Parvovirus “season” is here. That is actually a misleading statement because canine parvo is a disease we see year-round, but most local veterinarians will agree that we see an increased number of cases in the Spring and Summer.

The canine parvovirus attacks many tissues in the dog’s body, most notably the intestinal lining and the bone marrow. In these two tissues the virus destroys healthy cells resulting in vomiting, bloody diarrhea and severe compromise of the white blood cell lines (white blood cells are needed to protect the body from infections). Victims of the disease are extremely lethargic, horribly nauseated and dehydrated. They do not want to eat or drink anything and, if they do, it all comes right back up again.

There is no specific treatment to rid the body of parvovirus; the goal of therapy is to try to keep the patient alive long enough for his own body to mount an immune response against the virus. The main treatment is to provide IV fluids to replace the deficits caused by the vomiting and diarrhea, but other treatments include injectable antibiotics (to fight secondary infections while the white blood cells are depleted), anti-nausea medications and pain medications because the abdomen hurts so much. This requires hospitalization with intensive care for two days to two weeks; some patients will recover quickly, others are sick for a long time before they either recover or die.

With aggressive treatments approximately 75% of the affected dogs will survive. That means that two or three out of ten affected dogs will die no matter what we do! Without treatment, over half the affected dogs will die. Those are frustrating numbers for a veterinarian because we cannot predict which patients will live and which will die.

The cost to the pet owner for treating parvo infections can range from $300 to $1500 a day.Why is the cost so high? Each patient requires IV fluids around the clock, 6 to 12 injections of various medications a day, almost hourly changes of kennel bedding as the vomiting and diarrhea are cleaned up, isolation procedures to protect the other clinic patients and overnight care by a veterinary nurse and a veterinarian.

 Most parvoviral infections are seen in puppies and young dogs who have not been vaccinated or who have not yet received the full puppy vaccine series. The good news is that the vaccine for parvovirus is highly efficacious. Puppies must be vaccinated every three weeks until they are over 16 weeks old. Your veterinarian can advise you on the proper vaccine schedule for your pup or adult dog, and how to limit exposure to parvovirus until the vaccine series is completed.

For more detailed information on canine parvovirus, please check