You’ve likely heard of the dreaded disease that can easily kill a puppy or unvaccinated dog, but how much do you really know about parvovirus? Parvovirus, or parvo, is one of the most infectious, yet preventable, diseases affecting puppies, and it can run rampant through a population of unvaccinated dogs. Our team at Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center has  answers to all your parvo-related questions to help you ensure your four-legged friend remains safe from this serious illness.

Question: What is parvovirus in dogs?

Answer: Parvovirus is an infectious virus that commonly causes serious, and even fatal, illness in puppies and unvaccinated dogs. The virus primarily affects rapidly dividing cells, so it focuses the brunt of its attack on a dog’s bone marrow and intestinal tract.

Q: How do dogs contract parvovirus?

A: Parvovirus is transmitted through contact with contaminated feces. However, this doesn’t mean your dog must touch a pile of poop to contract parvo. Microscopic amounts of contaminated feces can linger on the ground and kennel surfaces, or on hands, clothes, and shoes. Contaminated feces also can be carried along on fur and paws, infecting a much wider range of victims. The parvovirus is extremely hardy and can survive in the environment for months, if not years. However, it can be killed easily with a bleach solution.

Q: What are parvovirus signs?

A: A dog infected with parvo usually will start to show signs within three to seven days of contracting the disease. Lethargy, anorexia, and a fever are typically the first signs to appear, followed by severe vomiting and diarrhea. Often, the diarrhea will be bloody and full of mucus as the intestinal tract lining sloughs off.

Q: Can I or my other pets contract parvovirus?

A: Other dogs in your household can contract parvo from an infected dog, but parvoviruses are species-specific, meaning they stay within one species and do not jump over to infect other animals or people. However, in rare cases, the canine parvovirus has been known to infect cats, although cats have their own form of parvovirus, known as feline panleukopenia. Although parvoviruses may not infect other species, it’s still best to use proper hygiene around an infected dog because you can carry the pathogen to other dogs.

Q: How is parvovirus diagnosed in dogs?

A: Parvovirus can be diagnosed through a simple in-clinic test that requires a fecal swab and takes about 10 minutes to run. While the test is accurate, a patient may not be shedding the viral antigen at the time of the test, leading to a false negative result. In such a case, additional testing is recommended.

Q: How is parvovirus treated?

A: Since parvo is a viral infection, treatment focuses on supporting the body so it can fight off the virus. Supportive care includes:

  • Hospitalization with intravenous fluid therapy
  • Antiemetics to stop the vomiting
  • Antibiotics for patients with a low white blood cell count or signs of sepsis
  • Nutrition that may be offered through a feeding tube
  • Correction of electrolyte imbalances and hypoglycemia

While outpatient treatment is a possibility, the prognosis is much better if the patient is hospitalized.

Q: How can I prevent my dog from getting parvovirus?

A: Vaccinating your dog on time will greatly reduce their risk of contracting parvo. Puppies should start their parvo vaccination series between 6 and 8 weeks of age, then receive booster shots every 3 to 4 weeks until they are at least 16 weeks old. It is crucial to ensure your puppy is vaccinated on the correct schedule, since missing a single vaccination booster will leave them unprotected. Adult dogs may be vaccinated once every one or three years to maintain their immunity.

Also, practice good hygiene to keep your dog safe. Pick up your dog’s waste, and keep them away from other dogs’ feces. Wash your hands, change your clothes, and disinfect your shoes if you have come in contact with a sick dog.

Q: Can a vaccinated dog get parvovirus?

A: While no vaccine can guarantee 100% efficacy, the parvovirus vaccine is highly effective and provides excellent protection from the virus. It is extremely unlikely that an appropriately vaccinated dog would contract the disease. However, if a vaccinated dog comes in contact with a dog who is sick and shedding the virus, your primary care veterinarian may recommend an early vaccination booster shot for extra protection.

Q: Can a dog get parvovirus twice?

A: While not impossible, it is highly unlikely your dog will contract parvovirus again after surviving their first bout. However, this does not mean you should skip your dog’s parvo vaccination if they’ve recovered from the disease in the past. Routine vaccinations will ensure there is no gap in your dog’s immunity as their antibodies wane. 

If you suspect your dog has parvo or another gastrointestinal illness, don’t wait to see your primary care veterinarian. Contact our Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center team immediately.