One of the most feared contagious viruses seen in small animal clinical practice is canine parvovirus. This aggressive virus is most commonly seen in unvaccinated dogs under 1 year of age. Disease incidence is highest in crowded stressful environments, including kennels and shelters; however, viral transmission may also occur through contact of infected feces at dog parks and on grass on walkways. The virus is very hardy and resistant to many common virocidal agents, and can survive for long periods in the environment. It is not uncommon for many puppies at once to come down with parvo in a crowded, stressful kennel situation.
Clinical signs of parvovirus include lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting and often foul bloody diarrhea. Some pets may develop inflammation of the heart muscle, while in other cases sudden death without any clinical signs may occur. While diagnosis of parvovirus can be suspected based on history and clinical presentation, definitive diagnosis is usually made by viral antibody testing of the feces.
Treatment of parvovirus is best done in the veterinary hospital setting, and usually includes IV fluids and antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections. Many dogs with parvovirus will also have intestinal parasites as well, which will also need to be treated. Holistic veterinarians will often report great success in treating parvovirus with herbal therapies, as well as individually prescribed constitutional homeopathic remedies.
Prognosis of parvovirus is guarded, with the cases that are treated early and aggressively having the better prognosis. Prevention of parvovirus is best through proper vaccination of susceptible puppies up to 16 weeks of age. Immunity to parvovirus vaccination lasts for years to the life of the pet, so further vaccination of adult dogs is often not needed, and I will often measure vaccination antibody titers in adult pets instead of vaccinating them, due to my concerns of over-vaccination and vaccination induced disease. I also recommend that animal guardians feed as natural a diet as possible; ideally in my opinion a species appropriate raw meat based diet is best for pets of all ages.