Any dog owner who has had a pup with parvovirus understands the severity of this gastrointestinal disease, especially after contacting their veterinarian for help. As soon as we hear that a puppy or unvaccinated dog has bloody diarrhea and is vomiting, we go into full lock-down mode to limit potential contamination, often requesting pet owners to wait in their vehicles with their dogs for test results. This disease is highly infectious and can be deadly, especially in puppies. To help illustrate the gravity of a parvovirus situation, we’ve outlined what every dog owner needs to know to keep their furry friend safe.

What causes parvovirus in dogs?

Canine parvovirus is a relatively common cause of acute, infectious gastrointestinal illness in young dogs. Parvo rarely affects older dogs, especially adult dogs who have been vaccinated. Closely related to feline panleukopenia, canine parvovirus is believed to have gone through two or three mutations of the feline disease, allowing it to infect dogs. 

Parvo is a hardy virus that is resistant to many disinfectants and detergents, and temperature and pH changes. The virus can survive not only on indoor surfaces at room temperature for at least two months, but also can persist outdoors for many months, or sometimes years, if protected from sunlight. If your new rescue or stray puppy sheds virus particles in the soil through her infected stool, we strongly recommend not bringing home another puppy for at least two years, to prevent potential disease transmission.

How is canine parvovirus transmitted?

The virus is shed in the feces of infected dogs up to four to five days after exposure, before they show clinical signs of illness. During the course of infection, and for about 10 days after recovery, an infected dog can still shed the virus. If your dog comes in contact with the virus, whether through direct contact with infective fecal material or through indirect contact with contaminated surfaces, she can easily be infected if she has not been vaccinated properly. To protect your pooch from this deadly disease, contact your regular veterinarian to ensure she is current on her vaccinations, so we don’t need to hospitalize her for emergency parvo treatment.

If your dog is older and has been vaccinated properly her entire life, she has a minimal infection risk. Parvo most commonly infects puppies younger than 6 months of age, or unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated dogs. Some breeds are also at an increased disease risk, including:

  • Rottweilers
  • Doberman pinschers
  • American pit bull terriers
  • English springer spaniels
  • German shepherds

A proper vaccination protocol is vital for all pets, but is more critical for these breeds, to ensure their safety and health.

What are the signs of canine parvovirus?

If your puppy develops parvo, her best survival chance is prompt diagnosis and treatment, so keep an eye out for the following signs while she completes her vaccination series:

  • Lethargy
  • Decreased or absent appetite
  • Fever
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody diarrhea

Puppies can fast become severely ill, so at the first hint of unusual behavior or appetite, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

How is canine parvovirus diagnosed and treated?

A simple, in-house parvovirus test can provide a diagnosis in 15 minutes, but is less accurate than outside-laboratory tests, and occasionally produces false-negative or false-positive results. As every moment counts in a parvo infection, we perform the in-house test, along with a blood panel. Since the bone marrow is one of the first areas the virus attacks, a low white blood cell count, combined with a positive test, often clinches a parvo diagnosis.

When treating parvovirus, supportive care is critical to promote a positive outcome, often making a hospital stay necessary, to battle nutrient and fluid losses from copious vomiting and diarrhea. An intravenous catheter provides the best option for replacing fluids and administering antibiotics, if necessary, while a feeding tube supplies proper nutrition. For puppies who are too nauseous to keep food down, despite antiemetic medications, parenteral nutrition administered intravenously is an option. In severe cases, blood transfusions may be necessary to boost low blood cell counts after the bone marrow has been attacked. 

Many puppies respond well to treatment, as long as the disease is caught early enough, and treated aggressively. Dogs who recover will have a lifelong protective immunity against the strain that infected them.

How can I protect my dog from getting parvovirus?

Your dog’s best protection from this deadly disease is through appropriate vaccination. Ensure your pooch never misses her parvovirus vaccination—keep your contact info current with your regular veterinarian to receive vaccination reminders. Also, protect your pet by avoiding areas where people do not pick up after their dogs, as forgotten feces can leave behind diseases and parasites.

No matter the hour, if you suspect your dog is showing parvo signs, contact us immediately to give your pooch her best chance at beating this disease. During normal business hours, contact your regular veterinarian for treatment.