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Little Louie and the Dangers of Parvovirus

by Mel Freer on September 28, 2011

in Dogs, Health


As a former volunteer for a local shelter for  8 1/2 years, I was really sad when our shelter closed down. I loved helping the animals and working with them to help them become good canine citizens. I even fostered for my shelter a few times – failing twice, Daisy and Jasper became permanent family members. 🙂

So when our shelter closed down last December, I felt a deep loss. I miss everything about my volunteer work, but most especially helping the animals. That’s why I jumped at the chance to help out once again when my shelter buddies told me they were all volunteering with one local rescue here in town. I couldn’t wait to help out too.

My first foster turned out to be a little Japanese Chin puppy named, Akron. I quickly renamed him Louie. He just had the look of a Louie and Akron seemed like such a big name for such a little dog. He was only 8 weeks old and completely adorable in all his puppiness.

Unfortunately, little Louie has a certain smell to him that I had smelled before and I became deeply concerned. Parvo. Of course, I could have been wrong. I actually convinced myself I was being paranoid. He seemed fine. He didn’t act sick. And yet, I couldn’t get past that smell. Parvo has a distinct, sickeningly sweet smell, and once you’ve smelled it you never forget it. I once sat with a sick dog for most of a long afternoon, trying to cheer her up, not knowing that she was lethargic because she had parvo. It was to be my first experience with it, but not my last.

Parvo is actually short for Parvovirus, a very deadly and highly contagious virus that is spread among dogs. It “attacks the intestinal tract of an infected puppy or dog and effectively destroys the lining of the intestinal tract.” There is also a cardiac version of the virus that can inflame the heart muscle in very young puppies, although it is less common.

Puppies, like Louie, are the most vulnerable to the virus, but adult dogs, especially those that have not been vaccinated, can also get parvovirus. It is a non-discriminating virus. It doesn’t care which dog it infects.

Knowing how contagious parvo is and how long it can remain in an environment, I immediately cleaned my whole house, top to bottom, with bleach and water. It’s the only thing that seems to kill it. But, that still left the outdoors. Because parvo is passed from dog to dog through feces, it can still be in your yard and your environment. Treating your lawn with a similar bleach-water mixture is a good idea. A good winter freeze also helps.

Dr. Lorie Huston, DVM, wrote a great article on parvovirus, that I think every dog owner should read.

Her advice “It is advisable to avoid dog parks and other places that dogs with unknown health statuses frequent.” is one that every new puppy owner should heed. It is not something you want to expose your puppy to, even if they have been vaccinated, because they can still be susceptible to it until at least 4-6 months.

Symptoms for Parvovirus include:

  • diarrhea, often bloody and extremely runny (many of my clients describe it as “watery diarrhea that looks like blood”). There is frequently a characteristic foul odor associated with the diarrhea as well.
  • vomiting
  • depression, lethargy
  • lack of appetite
  • fever, although the temperature may actually fall below normal as the disease progresses and the puppy becomes weaker
  • dehydration, which often becomes life-threatening and is fatal in many cases

See Canine Parvovirus: A Serious Threat for Puppies and Young Dogs, by Dr. Lorie Huston, for more information:

Sadly, I wasn’t being paranoid about Louie. He did have parvo and a week later he succumbed to the disease. He showed none of the typical symptoms of the disease while he was with me, but for me, that smell was all I needed. It was still too late for little Louie.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Holly Kuehn September 30, 2011 at 11:23 am

My dog, Copper, also came down with parvo a week after we got him. We rushed him to the vet after he refused to eat and my son turned up with a rash, another sign of the virus. $3,000, two blood transfusions and a week in the vet hospital, we were able to take him home and he was fine. He did develop a tumor on his spleen that proved to be his demise at 8 1/2. My condolences to you on your loss of Louie. He sure was a cute little guy!


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