One of the most serious viruses your dog or cat may get is the parvovirus. This virus is highly contagious and carries a high mortality rate if not treated immediately. Thankfully, with advances in veterinary medicine, the parvovirus vaccine for both felines and canines is highly effective and considered a core vaccine for pets. Though the vaccine is widely available and effective, this disease is unfortunately still common and widespread in unvaccinated pets including puppies and kittens.
What Is The Parvovirus?
The parvovirus is a DNA virus that affects rapidly dividing cells of the body, meaning the intestinal tract and bone marrow are worst affected and can cause severe illness in young and unvaccinated animals. Although newborns and animals under 8 weeks of age may be the most vulnerable, any pet at any age can become infected.
It is important to note that each species has its own strain of parvovirus. For cats, it is known as feline distemper or feline parvovirus (FPV) and dogs have canine distemper or canine parvovirus (CPV).
Can Animal Parvoviruses Infect Humans?
Parvoviruses are generally species-specific so this means that humans cannot get parvoviruses from animals and animals cannot get the human strain parvovirus. Though humans are safe from canine and feline parvoviruses, it is still a good idea to wear protective clothing when encountering an infected animal as you could easily spread the virus via hands, clothing, and footwear.
However, while canines cannot contract feline parvovirus, some cats may become infected with a canine strain of the viruses. Fortunately, the feline parvovirus vaccine does offer cross-protection against the canine strain.
How Does Parvovirus Spread?
The parvovirus is spread directly through fecal-oral contact and indirectly by a contaminated environment, such as flooring, bedding, collars, leashes, kennels, food dishes, and toys. It can also be carried on their paws and fur. If handling an infected animal, it is important to note that the virus can also be spread by your hands, clothing, and shoes.
Though animals only excrete the viruses for six weeks following infection, the virus can last on surfaces and even in the outdoors for several months and is resistant to most disinfectants.
Signs and Symptoms
Typically, signs of the virus show within 3-7 days of infection. During this time, the virus seeks out the most rapidly dividing cells in the body enabling it to multiply throughout the animal’s entire system. Once it enters the bloodstream is when bone marrow cells and cells that line the walls of the small intestine become infected. Common signs and symptoms of parvovirus may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Nasal discharge
- Severe diarrhea
- Weakened immune system
Any animal suspected to have parvovirus should be isolated immediately. Pet caretakers should wear protective clothing and gloves when handling any animal until it can be taken to the vet for immediate veterinarian care.
There is no specific treatment for parvovirus, instead, aggressive supportive care is given until the animal’s own body and immune system can fight off the virus. Without supportive and professional care, the mortality rate for both canines and felines is high.
Treatment focuses on corrective dehydration, providing nutrients through IV and feeding, and preventing secondary infections through antibiotics. Antiemetics are also provided to help reduce vomiting. Most animals that survive the first five days of treatment have a great chance of survival and recovery.
As this disease is incredibly vicious and highly contagious, prevention is crucial. The most important thing you can do to protect your pet is to have them vaccinated and keep up with their boosters as needed. Most young animals are vaccinated within 6-8 weeks of age with follow-ups until the age of 16 weeks. Adult vaccination schedules vary with the age and health of the animal. Consult your veterinarian for advice on the appropriate vaccination schedule for your pet.
For more information on parvoviruses and how to best protect your pet or to schedule a consultation, contact Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care today.