Parvovirus – Vaccination Is the Kinder, Gentler and More Economic Way to Care

By Joe Musielak, DVM

Each species of animal has its own version of parvovirus, even humans. In each species it can have different presentations. In dogs and cats we see canine parvovirus and feline parvovirus, respectively. Feline parvovirus is called panleukopenia. In these species we see similar presentations. Common clinical signs are: fever, vomiting, diarrhea, low white blood cell counts and, in the very young, heart disease. Your dog or cat cannot give you feline or canine parvo.  The viruses are very species-specific.

Parvoviruses in dogs and cats destroy the most rapidly dividing cells in the body. In young dogs and cats the most rapidly dividing cells are the white blood cells in the blood and bone marrow and the cells that line the intestine. When these groups of cells are destroyed the body is left open to a number of secondary infections.

Treatment consists of supporting the patient until the virus runs its course and the body has time to replace the destroyed cells. The insidious part about parvo is that it causes vomiting and diarrhea, both of which prevent the animal from being able to meet its need for food and water.

If your pet is suspected of having parvovirus it is important to confirm this. The disease is highly contagious to other young or unvaccinated pets. The virus also is very durable. It is very hard to destroy in the environment. Vaccination is the best way to prevent this disease and also the most cost-effective. Vaccination usually costs about a tenth of what treatment costs. Treating a patient with canine parvovirus or a kitten with feline panleukopenia (feline parvo) can easily cost over $1,000. More commonly the bill is much higher.

Once diagnosed the treatment consists of:

  • Hospitaliztion from 1-10 days (or until symptoms subside)
  • IV fluids
  • Anti-nausea medication
  • Pain medication
  • Blood work to monitor the patient’s response to therapy
  • X-rays (or radiographs) to ensure that your pet hasn’t also eaten a foreign body or developed a secondary condition known as an intussception
  • Antibiotics to protect the body from secondary bacterial infections
  • IV nutrition
  • Plasma transfusions in some cases

We have a fairly good success rate at treating pets with parvo viral infections -- however there is a percentage that does not survive. Prevention is so important!!

Article updated May 5, 2013.