It was a busy morning at the clinic with the waiting room filled with five clients awaiting heartworm tests, one limping cat, a dog that kept sneezing, and an unhappy cat there for vaccinations. Suddenly, a person ran through the door in a panic and told the receptionist that he had a very sick 10-week-old mixed breed puppy in the car who had been vomiting for 3 days, then started having extremely foul-smelling diarrhea. The owners brought Angel to us because she started having bloody diarrhea and was extremely lethargic.
We asked them to bring her around the back and took her into an exam room immediately. After looking Angel over and determining that she was severely dehydrated, we took a sample of her stool, which we tested for parvovirus. The test was positive.
Canine parvovirus disease is currently one of the most common infectious disorders of dogs in the United States. "Parvo" is a highly contagious disease, and this is one of the reasons we asked that the sick pup be brought in through the back door so that other dogs would not be exposed to her.
There is a broad range in the severity of symptoms shown by dogs infected with parvovirus. The most common form of the disease is the intestinal form known as enteritis. This is characterized by (often severe) vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, dark or bloody feces, and in severe cases, fever and lowered white blood cell counts. The disease will progress very rapidly and death can occur as early as two days after onset. The other form of parvovirus affects the heart.
Not all cases of bloody diarrhea with or without vomiting are caused by parvovirus and many sick puppies are misdiagnosed. The only way to know if a dog has parvovirus is through a positive diagnostic test. We took Angel's history and found out that she had never received any puppy vaccines the family just never seemed to have time to get around to it.
We put Angel into what served as our isolation unit and inserted a catheter into her vein so we could provide much needed fluids and electrolytes to her body the quickest way. We also gave her intravenous antibiotics to help prevent secondary bacterial infections.
More About Canine Parvovirus
Regular puppy vaccinations have helped to control the spread of this disease, but despite being vaccinated, some dogs still contract and die from parvo.
All parvoviruses are extremely stable and are resistant to adverse environmental influences such as low pH and high heat.
Parvovirus is known to survive on inanimate objects such as clothing, food pans, and cage floors for five months and longer under the right conditions.
The treatment of parvovirus is mainly directed at supportive therapy. Replacing fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhea is probably the single most important treatment. Restricting food during periods of vomiting and diarrhea is also necessary in order to give the intestinal lining a chance to heal.
Parvovirus is a condition that must be treated aggressively. Undertaking the treatment of affected dogs and puppies without professional veterinary care is very difficult. Even with the best available care, mortality of severely infected animals is high.
As is usually the case, about 2 days of this treatment were necessary before we started seeing improvement. Angel's very worried family came to visit every day and soon we let them help feed her tiny amounts of food and observe whether she could keep it down and/or how it would emerge when she eliminated.
She seemed to be doing fine and within a week she was eating voraciously, eliminating normally, and required no more supplemental fluids. The next day Angel went home with her family. We have seen Angel grow into a large, healthy dog and have been her veterinarians since her parvo crisis. The owners never fail to have her in for yearly examinations and her booster shots.