Can older dogs get parvo?

Canine parvovirus is one of the most common viral diseases of dogs. Canine parvovirus is most dreaded by dog owners as it is a deadly disease that has claimed millions of dog lives. This viral illness for the most part is seen in puppies. Affected puppies are usually between 6 weeks to 6 months of age. Parvovirus can be effectively prevented with vaccination. 80% of puppies that have had no shots can die. Vaccinations can reduce the risk that the dog will be infected by the virus. However, parvo vaccination is not a failsafe means of protecting the dog. The puppy that has recovered can be re-infected. Although predominantly seen in puppies, parvovirus can infect older dogs.

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What is canine parvovirus?

Parvovirus is actually smaller than other viruses, consisting only of a capsid (protein coat) and a single strand of DNS. This simple organism though is deadly. Discovered in the 1970s, this virus infects the host’s rapidly dividing cells such as the fetal cells, lymph node cells, bone marrow cells and the intestinal cells. The virus that is shed through the feces of an infected dog is long lived – surviving in the environment for about 7 months. This virus will spread rapidly as it can be carried by shoes and clothing to other areas.

How the virus infects the dog

A miniscule amount of infected stool ingested by the dog when it picks up food from the ground or licks its paws to clean itself will start the infection. After entering the mouth, the virus will immediately head to the rapidly dividing cell and that will be on the throat. The virus will take residence and reproduce. A small amount of virus will replicate into large numbers and enter the blood stream to seek other rapidly dividing cells. In the bone marrow, the virus will destroy the cells of the immune system, knocking out the body’s defense. The heaviest damage occurs in the gastro intestinal tract where the virus hinders the absorption of food and nutrients by destroying the Crypts of Lieberkuhn, the rapidly dividing cells at the foot of the villi. Severe infection that is manifested by bloody diarrhea will result once the lining that separates the digestive tract from the bloodstream is destroyed.

Parvovirus in older dogs

Parvovirus is most commonly seen in puppies as they are still unable to produce antibodies that will protect them from any infection. Nature though has designed a system that will protect the young dogs from infectious invaders. The colostrums secreted by the dam for the first two days after giving birth has enough antibodies to protect the pup. However, the protective capacity of these antibodies wears off until the pup is no longer protected. The rapidly dividing cells of puppies make them more vulnerable to parvovirus. Older dogs, even vaccinated one are infected and can die from this virus too. This usually happens when the immune system of the dog is weakened by another type of illness. It was also noted that the competency of the immune system of older dogs is significantly decreased making them vulnerable to infection.  Because the only rapidly dividing cells in adult dogs are the tips of the villi, parvovirus may be an indistinct illness for older dogs. Clinical symptoms may not be shown and owners will be aware of the dog’s condition when it is severely ill.

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