Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Puppies Need Extra Protection against Canine Parvovirus

Pet Column for the week of October 31, 1994

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Linda March
Information Specialist

Canine parvovirus is everywhere in the environment just waiting for your puppy. The wise
dog owner will protect his or her pet against this debilitating, sometimes deadly, disease.

According to Dr. Cynthia Ramsey, community practice veterinarian formerly at the University of
Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana, "This disease usually hits puppies the
hardest. Adult dogs can also be infected, but are usually affected less severely. Cats, mink,
and wild dogs are also infected by their own species-specific parvovirus."

She notes that the virus is shed in the feces of an infected dog. If another dog has oral
contact with the infected feces, they become inoculated with the virus. Some puppies have
more immunity to the disease than others. If their mother was properly vaccinated, she will
transfer immunity to parvovirus in the colostrum, or first milk. These maternal antibodies
may be present in the puppy for up to 20-22 weeks, but may not be protective the entire

Most of the maternal antibodies to other viruses commonly vaccinated against have
disappeared by about 12 weeks, but the maternal parvoviral antibodies persist longer. In
order to ensure that a puppy is adequately protected against parvovirus, no matter when its
mom's antibodies begin to wear off, it needs to be vaccinated every three weeks starting at
about 8 weeks, until it is 20-22 weeks old.

Older dogs need to be kept up on their vaccines too. As they age, their immune system
may become impaired and they are more susceptible to diseases. Rottweilers and
Doberman Pinschers seem to be more prone to parvoviral infections than other breeds.

Besides vaccination, Dr. Ramsey recommends keeping young puppies isolated from other
dogs and out of parks where they may come in contact with infected feces, until they have
completed their series of vaccinations. This will decrease their chances of being exposed to

This virus attacks rapidly dividing cells, like those in the digestive tract and cells in the bone
marrow. Signs to look for are loss of appetite, lack of energy, vomiting or diarrhea. The
vomitus or diarrhea may be bloody. Since these signs can indicate many diseases, it is
important to see your veterinarian if your puppy shows any of these. Young pups, less than
three months of age, can become dehydrated quickly. These animals can die easily if not
treated promptly.

Dr. Ramsey states, "There is no drug we can give to the dog that kills parvovirus once the
animal is infected. The animal's own immunity has to rid itself of the virus. Supportive care is
very important in the treatment of parvoviral infections."

Sick animals need to be given fluids if they are dehydrated. Secondary bacterial infections
may also be a problem. If an infection develops, antibiotics need to be administered to fight
it. Treatment may take a couple of days up to several weeks, depending on the dog, its age,
and the severity of the infection.

Parvovirus can persist in the environment for long periods. It is important to clean up after
an infection. Washing the animal's area with bleach and water in a 1:30 dilution will kill the
virus. The bowls should be thrown away and the bedding either bleached or thrown away
to prevent further spread of the infection. Discard all feces from the infected dog. Humans
can also spread the disease on their hands if they touch feces from an infected dog and then
touch a puppy without washing properly. Very small amounts of fecal material on the dog's
coat can contain large numbers of viral organisms and can easily be transmitted to a
susceptible dog.

If you have any questions about parvovirus, call your veterinarian.