Just the word “parvo” is enough to strike panic in the minds and hearts of dog lovers—especially those who have just acquired a new puppy.
Although the disease has a relatively high survival rate with the proper treatment, if left untreated it can lead to a painful death in just a few days after the presence of symptoms.
In this article we will address the question, “How do I know if my puppy will survive parvo.”
We will do this, first by defining the disease—its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and outlook—and second, by describing the signs that may indicate your puppy has survived the worse of parvo and is on his way to a full and complete recovery.
Parvo: What Is It? The Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment
Parvo, which is scientifically known as canine parvovirus, is a grave and very contagious virus that can affect most members of the canine family, including wolves, coyotes, foxes, and, of course, dogs and puppies.
Sometimes fatal to those acquire it, parvo attacks the body’s cells, causing them to rapidly divide and negatively impacting almost every organ system.
Causes of Parvo
So just how do dogs and puppies contract the parvovirus?
As we mentioned, the disease is highly contagious, and any member of the canine species, including dogs, can catch it should they come into contact with contaminated stool.
Tiny particles of the parvovirus are present in contaminated feces, and unless the dog in question is vaccinated against the disease, even casual contact with that feces could result in infection—an infection that takes about three to seven days to become active in the body.
Puppies, unvaccinated dogs and those with compromised immune systems are at greatest risk of catching the parvovirus.
Once a puppy is infected, the virus will begin shedding in its feces after a few days, at which time other dogs that come into contact with the infected canine are also at risk of contracting it.
Symptoms of parvo will subsequently begin to develop in another few days, and the infected dog can continue to be contagious throughout the course of the disease, and even in the few weeks following recovery.
Here’s the scary part: According to PetMD, the parvovirus is very “stable in the environment.”
It can live for months in infected soil and be present in areas where dogs regularly play.
It can also be transferred from spot to spot via shoes and on dog’s paws, which means one infected puppy could unknowingly end up infecting many dogs in the area.
This is why it is so crucial that puppies get vaccinated against the virus as soon as they are able.
Symptoms of Parvo
The parvovirus tends to divide cells in the infected puppy’s bone marrow and intestines, causing the white blood cells—the infection fighting cells—to diminish in number.
This, in turn, decreases the immune system’s ability to fight off the disease, and makes it difficult for the infected puppy to absorb nutrients or digest its food properly.
The result is a whole host of unpleasant and life-threatening symptoms, including:
- Diarrhea. Usually, the diarrhea of an infected puppy will present as loose, foul-smelling stools and the presence of blood.
- Nausea and vomiting. Like with the diarrhea, the vomit will typically be bloody due to the damaged intestines.
- Dehydration. Loss of important fluids—from watery stools and vomit—can lead to dehydration.
- Weakness. Dehydration will lead to extreme weakness, fatigue and listlessness in the infected pup.
- Sepsis. In extreme cases, dogs can develop sepsis from parvo—a blood infection caused by the inability of the digestive walls to prevent bacteria from entering the bloodstream.
Not every infected dog will display all of these symptoms.
In fact, mild cases of the disease can often result in no symptoms whatsoever, although the infected dog will still be contagious to others.
Parvo often proves fatal, but survival rates range from 60-90 percent with early detection and treatment.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Parvo
Diagnosis of the parvovirus requires consultation with a licensed veterinarian, who will typically conduct blood tests and other diagnostic measures to confirm the disease.
If you believe your dog or puppy has been exposed to the parvovirus, or if your pet is displaying any of the symptoms outlined above, it’s important that you get him to the vet as soon as possible.
Early detection and treatment increases the survival rate for infected canines.
Treatment for the parvovirus may require a stay at a pet hospital.
There your veterinarian will employ a variety of methods to attack the virus and help the body fight it off, including:
- Fluids. Intravenous fluids is one of the first steps and is necessary to combat dehydration.
- Antibiotics. Although parvo is a “viral” infection, antibiotics are often given to prevent sepsis development.
- Anti-emetics. These are drugs that will help with your dog’s nausea and vomiting.
- Administration of antacids. This is done to prevent further damage to the infected dog’s intestines.
- De-worming. Parasites can increase the intestinal damage caused by parvo.
While none of these steps actively “cure” parvovirus (there is no cure, just preventive vaccines), they do help a dog’s body fight off the infection and can curtail the damage this virus can do in the gastrointestinal tract.
How Do I Know If My Puppy Will Survive Parvo?
Now to our title question: Just how do you know if the treatments are working on your pup—treatments that can help him survive?
Actually, there are several things you can look for.
- Firmer stools. Since parvo is characterized by loose, watery stools, the presence of firmer stools and the absence of the blood are really good signs.
- Vomiting subsides. If your dog is no longer vomiting, this is also a great sign.
- Appetite and energy returns. Parvo can kill off your dog’s appetite, so if he is back to eating normally and has his energy back, this is good news.
Vaccinations for parvo include a series of shots over the first 12 weeks of your puppy’s life and booster shots once a year thereafter.
During this time it’s important to keep him away from unvaccinated dogs.
But if he does catch the virus, and if your puppy has survived four days or more with treatment after the initial presence of symptoms, there is a really good chance that the worst is over and that your puppy will indeed survive the ordeal.