Parvovirus, or Parvo as it's commonly called, is a real nightmare for our canine companions. It's highly contagious and can get pretty serious quickly. But don't hit the panic button immediately. Your vet has effective treatments that can help your pooch, especially if you catch it early.
Keep Your Dog Isolated
If you notice signs of parvo, the first step to take involves isolation. If your vet has chosen not to keep them at their office, it's still important to quarantine your dog in a room away from other pets. This is not only so your dog can rest but also to prevent the spread of this deadly virus to other dogs. During this time, it is imperative that you disinfect everything with a solution of one ounce of bleach in one quart of water.
Wash all bedding with bleach, wash hard surfaces and toys, and be sure to disinfect your yard. Disinfect your shoes and wash your clothing. While humans can get a form of parvovirus, the type that infects dogs is not contagious to humans, so you are safe from transmission.
Symptoms of parvo include abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fever, severe vomiting, and liquid diarrhea.
Clean and Sanitize All Areas
Clean up all feces and pour bleach over any areas that the dog has used for elimination. Parvovirus can live in the soil for many months, so killing it is important to keep your dog, or other dogs, from getting reinfected.
Keep Pushing Fluids
Because of all that vomiting and diarrhea, your dog can get dehydrated quickly, which can make an already-dangerous situation even worse. This is especially dangerous in puppies and is the most common cause of parvo-related deaths.
Since the virus produces violent vomiting and diarrhea, your vet must administer fluids via IV or subcutaneous injections. In the most severe cases, intravenous fluid therapy can keep pace with the loss of fluid. IV fluids also replace vital electrolytes lost in the sickness and diarrhea when depleted blood levels could cause serious complications.
Don't Treat the Diarrhea
One of the common symptoms of parvo is severe diarrhea. So you might think that treating the diarrhea would be part of an effective treatment plan. According to Dr. Werber, DVM, "We do not want to control the diarrhea medically because much of that virus is being secreted out in the stool. So let the dog have diarrhea and keep up with the fluids to compensate for the loss."
Check Out Plasma Transfusions
In some serious cases, a dog may require mini-blood transfusions of plasma to stabilize. At the other end of the scale, for milder cases, fluid under the skin can be helpful, especially for the puppy that vomits after drinking. However, the more intensive the treatment, the greater the success rate.
Discuss this option with your vet if they haven't mentioned it, and if they say it's not warranted, don't be afraid to ask why.
Antibiotics From the Vet
It's common for vets to administer antibiotics to dogs being treated for parvo. Antibiotics kill off any secondary bacterial infections that may take hold while the immune system is busy battling the virus. Your dog's immune system is very weak during a parvo infection. Another infection on top of parvo can be devastating to your dog's health. Antibiotics your vet may use either through an IV, injection, or oral tablets include:
Using the antiviral known as Tamiflu was very popular at one point but is less so currently. The antiviral drug that's used to treat canine influenza may help dogs with parvo, but more research needs to be conducted before this is listed as a viable treatment option.
These meds aim to slow down the virus's ability to multiply, but they're still in the testing phases. So ask your vet if there are any they recommend before adding one to their treatment protocol.
Vomiting is not just an unpleasant experience for your dog. It's also part of what makes Parvo so dangerous. Anti-nausea medication can help control the vomiting, allowing your pup to keep down food and water. Anti-nausea medications prescribed by veterinarians typically include:
Immune System Support
Some vets might recommend immune system boosters like immune globulin injections to help your dog fight off the virus more effectively. These injections are full of antibodies that target the parvo virus directly, kind of like sending in reinforcements to add to your dog's already fighting immune system. A healthy diet and proper nutrition can also play a key role in ramping up their immune response.
Some vets recommend adding vitamins to your dog's treatment regimen to boost your dog's immune health.
Alternative Treatments Under Veterinary Care
Some people feel that home care is an acceptable treatment for parvo. Before deciding to go this way, please keep in mind that if your dog's systems are not properly supported while it fights this virus, there's a strong chance they won't survive. If you cannot afford hospitalization for your dog, discuss the situation with your veterinarian before you decide to treat your dog at home. Many vets offer payment plans for established clients. Your vet may also allow you to treat your dog at home and send the necessary medications with you.
No OTC Treatments Available
There are no over-the-counter treatments for parvo, and any medications, including antibiotics and anti-nausea medications, will require a prescription. If your puppy has a mild case of parvo, providing them with fluids and immune support, such as vitamins, can get them through the disease. But be aware that without antibiotics, your dog may be at risk of a secondary infection.
What to Expect at the Vet's Office
Knowing what to expect once you get to the vet's office can ease anxiety in a stressful situation. Before you get to the vet's office, it's important to let them know what you're coming in for. They will want to isolate you and your dog from other pets in the waiting room. Once you get into the exam room with the vet, here's what usually happens.
- Questions: Your vet will ask you questions, like how long your dog has been showing signs, what signs you're noticing, and why you think it's parvo. They will probably ask if your dog has been around any others that you know have tested positive and how you would like to proceed.
- Diagnostic tests: Your vet will perform a fecal test to confirm the presence of the parvovirus. Sometimes, they also do blood tests to evaluate your dog's overall condition and check for dehydration or secondary infections.
- Treatment plan: If the tests come back positive, your vet will discuss everything we talked about above — fluids, antibiotics, etc. They will let you know your pup's options.
- Monitoring: If you decide to keep your dog at the vet's office, they will be monitored closely to see how they're responding to treatment. Vets look at things like hydration levels, blood pressure, and any signs of improvement or deterioration.
The vet may adjust the treatment plan based on how your dog is doing.
The Road to Recovery
The younger the patient, the harder parvovirus hits. The dogs most likely to survive are adult dogs who were previously in good health. Generally, dogs that get past the three to four days marker with intensive care are likely to pull through. However, recovered dogs continue to excrete parvovirus for up to two weeks post recovery. This means responsible owners should take care to clean up and disinfect areas their dogs have toileted, so as not to pose a risk to other dogs.
Talk to Your Veterinarian About Parvo
While it is possible to treat a dog at home for a mild case of parvo, it's truly in the best interests of the dog for you to work with your veterinarian. They may prescribe medications and provide you with IV fluids to give at home if you're comfortable giving them and your veterinarian feels your dog doesn't require hospitalization. The risks of succumbing to this disease are high, especially with young puppies with weakened immune systems. It's best to get medical input from a veterinary professional in case your dog needs immediate in-clinic treatment and hospitalization to pull through.