I <3 vaccines. They're great for so many reasons. They protect us from serious illnesses, vaccine-preventable diseases, and death. And, if we trust modern medicine enough to vaccinate ourselves (and those who burst forth from our loins), why the heck wouldn't we protect our furry friends from vaccine-preventable diseases too?
Canine parvovirus type 2, or “parvo” for short, is highly contagious in puppies and dogs. Yet, it is as easily preventable as it is transmittable. The best way to prevent parvo is through good hygiene and vaccination. Not only is it important to vaccinate puppies at an early age (they should receive their first vaccines at 6–8 weeks of age, followed by a series of revaccinations—or "boosters"—by the time they reach 16 weeks of age), but it is equally important that adult dogs receive boosters once a year.
But, what do you do if your puppy hasn't yet completed its full roster of parvo shots, or if you have an elderly dog with a weakened immune system? According to Dr. Dawn Ruben (on petplace.com):
"[T]he practice of annual vaccination of senior dogs is controversial. Some veterinarians believe that annual revaccination is an important and critical part of preventative health care. There has been some research that indicates that the immune system of older dogs is not as effective as younger dogs. This suggests that older dogs may be more susceptible to diseases and therefore require annual vaccinations. Other veterinarians feel that many vaccines last in the body longer than one year, and annual vaccination is not worth the risk of allergic reaction or other immune diseases. Of course, some vaccines (rabies) are required by law and must be administered on a regular basis."
Ultimately, it's important to discuss the pros and cons of vaccinating your senior pet with your veterinarian. Your vet will likely determine which vaccines your dog will need, based on the area of the country your dog lives in and his or her lifestyle.
With parvo, however, it's important to remember that even if your senior dog lives a rather sedentary lifestyle, perhaps even avoiding other dogs and outdoor areas altogether, parvo can still be a threat. Simply wearing shoes that came into contact with infected feces can transmit the disease inside your home! From WebMD Pets:
"Parvovirus is extremely contagious and can be transmitted by any person, animal or object that comes in contact with an infected dog's feces. Highly resistant, the virus can live in the environment for months, and may survive on inanimate objects such as food bowls, shoes, clothes, carpet and floors."
Therefore, understanding how parvo spreads, here's how you can help prevent introducing the virus to your puppy or senior dog:
Vaccinate! Then revaccinate on schedule, according to your veterinarian's recommendation.
Avoid taking your puppy to a dog park until it’s at least 16 weeks old and has finished its entire series of parvo vaccines.
To decontaminate your home if your puppy has been sick, use a diluted bleach solution, or a disinfectant such as Parvosol or KennelSol.
After you’ve disinfected your home, wait at least three months before adopting another puppy.
Purchase pet insurance while your dog is still young. If your dog contracts the virus, it can help with the cost of treatment.
If you purchase your puppy from a breeder, ask when the puppy’s mother received her last parvo vaccine.
As your dog walker/pet sitter, I'm in constant contact with your pets, other people's pets, and often pet waste. For the health and safety of my furry clients, I take my own preventative measures to ensure that your furry loved ones are protected, such as removing my shoes before entering your home, washing my hands before and after coming into contact with your pets, and using antibacterial hand gel between pet visits. Obviously, these aren't fail-safe procedures... but they're the most I can do to help keep your pets healthy while they're in my care. The rest, however, is up to you! Vaccinate your pets and keep their vaccinations up to date. Their lives, quite literally, depend on it... and you!
To learn more about parvo symptoms and prevention, read "Parvo In Dogs" on CanineJournal.com.