Were You Smarter Than a Vet Student About Canine Parvovirus?

Photo Credit: © Susannah Kay

Thanks to all of you who responded to the true/false “Parvovirus Quiz” I recently posted. The lucky winner of an autographed copy of Speaking for Spot is Larry Fosnick Davis from Seattle, Washington.

Now, here are the answers you’ve been waiting for!

1.  Dogs with parvovirus become contagious to other dogs (begin shedding the virus in their feces) at the time diarrhea is first observed.

This is false. Dogs typically become contagious four to seven days before the onset of any symptoms.

2.  A dog is no longer contagious (stops shedding of parvovirus in their feces) approximately two weeks following infection.

This is true. Keep in mind that this two-week period begins up to one week prior to the onset of symptoms (see question number one above).

3.  Once parvovirus is shed via feces into the environment, it can remain infectious to other dogs for several months.

This is true. This is the main reason why unvaccinated dogs are so darned susceptible to this disease. Parvovirus organisms are extremely hardy and remain active (infectious) in the environment for up to six months.

4.  Canine parvovirus can cause heart disease.

This is true. Parvovirus can damage the heart muscle in puppies infected when they are less than six weeks of age. Affected pups die rather quickly from heart failure. This parvovirus induced cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle) is rare, occurring only if the mama dog has no immunity to parvovirus and her pups are exposed to this disease at an early age.

5.  Adult dogs should be vaccinated against parvovirus disease annually.

This is false. The parvovirus vaccine provides a minimum of three years of protection in previously vaccinated adult dogs. To state this more clearly, if your adult dog receives a parvovirus vaccination every year he or she is being “overvaccinated”. This subjects your dog to all the potential risks associated with the vaccine and absolutely zero benefit. Additionally, you are paying for a vaccine that is completely unnecessary. To learn more about current vaccination protocols I encourage you to read “The Vaccination Conundrum” in Speaking for Spot and Canine Vaccination Guidelines published by the American Animal Hospital Association. If your veterinarian insists on an annual parvovirus vaccination, share the information found in these resources. If this doesn’t solve the problem, it’s time to find a more progressive veterinarian to care for your best buddy. Enough said.

6. Some breeds have increased susceptibility to parvovirus disease.

This is true. Rottweilers, Doberman Pinchers, English Springer Spaniels, American Pit Bull Terriers, and German Shepherds have historically been predisposed to parvovirus infection, even when vaccinated according to protocol. This breed predisposition seems to be lessening, thanks to newer vaccines on the market. Nonetheless, with a pup of a more susceptible breed it makes sense to perform parvovirus serology following completion of the puppy vaccine series. This blood test helps confirm that the immune system’s parvovirus-fighting status is up to snuff.

7.  Canine parvovirus disease causes an elevation in white blood cell count.

This is false. Parvovirus disease typically causes a marked decrease in the white blood cell count. The patient’s recovery typically coincides with recovery of white blood cell numbers.

8.  Antibiotic therapy is not warranted because parvo is a viral disease.

This is false. Although antibiotics are not effective against viruses, they are an essential component of parvovirus therapy. A low white blood cell count (see question seven above) and severe disruption of the intestinal surfaces render dogs suffering from parvovirus disease very susceptible to bacterial infection. In fact, most parvovirus-associated deaths are caused by secondary bacterial infections.

9.  The only way a dog who is sick with parvovirus can survive is by receiving round-the-clock care in a veterinary hospital.

This is false. While round-the-clock care is the very best option for treating parvovirus disease, at a cost ranging from $1,500 to $3,000 such therapy is simply not affordable for many people. A recently completed study at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine tested an at-home treatment protocol. Therapy consisted of an injection of a long acting antibiotic, a daily injection of an anti-emetic (anti-vomiting medication), and administration of subcutaneous fluids (fluids under the skin) three times daily. At a cost of $200 to $300 this regimen proved to be more affordable and resulted in an 85% survival rate compared to a 90% survival rate with inpatient care. While hospitalization for therapy remains the gold standard, it is nice to know that a viable option exists when cost is prohibitive.

10.  Unvaccinated dogs are three times more likely to develop parvovirus disease than vaccinated dogs.

This is false. Unvaccinated dogs are 13 times more likely to develop parvovirus disease than vaccinated dogs.

How did you do? Did you learn anything new?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.



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7 Comments on “Were You Smarter Than a Vet Student About Canine Parvovirus?

  1. I did “ok” but could have done better, I did get 7 correct. I spend a lot of time reading about dogs and of course I watch all the dog shows on T.V. But this info was so informative I enjoyed it immensely and leaned a lot from it. Thanks you so much for what you do.

  2. This time last year I got 4 pups to foster that developed signs of Parvo within 24hrs of arriving at my house. I did the SQ fluids and meds @ home, but also tried a new recommendation of Tamiflu!! WOW, was that expensive! I lost 2 pups, but 2 survived. I had to put my entire dog-household on “lock-down”, which was so tough because the pups were in my dog room – the only access-way to outside! Thankfully every-dog did fine, and the pups ultimately went to fabulous forever homes!

    I was in Vet-Tech school @ MSU when parvo 1st exploded, but having these sad pups certainly was intense continuing ed for me!

  3. I got two answers wrong (#2 and #10). I didn’t know the answers to #4 and #7, so I left those blank. So, I did not great / not terrible … both of my current dogs survived parvo as pups.

  4. Surprised that the use of Tamiflu as a low-cost, at-home alternative to hospitalization was not presented. Is there new information which has raised second thoughts about this?

  5. I did really well because I have researched this subject thoroughly. I would encourage everyone to pass along this information as much as possible, especially the part about the dogs being highly contagious so far ahead of the onset of visible symptoms. In my large city, so many people adopt pups from the large public shelters. Even the privately run rescues pull pups from the shelters. Even though the pups are vaccinated when they arrive at the rescue or most shelters, they may already be incubating the disease and actively passing it along. So many rescued pups break with symptoms only a day to 3 days after going to their new homes and by then they have already contaminated the house, the yard and often parts of the neighborhood and, of course, any public dog facility they visit. National statistics tell us that one of the poorest areas in surveys of shelter competency (sorry no immediate access to the stats but you can find them on google) is knowledge of disease prevention protocols. So many deaths could be prevented if local rescues were better educated in this area. As a trainer/behavior consultant, if I visit a newly acquired pup, I always take bleach and extra shoes in my car and thoroughly wash hands. I never visit another dog’s home after a visit to a newly acquired pup. Parvo is rampant in the south where I work.