Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Viral News

You might think canine parvovirus is a disease of the past, but it’s still around

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Shannon Gillespie knew something was wrong when her 23-month-old border collie, Soda, didn’t want to eat and wasn’t energetic.

“She’s nonstop at home,” Gillespie says. “I took her to the vet because her not eating and being less active was just not normal.”

Soda had a fever and lab work showed that her white blood cell count was high, so she was clearly fighting off something. The veterinarian administered IV fluids and prescribed antibiotics to help ward off any infection.

The next night Soda had diarrhea, and when Gillespie took her back to the vet, they knew exactly what the problem was based on the distinctive odor of the diarrhea: Soda had parvovirus. An in-office test for the disease quickly confirmed the diagnosis.

Parvo first appeared 40 years ago, in 1978. There is a vaccine against it, but the disease is still seen frequently, says Colin R. Parrish, Ph.D., John M. Olin professor of virology at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

That can occur for several reasons. One is that no vaccine is 100 percent effective. In rare cases, some individuals fail to mount adequate antibody levels to routine vaccines. That may have been the case with Soda. Some puppies don’t receive vaccinations. And finally, maternal immunity -- maternal antibodies passed from mother to pups -- can interfere with a vaccine’s effectiveness.

“One of the things we’ve become aware of in the last few years is that the duration of maternal immunity is actually longer than people used to think it was,” Dr. Parrish says. “The old rule used to be that once the puppy was 12 weeks old, you could give the last vaccination and the puppy would be protected.”

Now, he says, in 20 to 30 percent of puppies, maternal immunity may persist until 16 to 20 weeks of age. The protection provided by maternal antibodies fades, but is still enough to prevent complete immunization by the vaccine.

To ensure adequate protection, puppies should receive a dose of canine parvovirus vaccine when they are 14 to 16 weeks old, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Dogs in a high-risk environment -- such as a shelter or who have significant exposure to other dogs or contaminated environments -- may benefit from a final dose when they are 18 to 20 weeks old.

Parvo is deadly. It usually strikes puppies but can occur at any age. Signs include lethargy, appetite loss, abdominal pain, fever, vomiting and severe, sometimes bloody, diarrhea. The virus attacks the intestines, and it’s the sloughing of the intestinal lining that causes the characteristic smell of the diarrhea.

There’s no cure -- only supportive treatment such as IV fluids to help maintain hydration and antibiotics to ward off secondary bacterial infections. Soda was too weak to eat, and required a nasoesophageal feeding tube to receive nutrition. Her diarrhea was so frequent that she required 11 days of hospitalization so she could receive round-the-clock care. She developed skin rashes on her hips, so those areas had to be shaved and treated. She needed medication for nausea and pain.

That level of care is expensive. Depending on the length of time the dog is hospitalized, the cost can run into the thousands of dollars.

The virus can survive in an indoor environment for two months and outdoors for months or years. Gillespie treated her car, clothing, the inside of her home and her yard with disinfectant to kill the virus. She quarantined all four of her dogs at home to help prevent spreading the virus. It took three months for Soda to fully recover and be declared free of the disease.


What to know about

Addison’s disease

Q: My dog has Addison’s disease. What can you tell me about it?

A: A lot! My own dog, the late, great Quora, developed Addison’s (aka hyperadrenocorticism) when she was 11 years old. She began slowing down, shivering even when it didn’t seem cold, and although she had a voracious appetite, she wasn’t that wild about her food. The symptoms finally clicked for me, and I had her hormone levels tested. Once we put her on medication, it was like she had been plugged into a charger and was back up to 100 percent.

Addison’s develops when the adrenal glands stop secreting enough cortisol and other steroids. We don’t know why it occurs.

The problem with Addison’s is that signs vary widely from dog to dog and are often similar to those of other diseases. That can make it really difficult to diagnose. Until it’s recognized and treated, the adrenal glands become less and less functional, eventually causing the dog to collapse suddenly -- what’s known as an Addisonian crisis. Once they are diagnosed and begin treatment, though, they can do well.

Treatment involves daily oral hormone replacement for several weeks to get the dog back on track. Then, depending on how your dog responds, your veterinarian can adjust the dose. It’s a disease that must be managed for the rest of the dog’s life with glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid supplementation, regular checkups and bloodwork to confirm that the dog is receiving an appropriate level of supplementation.

The important thing to know is that stress can cause flare-ups. Consult a Fear Free-certified veterinarian to help you develop techniques to reduce fear, anxiety and stress if your dog needs to be boarded, will be traveling with you or requires surgery or other veterinary care that might be stressful. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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German shepherds

win award for clinic

-- German shepherd dogs Ziva and Zeus of Medical Lake, Washington, snuck out a hole in the fence and during their adventure became trapped in an abandoned missile silo. Twenty-one days later, their owner, Jessica Donges, still searching for them, re-explored the silo area and heard barking. There were her dogs, stuck in a hole filled with water. Unable to remove them, Donges called for help, and minutes later the emaciated dogs were free. Now they are on their way to a full recovery, not to mention becoming recipients of Nationwide’s Hambone Award, which earned the Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center in Spokane $10,000 to be used to treat pets in their community whose owners could not otherwise afford treatment.

-- Putting your dog or cat in a carrier instead of letting him ride loose in your car will help keep him safe in the event of an accident, but knowing where to place it and how to keep it in place are important as well. Place soft-sided carriers for cats and small dogs in the footwell behind the passenger seat. Instead of restraining carriers by running the seatbelt through the top handle or around the carrier, use strength-rated anchor strapping to tie it down. Place pets in separate carriers to prevent injury if one is thrown against the other during an accident.

-- With his black coat and brilliant gold or copper eyes, the Bombay is the classic Halloween cat and a friendly family companion 24/7. Easygoing yet curious, he’s been known to enjoy walking on-leash and playing fetch, but he’s also fond of sitting in a lap. This is an attention-loving cat, so be sure you have time to devote to him daily and won’t mind a cat who, er, dogs your footsteps. Bombays have a short coat that needs weekly brushing. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.