Parvo is a life-threatening virus that infects dogs, mainly puppies. It is highly contagious and attacks the dog's intestinal tract and white blood cells and can even damage the heart. A series of three to four vaccinations, followed by annual boosters, are necessary to ensure a puppy is protected.
Your puppy received maternal antibodies that protected his against parvovirus and other diseases. These antibodies wane as the puppy's immune system develops. If the puppy still has antibodies when he is vaccinated, the antibodies will stop the vaccination from stimulating the immune system to provide protections against the virus. Because no one knows for sure when the maternal antibodies are gone and a vaccination will work, and because this can vary from puppy to puppy, a series of vaccinations are given to young dogs. The hope is that one of these vaccinations will be given after the puppy's body has lost the maternal antibodies, but before the puppy is exposed to the virus.
Different veterinarians have different protocols about the timing of vaccinations. Most veterinarians recommend that a puppy receive his first parvovirus vaccination when he is 8 weeks old. The second vaccination is given in three to four weeks, about age 11 to 12 weeks. A third vaccination is given in three to four more weeks, about age 14 to 15 weeks. A vaccination is sometimes given three to four weeks later, about age 17 to 18 weeks. Most all veterinarians agree the final vaccination in the series should be given after the puppy is 4 months old. Once the puppy series is complete, your dog should received a booster vaccination each year.
The vaccination for parvovirus is administered through an injection. While it may sound as if your puppy is going to get stuck a lot in his early months, don't worry. The parvovirus vaccination is administered through an injection that is given under the puppy's skin, but doesn't go into the muscle. Most puppies don't even notice it is being given. Side effects associated with the parvovirus vaccination are rare. When your puppy gets his first parvo vaccination, your veterinarian will probably ask you to wait for a few minutes to be sure your puppy doesn't have an allergic reaction. Less serious side effects can include a low-grade fever, lethargy and decreased appetite for a few days.
Because parvovirus is contagious, it is best you limit your puppy's exposure until he has completed the entire series of vaccinations. This means not taking your puppy to the pet supply store, dog park or even the groomer until after the vaccination series is complete. Areas where large numbers of dogs gather are the most likely environments to be contaminated. It is even a good idea to carry your puppy when you go to the veterinarian. It's possible a dog infected with parvovirus just walked across the lobby floor. Most obedience schools, puppy kindergartens and other such programs will not accept puppies until the vaccination series is complete. This is for your puppy's protection as well as the protection of the other dogs.
Bethney Foster is social justice coordinator for Mercy Junction ministry, where she edits the monthly publication "Holy Heretic." She is also an adoption coordinator with a pet rescue agency. Foster spent nearly two decades as a newspaper reporter/editor. She graduated from Campbellsville University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English, journalism and political science.