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You are here: myPetSmart.com > Pet Care Library > Articles > Intestinal Viruses

Intestinal Viruses

PetSmart Brent Carroll, DVM/Banfield

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Among the viruses that can infect your Pet and cause inflammation of the stomach and intestines:


The deadliest of the intestinal viruses, parvovirus sloughs away the intestinal lining, causing mild to severe, bloody diarrhea and dehydration--a frequent cause of death. It also affects the bone marrow and immune system.

A common virus in areas with high dog populations, coronavirus causes mild to severe diarrhea and can cause severe damage to the intestinal lining.

  • Rotavirus. This common virus is usually self-limiting. No vaccine is available for Rotavirus.
  • Distemper virus. A worldwide killer of dogs, distemper virus can affect dogs' respiratory, gastrointestinal, nervous, and immune systems.

Dogs catch these viruses from other dogs, usually by ingesting the virus from fecal contamination. Simply licking their paws after walking in contaminated grass can result in infection. If your Pet is in an area where lots of dogs gather, like a Pet store, park, or dog show, there is a greater chance of infection.

What to Look For

Your Pet needs to see a veterinarian at the first sign of stomach upset. Watch for any of these symptoms:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Soft or liquid stools
  • Large amounts of stool or increased frequency of defecation
  • Straining to defecate
  • Depression
  • Belly distention
  • Whining in discomfort

Blood or excess mucus in the stool
If possible, bring a sample of the stool with you to the veterinarian, it can be very helpful in diagnosing your Pet's problem.

Veterinary Care

Be sure to tell the veterinarian about any problem, how long your Pet has had it, and about any changes in your pet's appetite or diet. If you suspect that your Pet might have eaten anything unusual, be sure to mention it. A stool specimen will be evaluated under the microscope for parasites. Depending on your Pet's condition, blood work, X-rays, or a parvovirus test may be necessary.

You may need to rest your Pet's stomach and intestinal tract for a period of time by withholding food or changing to a bland diet. Treatment for most Pets includes intestinal or nausea medications and a special diet that is easy on the stomach. If your Pet is dehydrated, it may need hospitalization, intravenous fluid and electrolyte therapy, or even a blood transfusion. Depending on the cause of the problem, antibiotics and dewormers may also be necessary.

Parvovirus Treatment

If your Pet's parvovirus test is positive, intensive treatment is needed immediately. It's also important to notify the owners of any other dogs your Pet has come in contact with--they should see their veterinarian as soon as possible. Pets can die from parvovirus because of the intense dehydration, depression of the immune system, and secondary invasion of the bloodstream by bacteria.

Parvovirus is extremely contagious, so your Pet will need to be hospitalized and isolated from other Pets. Parvovirus treatment can be expensive and prolonged. But if left untreated, your Pet's chances for survival are slim.

Authored and edited by Brent Carroll, DVM

Preventive Care

The majority of parvovirus cases occur in dogs that haven't been vaccinated, have had improperly administered vaccines, or haven't received all of their booster vaccinations. In fact, all of the viral diseases discussed here, with the exception of Rotavirus, can be effectively prevented with proper vaccination. Vaccines contain inactivated viruses or bacteria that stimulate your Pet's immune system without causing disease.

The next best way to keep your puppy or kitten healthy is by limiting its exposure to contagious diseases. Stay away from areas where stray dogs may gather, like public parks. Your puppy also needs proper socialization; the best, safest approach is to enroll in puppy classes where all puppies are certified healthy and currently vaccinated. This way, your Pet can also play with any Pets you know to be healthy and properly vaccinated.

Following these few simple precautions will keep your puppy or kitten healthy well into adulthood. Beat the virus predators before they get to your best friend.

Did You Know...

Cats are naturally protected from canine parvovirus--even if directly exposed to the virus. The feline form of parvovirus is commonly known as feline distemper. Just as cats can't catch parvovirus, dogs can't catch feline distemper.

© Banfield 2002.12 HOEP #81034

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