Parvovirus is a highly contagious, deadly disease spread in animal faeces. There are various types of parvovirus, which can infect a variety of species including humans.
Canine parvovirus (CPV) is one particular strain of parvovirus that can cause severe cardiac or respiratory failure in puppies. Puppies who are not protected against CPV by vaccination have a very low chance of survival once infected (around 10%). Fortunately, CPV, which is spread through faeces, does not infect humans.
The chance of survival is much higher in older dogs, but CPV can still cause a nasty infection. Lethargy, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and dehydration are all symptoms of CPV, which tend to appear after 3 days of infection. It is important to maintain the electrolyte levels of an infected dog, as the resulting dehydration can be quite severe.
CPV is also closely linked to Feline Panleukopaenia (FPV) a similar disease in cats caused by the feline form of the parvovirus.
Are Cats Spreading CPV?
It has been shown that apparently healthy cats, with no signs of infection, are shedding large amounts of CPV in their faeces. A study showed that as many as 1 in 3 cats (in a shelter environment) were shedding the virus.
The shelter cats were also acting as long term carriers of the disease – continuing to shed the virus for 4 to 6 weeks.
Should we be Worried?
Whilst it is alarming that such a large number of cats were spreading the causative virus of a deadly canine disease, none of the dogs that shared the same shelter gave positive CPV faecal samples.
There could be a number of reasons for this however, such as good biosecurity by the shelter or the fact that the equipment used by the researchers was not sensitive enough to detect very low counts of CPV that may have been present in the canine samples.
Despite this, it doesn’t prove that there is no risk of cats spreading CPV to dogs. CPV carrying cats are still a potential risk factor for infecting dogs – what this study shows is the importance of vaccinating our dogs against parvovirus!
What Precautions Can we Take?
Because cats can carry CPV without symptoms, there is no way to suspect a feline carrier of CPV. With such a high prevalence rate (around 33%) of CPV-carrying cats, it is very important to vaccinate our dogs against CPV.
A dog’s mother is able to transfer some immunity against CPV through her milk, but once this immunity wears off (a few weeks after birth) it is necessary to vaccinate your pups against CPV, typically 3 vaccines given 3 to 4 weeks apart.
Biosecurity is also important. CPV is quite a resistant virus even outside of the body. Typical hot or cold temperatures achievable in a domestic setting cannot kill the virus. The only way to ensure the virus is destroyed in a household setting is to use domestic bleach.
It is also important to remember that CPV is highly contagious, so if one of your dogs is diagnosed with the disease they should ideally be isolated. Even after recovery, recently infected dogs can remain contagious for up to 6 weeks! It might be worth notifying neighbours to make sure their dog’s vaccinations are up to date.