Category Archives: veterinarian

Parvovirus: What is it, and what can I do about it?

The last thing you want to hear when you adopt a puppy is that they are sick. But that’s the sad news a friend received when he brought home a puppy from an adoption event a couple weeks ago. Bad news turned to worse when he discovered that the newly found puppy (and all of its litter mates) had parvo.

I wanted to help. I usually have tons of knowledge to drop when it comes to dealing with illness, yet I didn’t have a clue. I had to find out.

What is canine parovirus?

Canine Parvovirus (parvo) is a highly contagious viral disease that is one of the most common causes of diarrhea in puppies under 6 months. It can also affect adult dogs, and has been reported in most members of the canine family (coyotes, wolves, and foxes). Puppies are the most susceptible, and their clinical signs are worsened by concurrent infections with roundworms, other internal intestinal parasites, protozoa (such as Coccidia), viruses or bacteria.

Parvo first appeared in the 1970s, and is one of the most frequent serious dog disease issues in dog shelters.

Early detection and aggressive treatments can usually lead to a full recovery in dogs. However, the mortality rate can be high in shelters, where staff cannot diagnose, isolate or treat cases.


What causes parvo?

Turns out, parvo is super resilient. It’s very stable in the environment, is resistant to most disinfectants, and can live on organic matter for up to a year.

And parvo is evolving. Different strains have come and gone since the disease was discovered in 1978. The two strains that are most common in the US are CPV-2b and CPV-2c. In a shelter, it is imperative that infected animals be isolated to prevent the spread of illness.

How is parvo transmitted?

Please don’t let your dog eat another dogs poo. Parvo is mainly transferred through contaminated feces. Transmission also occurs through contaminated objects, including hands, clothes, food and water dishes, and toys and bedding. Insects and rodents also pose a threat.

Dogs can carry parvo on the hair and fur long after they recover. The incubation period for parvo can be between 4-6 days, and because shelters can struggle to diagnose the disease, dogs can be adopted out without knowledge they are carrying the illness (much like in my friend’s case). Seemingly healthy dogs are suddenly stricken with illness and the shelters and new owners face a long period of recovery and stress.

Parvo can be spread through feces 3-4 days before symptoms appear, and for up to two weeks after recovery.


What are the clinical signs of parvo?

Parvovirus affects the heart and digestive systems. Symptoms can include vomiting, foul-smelling diarrhea that can be very bloody, loss of appetite, fever, weakness, depression and dehydration. These symptoms may not appear for 3-4 days after infection and can be hard to diagnose early.

Puppies can become leukopenic, meaning they have too few white blood cells. The heart symptoms are rarely seen today and usually occur in puppies infected in utero or during the neonatal period, but they can cause sudden death without other signs, sudden death weeks to months after apparent recovery from other parvo signs, or sudden onset of symptoms of congestive heart failure in puppies under 6 months of age.

Luckily, my friend’s puppy is making a full recovery. They caught the issue early enough, and despite some rough and stressful days, treatment was successful. Above all, I’m happy for this. I hope that we don’t ever have to deal with something like this with Pickle, but at least now I’ll feel a little more prepared.

Bordetella: What it is, and what do I do?

Last week, my girlfriend brought our puppy to her regular puppy play class. She anxiously nosed at the gate, anticipating the fun she was about to have with all of her puppy pals. But then, seemingly out of no where, our puppy Pickle let out a hoarse cough. Immediately, the instructor picked her up and told us we needed to leave. There was no way that a puppy with a cough was going to be allowed to interact with the other pups.

Later that night, as my girlfriend recounted the story to me, I immediately thought the worst. Kennel cough is a common (and potentially serious) illness that effects puppies. However, it is also highly contagious and though the initial illness is not fatal, the symptoms that arise from the puppy being ill could pose health issues.

My background as a boarding kennel assistant had me nervous that we were facing a real serious problem. Not helping matters was the fact that only 48 hours before I had learned that Pickle was treated for kennel cough when she first arrived from Georgia. That night we were on the phone and setting up vet appointments, and the next afternoon, Pickle was getting her physical exam and I was nervously answering health questions (typical first time doctor visit as a parent).

Fast forward 45 minutes, and the vet gave me some reassurance that he didn’t think Pickle had kennel cough. She had some mucus build up in her lungs, but she hadn’t coughed in nearly 12 hours at this point, and that was a good sign. As a precaution he prescribed antibiotics and advised us to isolate Pickle from other dogs (considering we would’ve done that anyway, it was no big shock).


A week later, Pickle has had no sign of a cough and has responded well to the antibiotics (which even cleared up some pesky eye boogers). But the whole experience made me realize how little I (and potentially you as a reader) actually know about kennel cough. So, here’s the skinny:

What is Kennel Cough?*

Kennel cough is the more general term to describe Bordetella, or canine tracheobronchitis. Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory illness that leads to inflammation of the trachea and bronchi. Kennel cough usually affects a high percentage of dogs at least one in their lifetime.

Symptoms usually show as heavy, hoarse coughing, dry hacking, and retching. Serious cases could result in a loss of appetite and loss of energy. Puppies, elderly and pregnant dogs are usually at a higher risk due to their compromised immune systems. In severe cases, symptoms progress and can include pneumonia, fever, and even death.

Kennel cough was a term coined to describe the illness due to the frequency of transmission is boarding and shelter facilities. Close proximity of dogs and dirty conditions of unkept shelters or kennels can lead to the fast spread of the illness. But Bordetella can live in water and can be transmitted through shared water dishes, or even simply through physical contact between an infected dog and another dog. Due to its high level of contagiousness, infected dogs are isolated until they can recover.

Kennel cough is diagnosed by a vet, and is conducted based on the symptoms of your dog. Blood tests and urinalysis are run and conclusions are made by the vet.

What do I do if my dog gets Bordetella?

Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms. If your dog is not showing signs of lethargy, fever or loss of appetite, the illness may be allowed to run its course, much like a human cold. However, if the symptoms prove to be severe, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories will be prescribed. Stay in contact with your vet and be aware of symptoms in case they don’t subside.

Prevention is also possible. The easiest thing is to avoid places where there are high concentrations of dogs. Honestly, though, that’s like teaching abstinence to high schoolers pumped up on hormones. It’s not realistic.

Even if you have never boarded your dog in a kennel, dogs can get kennel cough from shared water sources (think water bowls outside your favorite Starbucks). Interactions with strange dogs on the sidewalk also poses a threat, so avoidance is not realistic.

The best course of action is to seek out a vaccination from your vet. Although not 100% guaranteed, vaccinations would protect your dog from all the real world issues they will inevitably face.

In the end, kennel cough is a potentially serious, yet easily treatable illness in dogs. Though very common and highly contagious, only dogs experiencing severe symptoms (lethargy, fever, etc) face any real threat. Luckily for Pickle the illness has subsided, and luckily for us, kennel cough isn’t contagious to humans. So, despite being sick, there was no interruption in our snuggle time!

* Pet MD, Kennel Cough in Dogs,