out yellow which becomes blood-tinged and dark-colored soon after. Other signs such as fever, lethargy and lack of appetite are also apparent. Bacterial invasion occurs as a result of compromised integrity of intestinal lining.

If Parvovirus infection is suspected in the dog, it is highly recommended to bring the pet to the veterinarian immediately. Earlier detection and treatment of the disease increases the chance of survival.

It is not Parvovirus itself that kills the animal but the effects associated with the infection such as dehydration.  Treatment is directed to correcting electrolyte imbalance and dehydration as a result of diarrhea and to prevent secondary infections that occur due to the tissue damage and low white blood cell counts.

Vaccination still remains as the best preventive for the disease. Although it does not make the dog immune, it in increases their resistance against the viral disease.