Parvo (aka Canine Parvovirus or CPV) is a highly contagious and deadly virus that primarily affects young dogs. If left untreated, parvo has a death rate of as high as 91%. The classical symptoms include mucoid to bloody diarrhea, dehydration, vomiting, weakness, and loss of appetite.
Based on that alone, any attempt to try and cure parvo without a vet in the privacy of your own home is not recommended. Without proper veterinarian support, care, and meds, treating parvo at home without a vet, is likely to fail.
And there’s good reason why. The standard of care for CPV is hospital management with IV fluids, medication, and nutritional support. With supportive care, survival can be as high as 96%. Unfortunately, hospitalization will cost between $3,000 and $5,000 USD.
The aspects involved aren’t typically something that the average home owner will have to hand, so unless you are a vet, attempting to treat at home could fail – but it depends on the seriousness of the parvo case – and what the survival diagnosis is.
How can I treat parvo at home?
Call your vet as they will give you the medicines and food plan you need. However, if you don’t ask a vet and attempt to cure parvo without a vet, it’s potential trouble.
The science tends to back this up too, and shows that attempting to cure parvo without a vet isn’t the best of choices. For example, in 2016, Venn et.al. from Colorado State University published a modified outpatient protocol to treat parvo.
They recruited 40 client-owned dogs with symptoms of CPV (weakness, vomiting, and diarrhea) and positive for parvo via enzyme-linked immunosorbent test (ELISA). Twenty dogs were randomly allocated to standard inpatient treatment and 20 dogs to the modified outpatient protocol (Colorado protocol).
While both groups were treated in the hospital for close monitoring, the protocol for the outpatient group was modified to facilitate potential home administration. Initially, both groups received IV fluids to correct dehydration, low blood sugar, and low blood potassium levels.
The modifications for the outpatient group include:
- Administration of IV fluids through subcutaneous injection (the layer between the skin and the muscle)
- Dogs with low potassium levels were given oral potassium supplements every 4 to 6 hours (Tumil-K potassium gluconate, Virbac Animal Health, FortWorth, TX). Potassium levels were checked every day and oral potassium supplementation was discontinued if the result was normal or if the dog has recovered adequate voluntary food consumption.
- One dose of a long-acting antibiotic, Cefovicin 8 mg/kg administered subcutaneously (Convenia, Zoetis Inc, Kalamazoo, MI)
- Antiemetic, or medicine to control vomiting, Maropitant 1 mg/kg injected subcutaneously every 24 hours (Cerenia, Pfizer Animal Health, New York, NY.)
- Dogs were first offered a commercial canine convalescence diet 1 mL/kg (Hill’s a/d, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Topeka, KS ) every 6 hours then syringe fed if they demonstrated no voluntary appetite. Syringe feeding involved placing 1–3 mL of diet at a time onto the tongue and allowing the dog a chance to swallow. When the patient was no longer receptive to this or exhibited any worsening nausea, it was stopped until the next scheduled feeding attempt.
Care must be taken when syringe feeding to minimize the risk of aspiration pneumonia.
- Dogs with low blood sugar received 1-5 mL of high fructose corn syrup buccally (between the gums and cheek) every 4-6 hours (Karo simple syrup, ACH Food Companies, Inc., Memphis, TN).
- Rectal temperature was closely monitored every 6 hours and external heat support was provided to maintain body temperature >37.2°C (99° F).
Dogs in both groups were considered ready for hospital discharge once vomiting had resolved, intake of water and food is adequate, and CBC shows a recovery of white blood cell count from previously low levels.
Handy Hint: If your dog is recovering from parvo, here’s what you should be feeding them to get them back eating properly.
After 4 to 6 days, 80% of the outpatient group and 90% of the inpatient group have recovered, with no statistical difference in survival rate between the two groups.
Two other studies reported the outpatient management of CPV: A retrospective study by Sarpong et.al. from a private small animal clinic and a retrospective study by Perley et.al. from an animal shelter. While the Colorado study was a prospective randomized trial, the two other studies involved only medical chart reviews of cases treated in the past.
In 2017, Sarpong et. al. reviewed the medical records of 130 client-owned dogs treated for CPV at their outpatient clinic and reported the treatments administered and survival rates. Unlike the Colorado group, Sarpong had no inpatient comparison group. Treatment was also at the discretion of the attending veterinarian, with no formal protocol in place.
- Hydration fluids were administered by veterinarians subcutaneously.
- Subcutaneous injection of antiemetic (maropitant)
- The choice of antibiotic was left to the veterinarian:
- Subcutaneous injection of Cefovicin or oral formulation of Amoxicillin or Metronidazole
- Pyrantel pamoate for intestinal parasitism (.Strongid T, Pfizer, New York, NY. )
- The presence of intestinal parasites increases disease severity.
- High-calorie supplement given every 2-4 hours using a feeding syringe (NutriCal oral gel, Vetoquinol, Princeville, QC, Canada.)
- Vitamin supplement (Lixotinic, Pfizer, New York, NY. )
Dogs with parvo managed in their outpatient clinic had a survival rate of 75%. The authors emphasized that outpatient treatment of CPV would only be appropriate when hospitalization is not financially feasible.
In 2020, Perley et. al. published a retrospective study from medical records of 95 CPV dogs treated at the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA) Parvovirus Outpatient Clinic using the Colorado Protocol. Their study reported a survival rate of 83%. They estimated that the cost of treatment for 1 dog using this shelter-based outpatient protocol is $479 USD.
The three studies on outpatient management of CPV involved supervision by veterinarians. Most of the treatments can be administered at home. There is another aspect of CPV that needs constant attention: careful cleaning and disinfection to prevent spread to other dogs.
Parvo does not infect people but people can unwittingly spread the virus to other dogs (possibly cats?) if they have the virus on their hands or clothing or other items contaminated with the virus such as toys and grooming tools. Frequent hand washing and disinfection should be observed.
Whilst it might be tempting to try to save money by treating your dog for parvo at home without the help of a vet, please do seek professional support. Your dog’s life depends on it.
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