Canine parvovirus (parvo) is a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus that tends to affect young, unvaccinated puppies the most (though it can affect any breed at any age).
It can be directly or indirectly transmitted.
Meaning, your dog can pick it up himself through sniffing, licking or consuming contaminated faeces (I know this is pretty gross but hey, that’s what dogs do). Or it can be contracted indirectly through bowls, leads, bedding, and even our clothes and hands if we’ve been in contact with a contaminated dog.
And it’s truly awful.
It predominately affects the intestines, stopping them from absorbing vital nutrients. In doing so, the dog will become lethargic, weak, and dehydrated.
Key parvo signs…
- diarrhoea with blood in it
- severe vomiting
- loss of appetite
- fever – hot or cold to touch
- rapid heart rate
- inability to get up
If your dog shows any signs of parvo, go to your vet immediately. There is no treatment, other than intensive nursing and feeding, so the sooner you get him there, the greater the chance of survival.
Without help, your dog will very likely die.
The good news is that parvo is almost completely preventable.
Initially a pup’s mum should have had the vaccine when she was young. This provides a young pup with antibodies to fight off any potential early infection while still feeding from her milk.
Once the pup stops feeding from mum, that’s when he or she won’t have any protection against parvovirus.
This is when you start the vaccine programme…
1st vaccine – 6-8 weeks old
If you’re picking yours up from a breeder or rescue centre, make sure you get a vaccination card stating that he or she has had the first jab. It’ll also handily display the date the next jab is due.
Until he has that second jab, he’s not protected. So it’s important to know what your pup can and can’t do…
- Home: it’s safe to be in your house and the garden as long as there haven’t been any unvaccinated dogs there, or any who could have access to your outdoor space.
- Public spaces: do not put your puppy on the ground in any public space at this time. You can take them out but carry them and make sure you’re not in contact with anyone else or any other dog.
- Puppy classes: going to puppy class is okay, as long as your pup is healthy. It’s important to start socialisation from an early age, and since all others in the class will be healthy puppies too, there should be little chance of your pup contracting parvo. As far as the professional’s say, the benefits outweigh the risks.
2nd vaccine – 2 weeks later
If you’re taking home a slightly older pup from a rescue centre (or some breeders may want to keep puppies a little longer, often dependent on the breed), again make sure the vaccination card displays both jabs.
Your puppy will be safe to go out for a walk and meet other dogs 1-2 weeks after this second vaccine.
3rd booster jab – 1 year later
Keep your vaccine card somewhere safe and diarise the booster date so you don’t forget.
After this first year of vaccines, including the booster, it’s recommended that your dog gets boosters throughout his life. And while this is most often the case, the regularity of those boosters is widely controversial.
Some vets and other professionals say it’s needed annually, while others say every 3 years or even up to 5 or 7 years!
So this is where blood titre tests come in.
To make sure you’re not vaccinating your pooch unnecessarily, you can opt to have a test first. Cos let’s face it; vaccines aren’t exactly nice. We’re putting a foreign entity in our dog’s body. Yes, yes, it’s to prevent something much worse, but why do it if your dog’s antibody levels are still high enough in his body?
A titre test can help find out.
I’ll go into that in more details another time, but essentially titre tests help determine if your dog has sufficient antibodies to still be immune to parvovirus (and potentially other viruses if included in the test).
If the results come back that he (or she) does, then you could opt to put off the booster for a while longer. This a choice you alone have. But I recommend doing your own research on it. Don’t take your vet’s advice, mine or anyone else’s has gospel. There are pros and cons to both approaches, being fully informed through independent sources is the only way for you to decide what’s your right way.
Whatever you decide after that first year, the key take-out is to make sure your puppy is fully vaccinated against parvovirus. It’s an awful, potentially fatal virus that can be prevented.