A Better Test is Now Available for Canine Parvovirus

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Published: December 11, 2013

Parvo is a word that rightly strikes fear in the hearts of puppy owners. Parvovirus is highly contagious, survives for long periods of time in the environment, is resistant to many types of cleaning solutions, and can be fatal in susceptible individuals without (and sometimes even with) aggressive treatment.

Parvovirus is most commonly diagnosed in poorly vaccinated puppies. Currently available vaccines are very effective against all strains (2a, 2b, and 2c) of the virus, so as long as a puppy receives vaccines on an appropriate schedule, he or she is unlikely to develop a severe parvovirus infection. By the time dogs reach adulthood, they have likely come in contact with the virus in the environment and so have developed some immunity that way, assuming they survived the encounter.

The typical symptoms of parvovirus are similar to what are seen with many gastrointestinal diseases:

  • loss of appetite
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea (often containing blood)
  • depression
  • lethargy
  • fever

Therefore, diagnostic testing is needed to differentiate parvo from a long list of other possible diseases. Veterinarians typically use bench top “SNAP tests” as a fast and inexpensive way to do this. A problem has been developing over the last few years, however. Currently available tests aren’t very good at diagnosing the newest strain of parvo (2c), which has led to an increase in false-negative test results.

But now help has arrived. The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Kansas State University “has developed a newer, more effective test that can detect an emerging 2c strain of the virus while simultaneously detecting existing 2a and 2b strains.” According to their press release:

Jianfa Bai, assistant professor of diagnostic medicine, and collaborators at the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory developed a real-time polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test to detect the 2c virus strain and the 2a and 2b strains. While the diagnostic laboratory has been able to test for the 2a and 2b strains for years, the new test extends the laboratory's capabilities to quickly and accurately detect canine parvovirus.

"With this test we can now test all strains simultaneously and differentiate which strains of the virus might actually be causing the infection," Richard Oberst, professor of diagnostic medicine and director of the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory in the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory said. "That's a unique aspect to this test."

While the virus does not infect humans, the researchers are seeing that parvovirus can infect cats, but not necessarily with the severe clinical problems found in dogs. Oberst said further studies are needed to learn more about the feline strain.

When a veterinarian suspects that a parvo SNAP test might be falsely negative, he or she can send a fecal sample in a sterile bag or tube to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Kansas State University. Results are generally available within one to two days. The lab will charge the veterinarian $37.50 to run the test. Owners should expect to pay a bit more to cover sample handling, shipment, and test interpretation.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: melis / Shutterstock

You may also be interested in reading:

Canine Vaccination Series: Part 4 - CAV-2, Pi, and Bb Vaccines for Dogs

Canine Parvovirus Infection in Dogs

Can People Get Parvo From Pets?