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Canine Parvovirus

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Most dog owners have probably heard of canine parvovirus before. But what is parvo? Where does it come from and how can you protect your dog?


5 Fast Facts You Need to Know About Parvo:

1. Canine parvovirus is a viral infection that affects puppies and inadequately vaccinated dogs by weakening their immune system and attacking the gastrointestinal system.

2. The virus is shed in the stool of infected dogs and can be found anywhere that fecal particles contaminate, including backyards, parks, and even your own living room.

3. Parvovirus is extremely difficult to disinfect, especially in outdoor areas, making parvo extremely contagious.

4. Parvovirus can live and infect new hosts in the same area for years after the initial parvo contamination.

5. All puppies are equally susceptible to parvo, regardless of whether they came from a breeder or the city shelter.

What is parvo?

Canine parvovirus is a viral infection that affects the gastrointestinal system and white blood cells. In extreme cases, parvo can attack the heart muscle, leading to heart failure. When a dog eats, nutrients are absorbed in the intestines. Parvo reduces the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients, leading to severe dehydration and nutrient depletion, while destroying white blood cells and weakening the dog’s immune system.

Canine parvovirus originated in the 70’s, and initially affected dogs of all ages. Today, parvovirus is so widespread that adult dogs (>1 years old) have more immunity than dogs did in the past. We also have a highly effective vaccine to help their bodies fight off parvovirus when they encounter it. However, puppies who lack the necessary antibodies are still at high risk.

Parvo is a persistent virus that is extremely difficult to disinfect, and is virtually impossible to decontaminate outdoor areas. There are a few cleaning agents that are capable of killing the virus, however most household cleaners are not effective in eliminating parvovirus.

Why are puppies so susceptible to parvo?

When puppies are born, they are not able to create antibodies, and instead rely on protection from a special kind of milk their mother makes right after they are born called colostrum. Colostrum provides the puppies with all of their mother’s antibodies, which protect the puppy for the first couple of weeks of their life before wearing off. It is recommended that a puppy start their parvo vaccine series around 8 weeks of age, when mom’s antibodies are no longer circulating.

How do puppies get parvo?

Puppies get parvo from ingesting fecal particles contaminated with the parvovirus. Puppies do not have to actually ingest stools; puppies can eat food off of a contaminated floor or lick their paws after going outside in contaminated grass and become infected. Microscopic amounts of infected stool can linger in yards, parks, and homes for months, even years, after the initial contamination. Parvo can also be brought into your home on your shoes if you walked through contaminated areas.

How long after infection do symptoms start to show?

Parvovirus has an incubation period of 3 to 7 days, which means the puppy can be infected during this time without showing symptoms. Non-symptomatic puppies are still contagious during this time.

What are the symptoms of parvo?

The first signs of parvo include:

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

  • Lethargy and weakness

  • Loss of appetite

  • Fever

As parvo progresses, you will notice:

  • Severe bloody diarrhea

  • Dehydration

  • Refusal to eat

  • Extreme lethargy

  • Significant weight loss

How is parvo diagnosed?

If you bring your puppy to the vet with symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, and lethargy, your veterinarian will recommend blood work and a special test used to detect parvo in the feces.

A parvo test involves a stool sample and can be performed in office. Your vet can confirm a positive parvo diagnosis in as little as 15 minutes. Blood work will be recommended to evaluate your puppy’s blood cell counts, determine the level of dehydration, and check for liver abnormalities or electrolyte imbalances.

Once your puppy has been confirmed to have parvo, your veterinarian will begin treatment.

How do you cure parvo?

Because parvo is a virus, it is not something your vet will be able to cure. Instead, your veterinarian will provide supportive care to help your puppy’s body fight the virus. Treating parvovirus can be expensive, and puppies with a parvo diagnosis will often need to be hospitalized for at least 4 to 7 days.

What does parvo treatment look like?

Parvo causes severe diarrhea and vomiting, which can be fatally dehydrating. To combat this, your puppy will require round-the-clock fluid therapy. An IV catheter will be placed in your puppy’s arm to allow a constant flow of fluids to rehydrate your puppy.

The IV catheter also allows your veterinarian to administer IV medications to help with nausea, abdominal pain, and appetite. Antibiotics and gastro protectants can also be administered this way. Because many parvo puppies are too nauseous to hold down oral medications, receiving IV medications in hospital is crucial to their recovery.

Throughout the course of treatment, your veterinarian will re-check their blood work periodically to monitor progress and adjust the treatment plan accordingly.

Can parvo be treated at home?

For the best chances of survival, we strongly recommend hospitalization. Even the most aggressive parvo treatment in hospital does not guarantee survival, and a puppy’s chances of survival are highest when receiving round-the-clock care and fluid therapy in a hospital setting. If funds or circumstances make hospitalization impossible, consult your veterinarian for their recommendations on home care.

What does care after parvo look like?

Once your puppy is on the mend, there are special precautions to take to ensure they continue to progress.

Parvo wreaks havoc on your puppy’s intestinal tract, so it is important to adhere to the diet your veterinarian recommends during their recovery. Your veterinarian will recommend a diet that is easy on the stomach, such as Hill’s Science Diet W/D or boiled chicken and rice. While your puppy may be extra hungry now that they are feeling better, it is important to feed them smaller, more frequent meals to keep them from overeating.

Your veterinarian may also send home antibiotics, anti-nausea, and anti-diarrhea medications to support your puppy and resolve any lingering symptoms caused by parvo. It is important to closely monitor your puppy during their recovery and let your veterinarian know if you notice any persisting symptoms that aren’t improving.

Once cleared by your vet, your puppy will also resume their normal vaccine schedule to ensure they are protected from other illnesses.

Are there any long-term effects of parvo?

Parvo is an emergency situation for most puppies, but most dogs who survive parvo will go on to live a perfectly normal, healthy life.

How long until my puppy is no longer contagious?

Your puppy should be treated as contagious to other puppies and dogs for at least a month. Under no circumstances should your puppy be taken to public areas such as pet stores, parks, hiking trails, or to doggie daycare. We recommend getting your veterinarian’s approval before taking your puppy anywhere.

Can my puppy get parvo again?

Once your puppy has recovered from parvo, their immune system should be able to successfully protect them from the virus if they encounter it again. Parvo puppies should still receive the annual vaccine.

Do I need to worry about myself or my other pets getting parvo?

Canine parvovirus is specific to dogs, so humans, cats, and other small animals are not at risk if a dog in the home is infected. Adult dogs over 1 year of age who are up to date on their vaccines are also not usually at risk.

Other puppies in the home at the time of a parvo diagnosis should also be evaluated, even if they are not showing symptoms yet, as it is almost certain they are also infected.

Is there a way to detect if my yard has been contaminated by parvo virus?

Unfortunately, there is no way to detect if a yard has been contaminated by parvovirus as contamination is microscopic.

Is there any way to get rid of parvovirus in my home and yard?

It is nearly impossible to get rid of parvovirus. Bleach can be an effective agent in cleaning surfaces indoors, but parvo is easily tracked inside from walking outdoors or through your yard. Bleach is extremely toxic to pets, so exercise extreme caution when using bleach or other harsh household chemicals to disinfect your home. A dilution of 1 part bleach and 10 parts water is recommended.

Because there is no way to decontaminate your yard of parvovirus, any puppy that you bring home will almost certainly get parvo. Families of dogs who have previously had parvo will need to adopt older dogs that have been completed their parvo vaccine series.

Can my puppy get parvo at my veterinarian’s office?

While you may be concerned about you puppy being at an increased risk, your veterinarian’s office is a perfectly safe place for your puppy, and here’s why:

  1. Your vet treats every case of a puppy with vomiting and diarrhea as if it were a confirmed parvo case. This means that puppies displaying these symptoms are kept out of public areas such as the lobby, hospital treatment areas, and potty yards. These puppies are brought straight into an exam room where the staff handles them with gloves and a protective gown.

  2. Our hospital always keeps a cleaning agent that is proven to kill parvo virus on hand. Anytime there is a suspected or confirmed case of parvo, our staff cleans any areas that the patient may have touched to kill the virus and prevent further contamination.

  3. Confirmed parvo cases are not hospitalized with the rest of our in-hospital or boarding patients. Our hospital has a designated isolation unit with kennels intended for highly contagious patients. This unit is separate from the rest of the hospital and is equipped with its own fluid pump, thermometers, food bowls, bedding, and other essentials. Isolation patients also have a designated potty area that is not accessible to other patients or boarders.

  4. Our staff utilizes gloves, protective gowns, and a “bleach bath” every time they go in and out of the isolation unit. Your veterinarian and techs suit up before going into the isolation unit to administer medications, check vitals, and love on quarantined patients. When they are done, they disrobe and step in to a bleach bath, which removes any contaminants from their shoes before re-entering the main treatment area.

  5. Any trash or waste that comes from the isolation unit is carefully disposed of separate from the main hospital waste. All food and water bowls are washed inside of the isolation unit, and all of the bedding used in the isolation unit is bleached and washed separately.

The health and safety of all of our patients and boarders in our care is always top priority. Every effort and precaution is made to provide a safe, clean environment for our patients to heal in.

Please contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of the symptoms described in your puppy. Early intervention and aggressive treatment drastically improve your puppy’s odds of survival after a positive parvo diagnosis. For additional questions, please contact us at 972-347-6100.



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