Parvovirus – could your puppy be at risk?

Canine Parvovirus disease (CPV)
Canine parvovirus is a small, but extremely hardy virus that can survive in the environment for long periods of time – months or even years.
The disease first emerged as an epidemic in the 1970s, killing thousands of dogs before an effective vaccine became available. Although no longer present in epidemic proportions, parvovirus is still relatively common in unvaccinated dogs, and veterinary surgeons throughout the country regularly report outbreaks of the disease. Therefore, protecting your dog through vaccination is vitally important.

Who is at risk?
All unvaccinated animals, particularly those in high-risk areas and young puppies, are at risk. Parvovirus causes enteritis (inflammation of the intestines causing vomiting and diarrhoea), it is seen in any age of dog from about four weeks of age, but most commonly in dogs less than one year old.

How is it spread?
The main source of infection is the faeces of infected dogs; the virus can also spread on shoes and clothing and on the coat and pads of dogs.

Cause of canine parvovirus
The cause of canine parvovirus disease is a highly contagious DNA-containing virus. There are currently several types in the UK, namely CPV-2, CPV-2a, CPV-2b and CPV-2c. The virus is transmitted through the mouth or nose from faeces. CPV can be passed out in the faeces of a dog within 3-4 days after infection and before clinical signs are seen.
Canine parvovirus affects all breeds of domesticated dog, as well as wild dogs (including bush-dogs, coyotes, maned wolves) and the virus may also be transmitted to cats, ferrets and mink.

Signs and symptoms
The incubation period of CPV is generally 4-7 days. Individuals normally have severe enteritis, however occasionally animals may only have mild symptoms.
Signs usually consist of depression, severe vomiting, refusal of food and water, abdominal pain and profuse smelly, bloody diarrhoea. This can result in rapid and severe dehydration, and ultimately death.

Prevention and control
There is no specific treatment for canine parvovirus, so it is important to ensure that your dog is vaccinated in both puppyhood and adult life. Some of the vaccines on the market reduce clinical signs and mortality due to parvovirus, but they do not prevent shedding after infection occurs – this means the animal will still excrete the virus into the environment. Unfortunately, canine parvovirus is very stable in the environment, so any animal which sheds the virus not only contaminates the environment, but poses a risk to other animals as well.

You’ll be pleased to know that some vaccines use a special strain (called C154) that sets the standard in terms of protection against canine parvovirus. It has proven protection against UK types of virus (CPV-2, 2a, 2b and 2c) and offers a duration of immunity of three years. This means your dog is protected for a full three years against parvovirus.

Vaccination is the only proven method of preventing canine parvovirus infection. Whilst the vaccines used are highly effective, it is the case (as is also true in human vaccines) that efficacy is never 100%. Hence on rare occasions a pup may not respond adequately to its puppy vaccine course and potentially be at risk. It is possible to minimise this small risk further by giving an additional vaccine at sixteen weeks. Alternatively, a blood test can be undertaken to see if a pup has adequately responded to its vaccines. Given the very high protection offered by the vaccine, we do not as standard recommend a later vaccine or blood test as in the vast majority of dogs it is not necessary.

It is also important, particularly in an area where an outbreak has occurred, to maintain good hygiene. Although there are a limited number of disinfectants effective against CPV, standard practices such as handwashing, picking up after your dog and avoiding contact with faeces out on walks will help reduce transmission. Avoid contact with unvaccinated dogs and puppies.

Please ask us if you have any further questions.