When I first started in the dog world, there was one word that was often said with such horror that I knew right away it wasn’t a joke. Parvo, also known as parvovirus is a serious illness that can be lifethreatening to any dog or puppy that has not been properly vaccinated.
While we will be going through a number of ways to prevent parvo in your litter of puppies, it is also important to know how to deal with a parvo outbreak if, heaven forbid, it occurs in your kennel.
But right now, before we borrow trouble, let’s focus on preventing parvo in your puppies while they are in the kennel and as they transition from home.
What is Parvovirus?
Parvovirus, which is commonly referred to as parvo, is a highly infectious disease that attacks the GI (gastrointestinal tract) of the dog. It is highly contagious and can pass quickly and easily through a canine population.
In fact, it can be so contagious that it can transfer on objects such as shoes and clothing from visitors to your kennel. Another fact about parvo is that it often starts being shed by an infected dog before any symptoms are seen.
What are the Symptoms?
As mentioned, parvo often starts spreading to your other dogs before any symptoms begin to show themselves. In puppies, symptoms can occur and progress very quickly so it is important to always monitor your puppies. At the slightest hint of a problem, steps need to be taken to treat them.
Symptoms that you can see in puppies with parvo are:
- Diarrhea that becomes severe and bloody
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Dehydration, which occurs rapidly
- Low body temperature (hypothermia)
- Weight loss
- Depressed mood
What is the Prognosis?
One thing that I want to stress is that while there are home remedies on the internet for parvo, I would never recommend them. Some home remedies are excellent as a stop gap to give you a little extra time as you rush to the vet. However, they should never replace actual veterinarian care.
Parvo is a fatal illness. For puppies who are not treated, the mortality rate is 91% with or without home remedies. For puppies who are treated by a veterinarian, the mortality rate is between 8 to 32%. If treated aggressively by a vet, the chance of survival can go up to 92%.
With parvo, a puppy who is left untreated will die within 48 to 72 hours. For that reason, it is very important for a puppy to be treated as soon as symptoms start presenting themselves.
Parvo Prevention in Puppies Tips
Now that you know how bad parvo can be, let’s look at the tips to determine how to prevent it in your puppies and kennel.
#1 Start with Good Vaccination Habits
Before your puppies even arrive, it is important to really follow through on vaccination for all of the dogs in your kennel. Don’t just vaccinate the dogs that are breeding or the dogs that are out showing. Instead, vaccinate, and keep all vaccinations up to date, all of the dogs at your kennel.
If you aren’t sure you want to vaccinate, you can titer your dogs. This is a blood test to check the antibodies of your dog. This will determine if he is still receiving protection from his previous vaccine. If he is, you can opt out of that vaccine booster for the year. Some breeders are opting for titers as a way to reduce the number and frequency of vaccinations.
While I have recommended titering dogs, for my own kennel, I follow a vaccination schedule with boosters rather than to take any chance of a vaccine failing between titer tests.
#2 Limit Your Visitors
Once your puppies are on the ground, it is important to really limit your visitors. It can be exciting for friends and families to come and see the puppies, especially when they start moving around and playing, but it can also be dangerous.
Keep the number of visitors down to only the litter families and close friends and families of yours. It is good for their development to meet people, however, puppies have limited immunity to diseases so the more people they meet, the greater the risk of developing parvo.
When puppies can meet people is really debated between breeders. Some breeders recommend before 3 or 4 weeks when puppies still have mom’s immunity, which will include parvo if you are vaccinating as mentioned. Others recommend after 6 weeks if they are being given an early parvo shot. I tend to err on the side of visits after 3 or 4 weeks with limited contact, which brings us to our next tip.
#3 Have Strict Rules for Visitors
When puppy people come to visit, which hasn’t happened in 2020 due to covid, I have some very strict rules and I recommend all breeders have them or similar. These are:
- Visitors have to come directly to my house. No visiting other breeders, pet stores or people with dogs.
- Shoes are left at the door.
- Hand sanitizer must be used before touching any puppies.
- If they have a dog at home, they must provide up to date immunization records for their dog.
- No picking up the puppies
- If possible, bring a change of clean clothes.
Some of the rules seem a bit excessive but I find that with such a high mortality rate, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Personally, I have known a breeder who not only lost an entire litter of 5 week old Collie puppies (8 puppies in total) to parvo, but the disease swept through her kennel and she lost 3 of her adult breeding dogs and one juvenile dog. All of them had full veterinarian care but it hit too hard and too quickly for treatment to be successful.
#4 Follow Vaccination Guidelines for Your Puppies
As I mentioned earlier, there is a parvo vaccine and it is standard in your dog’s vaccination schedule. In fact, at their first vaccination, puppies will receive a combination vaccine that contains distemper, adenovirus, hepatitis para-influenza and parvo…also known as DHPP. There are some vaccinations that offer protection for more diseases, however, these are the core.
Every country/state/territory has their own vaccination schedule for dogs as well as what is necessary for core vaccinations. Parvovirus is, generally, a core vaccination everywhere, however, when it is given can differ.
Some breeders and vets recommend a parvovirus vaccine at 6 weeks of age. This is around the age when puppies start to lose their mom’s immunity. At this point, the parvo vaccine gives them a little boost of antibodies. Then they are vaccinated again at 8 weeks.
For myself, since I do not administer vaccinations on my own, I wait until 8 weeks and limit contact for those 8 weeks before they go home. I don’t want to risk a visit to the vet where there could be a potential for exposure.
Where I live, the DHPP vaccine, which contains parvo, is given at 8 weeks of age and then at 12 and 16 weeks of age. By 16 weeks of age, a puppy is considered to be fully vaccinated for the virus and can go out and be around the general dog population.
In some areas, it is recommended to give vaccinations every 3 weeks until the dog is 15 to 16 weeks of age starting at 6 weeks.
To make sure you are following the correct vaccination schedule, be sure to speak to your vet about laws in your area. By following the guidelines and schedule, you can prevent parvo in your puppies.
#5 Be Aware of Where You’ve Been
Since I raise my puppies in my home, I don’t have a large number of rules for anyone who lives in my home, as well as for myself. However, I do have some.
First, we have kennel shoes. If anyone needs to be in with the puppies, they need to wear shoes that they have not worn out of the house or yard. This helps reduce the risk of bringing parvo in on your shoes.
Second, we really monitor where we have been, especially when we have a litter of puppies. If we go to a pet store, when we get home, everyone who went has to:
- Wash their hands
- Remove of switch their shoes
- Change their clothes
If anyone was at a dog show, where there is a much higher risk of picking something up, people have to have a shower before visiting the puppies.
When we are out, although it is very tempting, I don’t interact with other animals. That means no dog parks, or petting dogs that I see out. This helps reduce the risk to my puppies and also prevents bringing parvo into the house.
#6 Quarantine New Dogs or Dogs Returning to the Kennel
This follows along the same lines of being aware of where you’ve been but I wanted to discuss it in regards to the dogs that you are bringing into your kennel.
If you are planning on bringing home a new dog, it is important to always quarantine the dog. Keep him separate from the other dogs in your kennel as well as your puppies. In addition, limit the places that he will go. Make sure he is in his own yard, part of the house, etc. Quarantine a new dog for about 7 to 14 days with an average of 10 days.
For dogs that are returning from something like the show (conformation) circuit, or a dog show for a weekend, follow the same quarantine. Limit their contact with the puppies and any dogs who are interacting with the puppies, such as the dam, for 7 to 14 days. Being extra careful will help prevent parvo from breaking out in your kennel.
#7 Educate your Puppy Buyers
Finally, once your puppies go home between 8 to 12 weeks, there is very little that you can do to prevent parvo for them. Instead, you really need to rely on your puppy buyers and that they don’t expose them to the risk. And to rely on that, I strongly advocate education.
Before your puppies go home, let your puppy owners know about the danger of parvo. In addition, give them guidelines to follow when their puppies head home. These guidelines should include:
- Don’t stop with puppy. While it can be tempting to show off a new puppy, strongly recommend that puppy goes straight home from being picked up. No stops at pet stores and no going to visit other dogs.
- Keep puppy off the ground. As you know, parvo is highly infectious. A puppy can contract it from other dogs, from contaminated feces, environments and even people. Therefore, on the way home, try to limit their puppy being on the ground.
- Avoid most activities. Before the second set of DHPP vaccinations, puppy owners should only allow the puppy to be at home or in their backyard. Activities should be limited to puppy play groups that are quarantined for those play groups.
- Follow the vaccination schedule. Finally, give your puppy owners clear schedules for vaccinations and stress the importance of them following them.
You can add your own guidelines for your puppies and their families but give them as much helpful information as possible to protect their puppy. After all, once they are gone to their new homes, it is difficult to continue preventing parvo.
In the end, it is all about being aware of what is coming into your kennel, including dogs and people. If you are diligent, and you teach your puppy buyers to be diligent, you can prevent parvo in your puppies. All it takes is awareness and then it becomes second nature for you to always think of how you are preventing parvo in your dogs.