It seems unfair that the parent of a new puppy must immediately think about the potential threat of fatal diseases. But parvovirus, a highly contagious illness primarily affecting young and unvaccinated dogs, emerges as an early concern. The virus targets the lining of the intestines and white blood cells in bone marrow. In cats, parvovirus is known as feline panleukopeniaand is equally as dangerous.

Animals are infected through oral exposure to contaminated feces or surfaces that have contacted contaminated feces from an affected dog. Common symptoms include vomiting, hemorrhagic diarrhea, lethargy and loss of appetite and usually surface within seven days of exposure. Treatment after diagnosis has a high success rate, but it’s complex and often expensive.

Vaccination Is Crucial for Parvovirus Prevention

Vaccinating against parvovirus is the best way to protect your new puppy. A combination vaccine targeting canine parvovirus and other common viruses should be administered as early as 6 week of age. Boosters should occur every three weeks until the puppy is 16 weeks old or has received at least three vaccinations total. The puppy should then get another booster shot within one year.

Your veterinarian should administer these vaccines. Unfortunately, over-the-counter vaccines available at pet or retail stores are unreliable; their storage and handling conditions are unknown, rendering them potentially ineffective. Until puppies are fully vaccinated against parvovirus, they should not socialize with dogs who are unvaccinated or have an unknown vaccination history, nor should they frequent public places.

Even puppies who have received some or all of their vaccines should be evaluated by a veterinarian if they develop vomiting and diarrhea. Vaccinations are not foolproof, and your vet will likely run a parvovirus test, regardless of vaccination status.

Treatment for Parvovirus

Early and aggressive therapy yields the best outcome. Survival rates can be as high as 80 to 90 percent for puppies who receive prompt, intensive in-hospital treatments. These include fluid therapy, intravenous antibiotics, pain management, gastrointestinal supportive care and nutritional supplementation. Without treatment, survival rates fall to less than 10%.

Outpatient protocols do not offer the same survival rates as hospitalization, but under some circumstances, can be an option for owners with financial limitations. These treatments are most effective for patients who are still eating well at home.

Feline Panleukopenia

You must isolate your puppy from other animals while it exhibits clinical signs and for at least two weeks after symptoms resolve. Humans are not susceptible to canine parvovirus infection, but some strains can mutate to infect cats. More commonly, parvovirus in cats, or feline panleukopenia, spreads from cat to cat.

Kittens should receive a complete series of vaccinations, starting as early as 6 weeks and continuing every three weeks until they are 16 weeks or have received at least three vaccinations, just like puppies, before being considered fully protected from the disease. Detection in cats can be challenging, as symptoms may resemble puppies or manifest as sudden death.

Contact your veterinarian if your kitten displays lethargic behavior, regardless of whether it has developed vomiting or diarrhea. Remember to inform your veterinarian if your kitten may have been in contact with a puppy with parvovirus or another cat with feline panleukopenia.

Parvovirus Lingers in the Environment

Parvovirus can persist in an environment for years. Although your pet is unlikely to be reinfected after recovery, it’s essential to decontaminate the surroundings for the sake of other animals exposed to that environment later.

Begin by removing all vomit and feces. Non-porous materials such as quartz countertops, metal, glass, stainless steel, intact plastic or varnished surfaces should be disinfected with dilute bleach (5% sodium hypochlorite) or accelerated hydrogen peroxide accelerated hydrogen peroxide (AHP) using 1 part to 32 parts water (half a cup of bleach or AHP per gallon of water). This solution must have at least 30 minutes of contact time before you rinse it off. Repeating this process minimizes missed areas.

Porous materials such as laminate, granite and unpolished wood should be disinfected with AHP for at least 30 minutes. When possible, throw away soiled bedding, toys, porous material and non-porous materials with defects (e.g., a plastic bowl with teeth marks). If bedding cannot be thrown away or is only lightly soiled, washing thoroughly with detergent, hot water and bleach may be enough; however, you should carefully consider the risk of keeping these items in your house.

AHP can be used in carpet cleaners to steam-clean carpets and furniture that cannot be discarded. Inspect your yard for feces and remove it before thoroughly flushing the area with water and allowing it to dry. You can never completely disinfect a yard, so it’s advisable to avoid all exposure to unvaccinated animals.

Charlotte Animal Referral and Emergency functions as the pet equivalent of a medical center for humans. CARE operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It provides all types of treatment, from emergency attention to board-certified specialty work after a referral from your primary care veterinarian. Please take a visual tour of the practice at

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