What is the Parvo Virus? (Katgriep)

Parvo virus infection, commonly called “katgriep,” is a disease of dogs. This virus affects the intestinal tract and causes vomiting, diarrhoea, and decreased ability to fight infection. Puppies are especially susceptible to contract the Parvo virus. Although, this dreadful disease can still occur in dogs of any age, depending on their vaccination history.

Oral intake of virus-infected material transmits the infection to susceptible dogs. The virus is very contagious and commonly found in the environment. It is impossible to eliminate the virus from contaminated soil without killing all vegetation. For inside cleaning, thorough washing and rinsing with special cleaning products is required. Contrary to common beliefs, cats cannot spread the disease to dogs.

Infection of puppies usually results from exposure to sick dogs or contaminated soil, and signs of disease are seen from 3 to 14 days after exposure. The initial signs include depression, loss of appetite and fever. Vomiting and blood-streaked diarrhea develop within one or two days. These signs progress quickly to dehydration and death in severely affected dogs.

The best approach to Parvo is prevention of disease with vaccination. Puppies should be vaccinated from six weeks of age and exposure to infected environments should be minimized until the series of vaccinations is completed.

Maternal antibodies, passed from the mother to the puppies, initially protect the puppies from disease against which the mother was protected. These antibodies only last a few weeks in the puppy before waning, but can interfere with vaccination efficacy while still present. This is why puppies should be vaccinated every 3 to 4 weeks from 6 to 16 weeks of age.

The initial damage to the body occurs because the virus destroys the cells in which it reproduces. Treatment of dogs infected with Parvo depends on the severity of the infection. Dogs with mild infections can recover with nursing care, but those with severe infections become dehydrated. These dogs require intravenous fluid therapy to maintain their hydration, as they are unable to take in fluids. They are furthermore losing large amounts of fluids through vomiting and diarrhoea. In addition to the fluid loss, the virus destroys the lining cells of the intestinal tract, which allows bacteria from the intestine to enter the body. Furthermore, the virus damages the bone marrow, in which white blood cells are produced. Neutrophils, a specific type of white blood cell necessary for destroying invading bacteria, are severely reduced in numbers. Many complications can occur, sometimes resulting in cases of mortality despite extensive treatment with fluid and antibiotics.

Parvo puppies going home, should receive medication prescribed by the veterinarian. Furthermore, the dog should receive intensive home treatment by the owner. The veterinarian will explain this in detail. The dog should receive small frequent amounts of water and food. If the dog ingests too much water this will result in vomiting. Chicken and rice can be given during the recovery period; no spice, sauce or chicken skin should be included. The dog should go for a follow up visit with the vet if it becomes depressed or shows a worsening of clinical signs. A week after recovering from this deadly disease the puppy should be vaccinated.

Contact us for more information about the Parvo Virus or to book a consultation if you are concerned about your dog.

Source: Ettinger and Feldman-Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Client Information Sheet Parvovirus in dogs, 2005.


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