Preventing Parvo

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Recently, a Facebook contact began posting pictures and videos of her adorable new puppy. They were taken at the dog park, at a lake and at other locations. I was horrified yesterday to read that she’d been diagnosed with canine parvovirus. While it appears that this puppy will recover, many Parvo puppies are not so fortunate.
Canine parvovirus, or CPV, is a highly contagious viral disease that manifests itself in two different forms. The most common type is the intestinal form. It affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, and the dog will quickly become dehydrated and weak from lack of protein and fluid absorption. The wet tissue of the mouth and eyes might become noticeably red, and the heart might beat too rapidly. The pup might show pain or discomfort when his abdominal area is palpated. The symptoms include lethargy, severe vomiting, loss of appetite and bloody, foul-smelling diarrhea that can lead to life-threatening dehydration, fever or a low body temperature, weight loss and death.
Puppies can get Parvo by direct contact with an infected dog or indirectly by coming in contact with an infected dog’s stool, as heavy concentrations of the virus are found here. Even the area where the stool was can be infectious, as there is evidence that the virus can live in ground soil for up to a year and is resistant to changes in weather and most cleaning products. The virus can also be brought into a dog’s environment by way of shoes that have come into contact with infected feces.
With such a contagious virus, prevention is critical. Puppies should receive a series of vaccinations against CPV. The American Animal Hospital Association recommends that a puppy under 16 weeks of age receive an initial vaccine at 6 weeks old and be given a booster every three to four weeks until he is 14-16 weeks old. He should then be given a booster a year after the final shot in the series and every three years after that. If a dog is over 16 weeks old when he receives the initial vaccine, he should get one dose and be revaccinated every three years.
The difference in the schedules is due to maternal antibodies. When a dog is pregnant and when nursing her puppies, she passes antibodies on to them. These antibodies decrease over time, making the puppy susceptible to illness. As long as the maternal antibodies are present, however, they will interfere with vaccinations and prevent the puppy from building its own immunity. As the maternal antibodies decrease at different rates in each animal, a series of shots is given to catch the puppy at the ideal time for him to start building his own immunity. Generally, when a puppy is 16 weeks old the maternal antibodies are gone.
A critical part of prevention is using care in where you take your puppy before he is fully vaccinated. Puppies mid-series should never be taken to places where unvaccinated dogs might have been, such as pet supply stores and dog parks. Even the grounds and floors at your vet’s office may be unsafe; you should carry your pup.
Most veterinarians recommend keeping your puppy at home until they’ve received at least two Parvo vaccines and avoiding places unvaccinated dogs have access to until the series is complete. This means it’s fine to take your puppy to your friend’s fenced in back yard if you know all her dogs are current on their shots but not to an unfenced area somewhere. Because Parvo can be spread by wild dogs such as wolves, coyotes and foxes, even an area free of domestic dogs can’t be considered safe. This also means that puppy training and socialization, while critical, should take place under carefully controlled situations, not in locations where unvaccinated dogs might have been.
While puppies are most susceptible to this virus, adult dogs can get it as well, so it’s important that they also be vaccinated.
Canine parvovirus is one of the scourges of the dog world. Treatment is often lengthy, expensive and not always successful. Love your puppy by vaccinating properly and by avoiding unsafe places.
Karlene Turkington is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years.

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