Watch out for canine parvovirus, a deadly disease that targets young puppies


Growing up on the slopes of the Aberdare Ranges in Nyandarua County, owning a hunting dog was a must.

Dog owners would bring home the hind or forelegs of the hares we hunted. My brother David and I therefore relied on Simba, our companion dog, to give us puppies that we would train to hunt in order to have a competitive advantage over the other boys in the village.

Simba also offered safety to our mother as she went to search for firewood in the vast forest.

But we had a problem; Simba would carry a pregnancy to term and give birth without complications to a litter of around eight puppies each season, but only two would survive.

The affected puppies, who were usually under eight weeks old, were weak, began to vomit, and had bloody diarrhea.

We bottle-fed them cow’s milk in a frantic effort to save them but one after another they died. We never knew what killed the puppies.

I later learned, during my clinical years at the University of Nairobi, that our puppies succumbed to a disease called canine parvovirus, or simply ‘parvo’.

What causes parvo?

Parvo is caused by the canine parvovirus. This virus is very contagious and is spread by direct contact with an infected dog or by indirect contact with a contaminated object.

Your puppy is exposed every time he sniffs, licks, or consumes infected feces. Indirect transmission occurs when someone recently exposed to an infected dog touches your puppy, or when a puppy encounters a contaminated object, such as a food or water bowl, collars and leashes, as well as hands and clothing of people handling infected dogs. .

The virus prefers to infect the small intestine, where it destroys cells, impairs absorption and disrupts the intestinal barrier. Parvo in puppies also affects the bone marrow.

Why do puppies have a parvo?

Puppies between the ages of six weeks and six months are the most susceptible to parvo.

Puppies under six weeks old still retain some of their mother’s antibodies, assuming their mother has received her full set of parvo vaccinations.

They are vulnerable to the disease until they have received all three vaccines in their vaccination series, which means owners need to take extra precautions during this time to prevent their puppies from contracting the virus.

The severity of parvo cases varies. The stress of weaning can lead to a more severe case of parvo in puppies because the stress weakens the immune system.

A combination of parvo and a secondary infection or parasite can also lead to a more severe case of parvo in puppies.

Certain breeds of dogs have an increased risk of parvo: German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Labrador Retrievers, and English Springer Spaniels.

How long are puppies with parvo contagious?

Puppies and adult dogs with parvo begin to shed the virus within four to five days of exposure.

However, this time does not always coincide with the first symptoms of parvo, which means dogs can be contagious before owners even realize they are sick.

Puppies with parvo continue to shed the virus for up to 10 days after clinical recovery.

Therefore, keep recovering puppies away from unvaccinated and partially vaccinated dogs.

What are the symptoms?

Call your vet any time you notice signs such as severe bloody diarrhea, vomiting, fever, lethargy, inappetence, weight loss, weakness, dehydration, red and inflamed tissue around the eyes and mouth. Other signs are a rapid heartbeat, pain or discomfort, low body temperature, and depression.

How to treat parvo

There is no cure. The vet will provide supportive care for your puppy by managing the symptoms. A hospital stay is necessary so that the dog can receive fluids and nutrients intravenously to replace the large amounts lost through vomiting and diarrhea.

Dr Paul Kangethe, [email protected]

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