A dog virus can be extremely distressing and in fact many can be lethal if not properly treated. There are others, however, that are not generally life threatening and must be allowed to run their course as they have no specific treatment.
Since most viruses have similar symptoms it can be impossible for you tell exactly what you're dealing with. For that reason, if you suspect your dog may be suffering from a virus you should always consult with your vet as quickly as possible.
Among the most common types of virus that dogs contract are rabies, distemper, parvo, canine influenza, canine hepatitis, and circovirus. Several of these can be avoided by having your dog vaccinated and in fact, most communities require rabies vaccinations for all dogs to prevent the spread of that highly contagious and deadly disease.
Because of this requirement for rabies vaccination, rabies has actually become quite rare in recent years. This is fortunate as this particular dog virus will quickly become fatal once symptoms occur and it can be easily spread to other animals and humans. Similarly, distemper, which can manifest with symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting, nasal discharge and weight loss, is highly contagious and quite often fatal, but it can be controlled through vaccination.
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No matter how careful you are your dog is going to come into contact with viruses that could seriously affect their health. The best defense is being alert to the symptoms and keeping them up-to-date with vaccinations.
Parvo most often affects puppies under the age of 6 months. For this reason, it is usually the first illness that is vaccinated against. Parvo symptoms can include loss of appetite, severe diarrhea, vomiting and depression. A dog with parvo will usually have blood in its feces. Aside from prevention through vaccination the only treatment for parvo is medication to prevent secondary infection and fluid replacement to avoid dehydration.
Coming under the umbrella of "kennel cough," canine influenza and bordetella both affect the lungs and can cause dry, hacking cough and inflammation of the larynx, trachea and bronchial tubes. A small percentage of affected dogs will eventually develop pneumonia. Similar to human influenza, this type of dog virus can be prevented with a vaccine and the symptoms can be medicated if caught and diagnosed early enough.
Another virus that affects a particular part of the body is canine hepatitis, or adenovirus. This invasive virus affects the liver and kidneys. Sometimes affected dogs will display symptoms such as fever and a reddened mouth, while at other times there will be few symptoms. It is often moderate, particularly in puppies, and recovery will be relatively quick but in some isolated cases it can be fatal and death may occur before diagnosis can be made. Again, vaccination is the best weapon against canine hepatitis.
While a dog virus is usually rather serious, one of the newer types, the circovirus, is actually rather mild and will not require treatment. Symptoms of circovirus can include vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy. Most often the virus will just have to run its course. Unfortunately, most of these viruses share similar symptoms so it can be difficult to tell exactly what you're dealing with without a vet's intervention.
A virus can strike any breed, including the usually active and energetic Australian Shepherd, without warning so you need to be aware of their symptoms so that you can help your dog to get treatment as soon as possible. And remember when it comes to dog viruses the best treatment is prevention, so make sure that your pup has all his vaccinations as early in life as possible and that they are kept up to date.