Immediate, intensive veterinary treatment for canine parvovirus (CPV), commonly referred to as parvo, is the best way to give your dog a chance of survival. For a dog with parvovirus, time and intensive nursing are of the essence.
Typical Treatments for Parvo
As soon as you notice the first symptoms of parvo disease, you should rush to the vet immediately. The AVMA state signs of parvovirus include:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Appetite loss
- Fever or subnormal temperature
- Extreme vomiting
- Offensive liquid diarrhea, which contains blood and sometimes mucus
- Collapse and death within 48 - 72 hours of the first symptoms
These signs warrant veterinary attention regardless of the cause. Once at the vet, your dog will be tested to determine is parvovirus is indeed the problem. If a diagnosis of parvo is made, urgent and aggressive supportive care is required.
The first thing the vet will do is isolate your dog in a cage and barrier nurse them. This is not only so your dog can rest but also to prevent the spread of this deadly virus to other dogs. During this time, it is imperative that you disinfect everything with a solution of one ounce of bleach in one quart of water. Wash all bedding with bleach, wash hard surfaces and toys, and be sure to disinfect your yard as well. In addition, disinfect your shoes and wash your clothing. Note that while humans can get a form of parvovirus, the type that infects dogs is not contagious to humans so you are safe from transmission.
Clean and Sanitize
All feces must be cleaned up, and bleach should be poured over any areas that the dog has used for elimination. Parvovirus can live in the soil for many months, so killing it is important to keep your dog, or other dogs, from getting reinfected.
Cornell University explains how fluid lost in severe sickness and diarrhea, quickly leads to dehydration. This is especially dangerous in puppies and is the commonest cause of parvo related deaths. According to veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber, it's "fluids, fluids and more fluids." Since the virus produces violent vomiting and diarrhea, fluids must be administered via IV or subcutaneous injections. In the most severe cases, intravenous fluid therapy can keep pace with the loss of fluid. IV fluids also replace vital electrolytes lost in the sickness and diarrhea, when depleted blood levels could cause serious complications.
Don't Treat the Diarrhea
One of the common symptoms of parvo is severe diarrhea and one would think that treating the diarrhea would be part of an effective treatment plan. However Dr. Werber says, "We do not want to control the diarrhea medically because much of that virus is being secreted out in the stool. So let the dog have diarrhea and keep up with the fluids to compensate for the loss."
In some serious cases a dog may require mini-blood transfusions of plasma to stabilize the patient. At the other end of the scale, for milder cases, fluid under the skin can be helpful, especially for the puppy that vomits after drinking. However, the more intensive the treatment such as intravenous fluids, the greater the success rate.
VCA hospitals outline how it's common for dogs being treated for parvo to be administered antibiotics. This is to kill off any secondary bacterial infections that may take hold while the immune system is busy battling the virus. Your dog's immune system is very weak during a parvo infection. Another infection on top of parvo is devastating. Some possible antibiotics that may be used include either through an IV, injection or oral tablets are:
Dr. Werber reports that using the antiviral Tamiflu was very popular at one point but is less so currently. The antiviral drug which is used to treat canine influenza may help with dogs with parvo but so far research is inconclusive.
Vomiting causes dehydration, so controlling nausea is important to help your dog recover. Anti-nausea medications typically include:
Immune System Support
Dr. Werber also notes that many advocate for, "vitamin support just to keep the immune system as strong as possible." This will help your dog fight off the infection and keep secondaries opportunistic infections hopefully from forming.
The Road to Recovery
The younger the patient, the harder parvovirus hits them. Those dogs most likely to survive are adult dogs who were previously in good health. Generally dogs that get past the three to four days marker with intensive care, are likely to pull through. However, recovered dogs continue to excrete parvovirus for up to two weeks post recovery. This means responsible owners should take care to clean up and disinfect (with dilute bleach) where their dogs have toileted, so as not to pose a risk to other dogs.
According to the AVMA, the survival rate of puppies with parvo can be 90% with intensive treatment and care from a veterinarian. It is possible for a dog to survive parvo without treatment, but the percentage of puppies that will die without treatment is around 90%.
Alternative Treatments Under Veterinary Care
Some people feel that home treatment is an acceptable treatment for parvo. Before deciding to go this way, please keep in mind that if your dog's systems are not properly supported while it fights this virus, chances are very good that it will die. If you cannot afford hospitalization for your dog, discuss the situation with your veterinarian before you decide to treat your dog at home. Many vets offer payment plans for established clients. Your vet may also allow you to treat your dog at home and send the necessary medications with you.
Dr. Werber doesn't advise owners to treat their dogs with parvo at home but he notes it is possible. "It all depends on the severity of the condition of the dog. If the dog is eating and not really vomiting and the hydration is pretty good, I would not hospitalize that dog. The treatment is really supportive care and the most important thing you can do for the dog is fluid therapy."
No OTC Treatments Available
There are no over-the-counter treatments for parvo and any medications, such as antibiotics and anti-nausea medications, will require a prescription. If your puppy has a mild case of parvo, providing them with fluids and immune support such as vitamins can get them through the disease but be aware that without antibiotics, your dog may be at risk of a secondary infection.
Prevention Is the Best Treatment
Since parvo, is so deadly, the best "treatment" is prevention. You can do a lot to keep your puppy from catching this deadly disease.
Follow Vaccination Best Practices
The WSAVA vaccination protocol advises all puppies should be vaccinated beginning at six weeks old with follow-up vaccinations every three to four weeks until the dog is 16 weeks or older. Unfortunately, even with a properly vaccinated dog, there is no guarantee the dog is safe from parvo. This is because immunities passed to puppies from their mother's milk can actually interfere with the vaccine. However, vaccination is still important because it greatly increases the chances of your dog staying healthy. In addition, the adult dog must receive "top-up" doses of vaccine. This varies depending on the vaccine used, but typically is one dose at around 15 months of age and then every three years.
Use Good Hygiene
To further increase your dog's chances of avoiding this virus, it is important to practice proper hygiene. Always wash your hands after handling or petting other animals because parvo can be carried on any animal - even people. The Merck Veterinary Manual explains that Parvovirus is a tough virus and can survive in the environment for several months. In addition, the virus can be transported inside on clothing and shoes.
Dispose of Feces Properly
Keep feces cleaned up and dispose of it immediately. Keep your dog away from the feces of other animals.
Talk to Your Veterinarian About Parvo
While it is possible to treat a dog at home for a mild case of parvo, it's truly in the best interests of the dog for you to work with your veterinarian. He or she may prescribe medications and provide you with IV fluids to give at home, if you're comfortable give them and your veterinarian feels your dog does not require hospitalization. The risks of succumbing to this disease are high, especially with young puppies with weakened immune systems, and it's best to get medical input from a veterinary professional in case your dog needs immediate in-clinic treatment and hospitalization to pull through.