How Contagious is Parvo?

Q (Question): We had a German wirehaired pointer puppy 15 months ago that died of parvovirus within a week after we got her. We bleached the area she used outside, bleached the carrier, burnt the bedding, and cleaned the carpet and furniture.

Although we have the chance to get another bird dog, we are afraid. Is it safe? This pup is three months old and has had three series of the 7-in-1 puppy shots, and is happy and healthy with her littermates. Just as a little more info, we also have three adult dogs living at the same place, all vaccinated and healthy. --NM

A (Answer): Getting and maintaining a healthy puppy is a major problem for any dog owner and must be handled as a cooperative venture among the new pup owner, the breeder and their veterinarians. While parvo is not caused by parasites, it is important that the pup be as free of intestinal parasites as possible so the gut is healthy and able to ward off the parvovirus. Also, good nutrition is important not only for the growth of the pup, but also for the development of the immune system, again to ward off the parvovirus.

Cleaning and disinfection are OK, but for the most part they are "feel good" exercises. A cup of Clorox to a gallon of water is a good viracidal agent, but it only works on nonporous surfaces free of organic matter. You cannot do much about the yard except let time take care of it. Your older dogs can carry the virus and shed it without showing symptoms, but again, time should take care of that.

I would concentrate more on the pup's immune status. I'm not a believer in these multivalent vaccines that you mentioned. I think they really overload the young dog's immune system, and I like to concentrate on the two diseases that can kill your dog: parvo and distemper.

To accomplish this, I give a distemper/parvo vaccination at six weeks, a parvo booster at nine weeks, a distemper/parvo booster at 12 weeks and, finally, a distemper/parvo booster at 16 weeks of age. Part of the basis for this schedule is that the immune system of the pup is not able to respond to its maximum until 16 weeks of age.

Now that you are looking at a 13-week-old pup, you need a plan that will get it into your house with the best chance of surviving. I would do the following: Have the breeder take the pup into their veterinarian and draw a blood sample to send in to Cornell University's Animal Health Diagnostic Lab for titers on both distemper and parvovirus. This will help clarify the pup's risk level.

Also consider leaving the pup with the breeder until it is vaccinated at 16 weeks, and then give it another 10 days to develop an immune response to the vaccine. I don't like the latter suggestion very well, however, because I feel puppies should go to their new homes when they are seven to eight weeks of age.

The obvious question that this last comment brings is, doesn't such a young pup have even more vulnerability? Probably not. The young pup is protected by the passive immunity it receives from its mother's milk, and this immunity can last up to 10 to 12 weeks of age.

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