Animal column: What is parvo? |

Animal column: What is parvo?

Niki Congero
Tribune Opinion Columnist

Parvo is still here in South Lake Tahoe and is not going away any time soon.

What is parvo? Canine parvo (parvovirus) is an acute, highly contagious disease that attacks dogs. The virus attacks quickly reproducing cells, such as those lining the gastrointestinal tract. The mortality rate for this virus is 91 percent if gone untreated and it affects dogs of all ages; but most cases are puppies 6 to 20 weeks old as their immune systems are not yet fully developed. Also, for some reason, parvo tends to hit certain breeds more often — like doberman pinschers, rottweilers and pitbulls.

How is parvo spread? The parvovirus is extremely contagious, and can remain active for several weeks after infecting a dog. Parvo is spread through oral contact with infected feces. It can be carried on a dog’s hair and feet as well as on contaminated dog crates, shoes or anything that comes in contact with the infected feces.

What are the symptoms of parvo? After an incubation period of about five days, the illness begins. The signs are depression and lethargy, vomiting, fever and diarrhea (usually bloody). All of these symptoms in turn cause dehydration, which causes more issues.

What is the treatment? The most important thing is to not to wait, but to get to your veterinarian ASAP. Survival rate depends on how quickly parvo is diagnosed. Treatment usually involves extensive hospitalization because of severe dehydration and damage to the intestines and bone marrow. It is important to let your veterinarian know you suspect parvo so they can take proper precautions to prevent spreading of the virus.

What is the prevention and decontamination process? Prevention is the only way to ensure that a puppy or dog remain healthy. Appropriate vaccination should be performed starting at 5 to 6 weeks of age, with a booster given every three to four weeks until at least 14 weeks of age (some note 22 weeks of age in susceptible breeds). Pregnant mothers should be vaccinated early to pass on the maternal antibody to puppies. The virus is extremely hardy and has been found to survive in feces and other organic material such as soil for over a year. It also survives extremely cold and hot temperatures. The only household disinfectant that kills the virus is bleach. The correct ratio is one part bleach to three parts water.

A dog that recovers from parvo remains contagious for at least three weeks, but can remain contagious for up to six. The virus can remain in the dog’s feces during the contagious period, risking contamination of the environment. Neighbors and family members with dogs should be notified of infected animals so that they can ensure that their dogs are vaccinated or tested for immunity. The vaccine will take up to two weeks to reach effective levels of immunity; the contagious dog should remain in quarantine until other animals are protected.

If you need help cleaning up dog feces from your yard, “Snow Dogs” is a company you can call — 530-307-2050. They offer a 10-percent discount if you mention the Lake Tahoe Humane Society.

Please make sure your dog is vaccinated so your fury family member doesn’t have to suffer this horrible virus.

Hopeful Henry is a column managed by Niki Congero, executive director of Lake Tahoe Humane Society & S.P.C.A. Submit questions or letters via e-mail to or by mail to P.O. Box PET South Lake Tahoe, CA 96158. For more information, visit, or

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