Canine parvovirus (commonly referred to as parvo) in dogs is one of the primary concerns for puppies who are under six months of age. The virus was first identified in the late 1970s where it swept through the dog population and killed thousands, which forced vets to work together and rapidly develop a vaccine to counter the disease. Since then the amount of deaths caused by parvovirus in dogs has been greatly reduced, and getting your puppy vaccinated for the disease is one of the most essential things you need to do within the first few weeks of owning them.
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Parvo in dogs is a highly contagious and deadly virus. It can survive for months – and potentially as long as a year – outside of the body on objects such as clothing, shoes, dog bowls and toys or even just on the floor. Most disinfectants fail to remove it and even high temperatures don’t prevent it from spreading. The virus works by invading the dog’s body and killing the cells that line their small intestine so they can’t absorb fluids. A mild infection will pass within a few days, but with a severe infection a dog can become heavily dehydrated and die within a day or two.
The seriousness of the infection depends largely on their immunity – which is based on what is passed on from their mother as well as their own body developing antibodies for the virus. These antibodies are built up by giving a puppy vaccinations within the first few weeks of owning them, and should be provided in three separate doses. The first vaccination given at 5-7 weeks of age will often be neutralized by the immunity passed on by the mother, so it is necessary to provide two more vaccinations 3-4 weeks apart to help stimulate the puppy into growing their own antibodies to counteract the virus.
When a puppy is correctly vaccinated during this vulnerable period of their life they usually won’t experience any serious problems relating to parvovirus, though there are a few other important things you should know to help stay clear of the disease.