Parvovirus in dogs: symptoms and prevention of ‘deadly’ canine disease as vets warn of possible ‘resurgence’

Canine parvovirus is a serious and highly contagious disease that affects dogs
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Vets are urging dog owners to ensure their pets are vaccinated as they brace themselves for a possible surge in the parvovirus disease.

My Family Vets, which has a network of vet practices across the UK, is urging pet owners to make sure their dogs get vaccinated, after research found that up to 45 per cent of registered pet owners haven’t taken their dogs to the vets to receive vital vaccinations and boosters.

Edward Davies, Chairman of the UK Clinical Board at My Family Vets, said there are several reasons why they are very concerned about seeing an increase in cases of parvovirus.

Canine parvovirus is a serious and highly contagious disease that affects dogs (Photo: Shutterstock)Canine parvovirus is a serious and highly contagious disease that affects dogs (Photo: Shutterstock)
Canine parvovirus is a serious and highly contagious disease that affects dogs (Photo: Shutterstock)

Mr Davies said: “Due to the lockdown puppy boom and the whole Covid situation, ensuring preventative health care has been correctly followed for all pets has been a real challenge.

“The potential resurgence of parvo has been quite a worry during this time.”

Tiago Henriques, a Resident in Internal Medicine from the My Family Vets network, added: “It’s really disturbing to see so many puppies being left unprotected and we are encouraging pet owners to keep up to date with dog vaccinations.”

But what is parvovirus, how dangerous is it and what should dog owners do if they suspect their pet has it?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is parvovirus?

Canine parvovirus is a serious and highly contagious disease that affects dogs. My Family Vets explains that “the parvovirus damages cells inside the small intestines of a dog, which can affect its ability to absorb the necessary nutrients. The result of this means that dogs, including puppies, will become very weak.”

Parvovirus is easily passed on from an infected dog to other dogs that aren't up to date on their vaccinations.

Unvaccinated dogs can catch the virus by coming into contact with an infected dog, infected dog poo or any items that an infected dog has come into contact with, such as its bowl or lead.

Parvovirus can also be spread by other animals – including cats, who can also become infected.

The disease can also be passed on from human hands and clothing.

Although parvovirus can be hard to identify due to the symptoms being similar to many other infections, if your dog has any of the below symptoms, you should take it to your local vet to be checked out, as parvovirus can’t be treated at home.

Parvovirus symptoms in dogs include:

- Fever

- Lethargy

- Sickness

- Diarrhoea, often containing blood

- Loss of appetite

- Weakness

- Increased heart rate

- Dehydration

What should I do if I think my dog has parvovirus?

If you suspect that your dog is displaying signs of parvovirus then the best thing to do is to contact your vet right away.

“With the dangers that are associated with parvo, it's better to be safe than sorry,” says My Family Vet.

The veterinary service explains that your dog will have a much better chance of surviving the effects of parvovirus if they are taken to the vet as soon as you start to notice symptoms.

“Without treatment, parvo can be fatal and in some cases, dogs can die from the disease even if they are seen by a vet quickly,” says the veterinary service.

If parvovirus treatment is effective and your dog is allowed to go back home, there are several ways that you can help to nurse them back to health including:

- Serving them small, bland meals (such as chicken and rice)

- Having plenty of rest

- Access to fresh drinking water

- Access to an area where they can go to the toilet

- Keep them away from other dogs

‘Nasty and potentially fatal disease’

Although parvovirus can be fatal in dogs, Mr Davies said: “Luckily, dogs and puppies can receive a vaccine against parvovirus. Puppies can get their first vaccination when they are 6-8 weeks old, with a follow-up injection 2-4 weeks later.”

He added: “Your dog’s annual health check and vaccination cycle includes protection against parvovirus, so it’s vital to keep these up to protect your pet against this serious infection.

“As well as protecting your adult dog or young puppy against this nasty and potentially fatal disease, regular vaccination is required by kennels and pet insurers as a condition of cover.

“I cannot stress enough just how important it is for pet owners to get their pets vaccinated and we can hopefully prevent this becoming a problem for pet owners across the UK this year.”