Facts and FAQs About Parvo in Puppies and Dogs

a puppy and kitten visit the vet for parvo virus story

Parvo is caused by canine parvovirus, or CPV, a highly contagious and potentially fatal disease that can affect adult dogs and puppies. Pet parents should understand what CPV is and how they can protect their dogs. To help spread the word about the dangers of canine parvovirus, we’re sharing facts and answer frequently asked questions surrounding CPV.

What is Parvo in Dogs? Where Does Parvo Come From?

When scientists discovered canine parvovirus in 1978, they noted that CPV was very similar to feline distemper (feline panleukopenia). The belief is that parvo is a crossover virus from cats to dogs.

How does a dog get parvo?

The virus spreads when a dog ingests the virus or is in direct contact with an infected animal, its feces, or contaminated objects like food and water bowls, toys, or objects belonging to the infected dog or the dog’s people.

Not every dog exposed to parvo will become infected, because of several factors that impact infection, like a dog’s immune system and age. While parvo is common in puppies, those between 6 and 20 weeks old and unvaccinated are the most vulnerable. The two strains of parvovirus in dogs and cats are not transmissible to humans. Parvovirus b19 is unique to humans, is common in school-aged children, and typically requires little treatment. However, humans with canine parvovirus on their hands, clothing, and shoes can spread the virus to their dogs.

What are the Signs, Symptoms and Stages of Parvo in Dogs?

Once infected, it takes 3 to 7 days for parvo symptoms to appear (Source: Cornell University). During this incubation period, the virus typically attacks a dog’s tonsils or throat lymph nodes. As canine parvovirus continues to replicate, it enters the bloodstream, targeting bone marrow cells and those of the small intestine. CPV destroys the lining of the small intestine, which helps a dog absorb nutrients and prevent fluid loss during defecation. In pups, parvo can affect the heart, causing inflammation, poor function, and an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmias).

Early signs of parvo may be difficult to detect, especially in puppies, so that’s why it is important to take your puppy for an initial health evaluation. As soon as you adopt your puppy, contact your vet to set up initial evaluations and vaccinations.

As the virus moves through the dog’s body, visual symptoms will appear, such as:

  • Vomiting
  • Bloody diarrhea (parvo poop or stool)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss/lack of appetite
  • High fever
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) cautions, “most parvo-related deaths occur 48 to 72 hours after the onset of clinical symptoms.” Certain breeds, including Doberman pinschers, English springer spaniels, and rottweilers, tend to have a higher fatality rates than others. Parvo is not always fatal. If your dog recovers from CPV, you should keep your pet away from other dogs for a month to prevent further spread.

How is Parvo Diagnosed?

Although vomiting and diarrhea can indicate CPV, those symptoms can also point to other health issues such as intestinal parasites, poisoning, and pancreatitis. For this reason, you should contact your veterinarian immediately if your dog shows any of these signs. Diagnosing parvo requires a look at a dog’s history, a physical exam and lab tests, including analyzing a dog’s feces and blood work.

When you take your puppy to the vet to be checked for parvo, Dr. Sarah Ochoa says you’ll probably be asked to quarantine your dog so he/she doesn’t infect other dogs who visit the vet.

“Parvo can be very contagious and even spread to a puppy who is at the clinic for their puppy vaccines,” Dr. Ochoa said. “It is best to leave your puppy in the car (with AC) while you run into the clinic to let them know that you have arrived and that your puppy may have parvo or is showing signs of parvo.”

Let the clinic staff know ahead of time, before you bring your pet in for his or her visit. They will instruct you on what to do and when to bring your dog into the clinic. Most clinics will clean a room that has had a parvo puppy in there with a very strong cleaner to help kill the parvo virus, Dr. Ochoa said.

Is There a Treatment for Parvo?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for parvovirus. Supportive treatments like IV fluids and antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and antispasmodic drugs help address symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration while a dog’s immune system fights the infection. Due to the parvovirus being so highly contagious, isolation of infected dogs is crucial. A hospital stay is often warranted. Particular treatments a dog receives depend on the severity of the parvo infection and the dog’s health. The AVMA reports that survival rates can reach 90% for dogs treated adequately by a veterinarian (Source: AVMA).

Can a dog survive parvo without treatment?

Yes, but their survival rates are very low. Without treatment, about 90% of dogs die from canine parvovirus, according to CanineParvovirus.org.

How to Prevent Parvo in Dogs?

“Parvo is 100% preventable,” Dr. Ochoa said. “It is best to keep up on your puppies’ vaccines and keep them away from areas where there are many other pets that may not be vaccinated.”

While a cure remains unknown, there is a vaccine that can help prevent your dog from a parvo infection. The CPV vaccine is given throughout a dog’s life, beginning when a dog receives the vaccine at 6 weeks of age and then every 3 to 4 weeks until the dog reaches 16 weeks. After that, a booster is recommended a year later, then 1 to every 3 years (Source: Cornell).

Can a vaccinated dog still get parvo?

Yes, young vaccinated puppies may not have a mature immune system or a weak response to the vaccination. For this reason, the AVMA recommends puppies between 14 and 16 weeks of age get a dose of the parvo vaccine, no matter how many doses they’ve received. Some adult dogs may never develop adequate immunity against parvo, leaving them more susceptible to infection.

How is parvo transmitted? How can you prevent parvo?

Here are a few additional steps you should take to prevent the spread of parvo:

  • Don’t let your dog touch fecal waste from other dogs while playing outside or during a walk. Immediately picking up and discarding dog feces can limit the spread of parvo.
  • If an infected dog has contaminated your home, disinfect indoor areas, including all hard surfaces, food and water bowls, and bedding with a cleaning solution made from one part bleach and 30 parts water, to help prevent spread of CPV to other pets.
  • Outdoors, you can water your yard routinely over a few weeks to help dilute parvo that remains on the grass after parvo exposure.
  • Anybody who comes into contact with an exposed or sick dog should wash their hands and clothing before getting near healthy dogs.

While there’s no 100% guarantee your dog will never contract the parvovirus, taking the above precautions, getting your pet vaccinated, and having routine checkups with your vet is your best defense against it.



Photo 156067334 / Dog Famveldman | Dreamstime.com
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