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By: Claire Roberson, Communications Director

In the animal welfare world, there is nothing scarier than finding out a puppy has parvovirus. Why? Parvovirus is highly contagious and many times fatal for these young pups. Unfortunately, during this time of year when there is an influx of puppies being born, the number of parvo cases rise – something we have already noticed in the SPCA’s Veterinary Care Center. Luckily, if your pet is fully vaccinated with the DHPP vaccine (meaning the initial vaccine and all boosters), the chance of your companion getting parvo is rare and, if they do, recovery is more likely.

As we’re taking extra precautions to keep ourselves healthy and safe during this pandemic, let’s also take one small (yet crucial) step to keep our companions safe and healthy by educating ourselves about parvovirus and making sure they are fully vaccinated.

What is Parvovirus?

Simply known as ‘parvo,’ the canine parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that can spread between dogs. Puppies and inadequately vaccinated young dogs are at high risk of contracting this virus, which often wreaks havoc on the digestive tract, occasionally heart muscles and can result in death. Mature dogs and dogs 100% vaccinated can also fall victim to this virus, but recovery is more likely.

How Dogs Get Parvovirus

Parvovirus is dangerous because of how easily it can spread within canine populations. There are two main ways in which a dog can come into contact with parvo: direct contact with infected feces and indirect contact.

Curious puppies and dogs love to sniff wherever they go. However, what may be lurking in the areas they are exploring are feces from an infected parvo dog. By simply coming into contact with these contaminated surfaces through sniffs or licks, a dog may become ill with the parvovirus.

Parvo can also live on surfaces for weeks, months or even years. It is especially resilient in that it can survive on humans, the environment, clothing and equipment. There aren’t many cleaners that properly disinfect these surfaces, though bleach has proven effective, and the virus can survive for months indoors and even longer outdoors (if not in direct sunlight). When a dog indirectly comes into contact with parvo through these unknowingly contaminated areas, they can become infected.

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Parvo Symptoms

Once a dog becomes infected with the parvovirus, the virus begins to replicate in the small intestines, bone marrow and lymph nodes. This is what can lead to the deadly issues in the digestive tract and the heart, though heart issues are rare. Most deaths that occur from the virus happen within 48 to 72 hours after noticing symptoms, though death may occur even quicker.

Common symptoms of the parvovirus are: severe and/or bloody diarrhea, lethargy, vomiting, fever, lack of interest in food and/or weight loss, weakness, dehydration and depression.

What To Do If You Suspect Parvo

Call your veterinarian immediately if your dog is experiencing any or all of these symptoms. Though they may not be a result of parvo, they may be symptoms of another illness that needs immediate veterinary care.

If you think you may have come into contact with dog feces, disinfect potentially contaminated areas. Though bleach is one of the very few disinfectants that can properly eliminate the virus, always consult your veterinarian about how to properly and safely disinfect.

If your dog starts showing symptoms of parvovirus, contact your veterinarian immediately. The sooner a dog is diagnosed with the virus, the higher probability of recovery. Though there is no specific drug used to kill off the viral infection, steps will be taken by your veterinarian to boost the dog’s immune system until it can fight off the parvovirus. Intensive care is necessary to fight dehydration, prevent secondary infections and prevent other dogs from becoming infected, and usually requires quarantine.

How To Prevent Parvo

The number one way to prevent parvovirus is to properly vaccinate your puppies at 6-8 weeks. Boosters will be administered every three-weeks until 16 weeks of age, and again at one-year old. Dogs that have already been vaccinated will still need boosters every year. Though properly vaccinated dogs are not 100% protected, the vaccinations will still help fight off the virus and help make recovery more likely if infected.

If your puppy or dog is not fully or properly vaccinated, limit the dog’s contact with other dogs (unless you are sure the other dog is fully vaccinated) and avoid environments in which your dog may be exposed to the virus.

Always change your clothes and shoes before returning home if you work in a place in which you come into contact with other dogs. If you think you, your house or yard have been infected, disinfect the areas (following the advice from your vet).

If you are taking your dog to the veterinarian, carry your puppy from your car to the vet’s office and hold them in your lap while in the lobby to prevent any contact with potentially contaminated surface.

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The SPCA Albrecht Center’s full-service Veterinary Care Center offers parvo testing for $30 and the parvovirus vaccination (DHPP) for just $15 each. The Care Center is OPEN Tuesday – Friday for walk-in exams and vaccines from 1 pm to 4 pm and Saturday from 8 am to noon. If you suspect your dog has parvo, please call (803) 648-6864 before arriving to the Vet Care Center.

An Aiken native and self-proclaimed cat lady, Claire Roberson is the SPCA Albrecht Center’s Communications Director, working in marketing, grant writing and media correspondence. She attended College of Charleston, where she graduated with a degree in Nonprofit Business and interned with Charleston Animal Society, the leader in No-Kill South Carolina. When not working, you can find Claire hanging out with her 18-pound Maine Coon mix, Anakin.

The SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare is a private, nonprofit, no kill animal shelter in Aiken, SC.  The SPCA also operates a local Thrift Store (“Where Shopping Saves Lives”),  a public, affordable Veterinary Care Center & a Dog Park.  It is our mission to improve the lives of companion animals by rehoming abused, abandoned, and neglected pets while fighting for their well-being through vigorous legislative efforts, humane education, and by offering affordable veterinary care for all.