Parvovirus is a potentially fatal disease that most commonly strikes puppies, causing diarrhoea, vomiting and depression. Because the virus spreads rapidly, puppies and dogs are best protected via vaccination.
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When puppies are born, they ingest a series of natural antibodies--including one against parvovirus--in their mother's colostrum. This protects them for the first days of their life, but also inactivates the parvovaccine if it is injected too early. So puppies may be vulnerable for several days when they cannot yet be vaccinated but when their maternal antibody levels are too low to fight the parvovirus.
To ensure this window of vulnerability is as small as possible, puppies are vaccinated every two to four weeks until they are four months old. The parvovirus vaccine is part of the distemper combination vaccine, which is sometimes referred to as DHLPP (distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza and parvo virus).
Adult dogs usually receive parvovirus boosters annually, but some veterinarians are now vaccinating low-risk dogs once every three years.
Other veterinarians are measuring a dog's antibody levels with a test known as a vaccine titre to see if it is still protected before deciding whether to revaccinate. This may be more expensive than simply revaccinating, however.
Parvovirus is closely related to the panleukepenia virus in cats. Cats can actually catch one type of the parvovirus but should be protected if they are vaccinated for panleukepenia, which is also known as feline distemper.
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