The scenario unfolds like this: you acquired a seven-week-old puppy two weeks ago. You took it to your veterinarian for its first set of vaccinations a week ago, and now she is not acting right. Last night, she was less active and you thought maybe she just over-played. Then she skipped breakfast this morning, and now, this evening, she vomited and had a bout of foul-smelling diarrhea. You see your veterinarian, who says your puppy may have parvo. A test on her feces confirms your worst fear!

Parvo came onto the scene in 1978, having mutated from a feline virus. The main source of the virus is from the feces of infected dogs. The virus begins to be shed in the feces just before clinical signs develop and shedding continues for about 10 days. Susceptible dogs become infected by ingesting the virus. After ingestion, the virus is carried to the intestine, where it invades the intestinal wall and causes inflammation.

Unlike most other viruses, Canine Parvovirus, or CPV, is stable in the environment and is resistant to the effects of heat, detergents, alcohol and many disinfectants. A 1:30 ratio of bleach and water solution will destroy the virus. Due to its environmental stability, the virus is easily transmitted via the hair or feet of infected dogs, or on shoes, clothes and other objects contaminated by infected feces. Direct contact between dogs is not required to spread the virus. Dogs that become infected with the virus and show clinical signs will usually become ill within six to 10 days after exposure.

The main symptoms are vomiting and foul-smelling, bloody diarrhea. Dehydration and secondary infections are the result of the disease, and it is most severe in puppies less than six months of age who are un-vaccinated or haven't completed the vaccine series.

The first step in treatment is to correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. This requires the administration of intravenous fluids containing electrolytes. In severe cases, plasma transfusions may be given. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs are given to prevent or control infection. Drugs are also used to inhibit the diarrhea and vomiting that perpetuate the problem. On occasion, home treatment can be successful.

Can parvo be prevented?

The best method of protecting your dog against CPV infection is proper vaccination. Puppies receive a parvovirus vaccination as part of their multiple-agent vaccine series. It is recommended to be given at eight, 12 and 16 weeks of age. In some high-risk situations, veterinarians will give the vaccine at two-week intervals, with an additional booster administered at 20 weeks of age. After the initial series of vaccinations, boosters will be required on a regular basis. If an approved three-year parvovirus vaccine was used, the next booster vaccine will be routinely administered in three years. Dogs in high-exposure situations — such as kennels, dog shows, field trials, etc. — may be better protected with a booster every year.

As the mainstay of my life's work is to educate about preventative health care, it is extremely frustrating to me when a dog gets parvo due to a pet owner's lack of education, or, more commonly, apathy, in getting their puppy fully vaccinated. I routinely tell new puppy owners not to allow their puppy access to other un-vaccinated dogs or their fecal matter until three sets of vaccines are given at approximately eight, 12, and 16 weeks of age. It is also good to wait until one week after that last set of vaccines.

Parvo is a common disease in the Four Corners area with many un-vaccinated dogs roaming the vast Bureau of Land Management and reservation wide-open geography. I cannot over emphasize the importance of a timely vaccination schedule to prevent your puppy from getting parvo, as well as keeping your adult dog's vaccinations current.

Dr. Darren Woodson has practiced veterinary medicine in the Farmington area for more than 28 years and has a passion for educating pet owners. If you have a question you would like him to address, email dwoodson@valleyvetpet.com. Please understand Dr. Woodson will choose the questions that are most relevant to our readers.