Deadly, fast-moving and causing much suffering, parvovirus is an illness that strikes panic in the hearts of dog owners.
“It’s a very scary and dangerous virus,” says Dr Danielle Korb, a veterinarian at West Beach Animal Hospital in the Western Cape, who’s treated many animals with it.
“Mortality rates are as high as 91% in untreated animals and four to 48% even with aggressive treatment. But the good news is it’s preventable.”
She gave YOU advice on everything to know about the virus.
Firstly, what type of virus is it and how does it spread?
Canine parvovirus – also known as parvo or katgriep – is a virus that infects the intestines and immune system of young dogs.
“It spreads via the faeces and vomit of infected dogs, as well as contaminated soil and surfaces. So for example, if a dog-walking park has had an outbreak, do not take your dog to that park as the virus can survive without a host for months while remaining infectious. It’s incredibly hardy.
Is it a seasonal virus, or does it occur all year round?
Although it’s present all year round, there’s definitely an increase in infections during the warmer months. It’s found throughout South Africa but it’s more prevalent in overcrowded areas where there’s a lack of adequate sanitation such as clean, running water and poorer areas where there’s no vaccination.”
Does it affect only puppies or dogs of any age? And can cats get it?
In practice it affects almost exclusively puppies, but it has been known to infect unvaccinated, immune-compromised adult dogs as well. It doesn’t infect cats – although cats are affected by a similar disease called feline panleukopenia virus, from which canine parvovirus is thought to have evolved.
What are the signs to look out for?
It has an incubation period – or “silent” period – between exposure and onset of symptoms, which can last four to 14 days. Symptoms then usually begin with decreased appetite and energy levels, which progress to lethargy and then vomiting and diarrhoea, which becomes bloody. Fluid losses cause dehydration and can ultimately result in collapse and shock.
If you think your dog has it, what should you do?
I cannot stress enough that it’s absolutely essential to seek immediate veterinary treatment. Time is not on your side and the sooner you initiate aggressive treatment the better your pup’s chances of survival.
There are countless sources on social media that continue to spew out home remedies for parvovirus, but if your dog has it, it will die without professional treatment. Where admission into a veterinary hospital is either technically or financially not possible, the bare minimum approach is daily outpatient treatment by a private or welfare veterinarian. Your dog will suffer an agonising death if you don’t get help immediately.
What can pet owners do to prevent it?
Vaccination is essential in preventing parvovirus infection. Puppies need to be vaccinated at six, nine, 12 and 16 weeks (primary vaccinations), and again at six months of age (first annual booster) as per the recommended guidelines.
Missing any of these boosters is detrimental to your puppy’s ability to develop antibodies against the virus.
In private practice the vaccines range from R300-500 per booster (depending on the area and also which other vaccines are included – for example rabies). However there are many welfare organisations that can help at lower rates and pet medical aids which contribute to costs.
The single most important thing you can do is ensure your dog’s vaccinations are up to date. If they aren’t, don’t walk them outside of your property or allow other dogs onto your property as your dog will be at high risk