Parvo and Distemper Viral Infections in Dogs

Parvo and distemper viruses can cause severe sickness in dogs which often leads to death. Both illnesses are common in many areas around the country, including northern MN. Vaccination against parvo and distemper is very safe and can prevent death from these diseases.

Parvo Virus

The parvo virus targets the GI track in dogs. It damages the cells that line the inside of the stomach, intestines, and colon and make it so the dog cannot absorb nutrients as it digests food. The virus often targets puppies, but all unvaccinated dogs are at risk.

Signs of parvo virus infection:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • not eating
  • lethargic or lazy

These signs often lead to death.

The parvo virus can live outside of a dog for a long time and is resistant to many cleaning products. Dogs can also be shedding virus in their stool before they start showing signs of sickness. This makes it very contagious and easily passed from dog to dog and from the environment to a dog. Bleach is recommended to clean anything a sick dog has been in contact with and the ground outside where body fluids have touched.

Vaccination against parvo virus should be started when dogs are puppies and continued throughout life to protect them from this disease. The vaccinations are very safe and the best tool we have to prevent this fatal disease.

Distemper Virus

Distemper virus also is more common in puppies than adult dogs, but all unvaccinated dogs are at risk. This virus affects the respiratory system (nose and lungs) first, the GI tract second, and the brain, 3-4 weeks later.

Signs of distemper virus infection:

  • green or yellow discharge from the nose
  • sneezing and coughing
  • pneumonia
  • diarrhea and vomiting
  • acting strange (confusion, biting at the air)
  • seizures/tremors

These signs often lead to death in puppies. If dogs survive, they can have problems like tooth enamel defects, lung disease, and seizures throughout their life.

The distemper virus does not survive for long in the environment and dies with drying. It is important to keep infected animals separated from others to help prevent spread. Dogs can also get infected with distemper from exposures to wild animals with the virus, especially raccoons.

Vaccination is close to 100% effective at preventing distemper virus infection. Puppies should begin the distemper vaccine series when they are 2 months old and continue to get vaccinated throughout their lives.