Preventative Care@3x

Canine Parvovirus: Everything You Need To Know

Jan 28, 2023 | All About Animals, Ask a Vet, AZPetVet, Dog, For Your Pet, Health Emergencies, Pet Safety, Preventive Care

Yellow lab puppy with vet


What Is Parvo In Dogs?

The last thing any pet owner wants to hear is a diagnosis of canine parvovirus. This highly contagious and aggressive virus affects the dog’s GI tract, weakens their immune system, and lowers their white blood cell count, reducing their ability to fight off secondary bacterial infections. If left unaddressed, it can have deadly consequences. 

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, canine parvovirus is classified as a disease of the stomach and small intestines. This is where parvovirus in dogs does the most damage. The virus destroys cells, impairs the absorption of nutrients, and disrupts the gut barrier. In puppies, canine parvovirus can also attach to the lymphopoietic tissues, the bone marrow, and in some severe cases, the heart. 

Canine parvovirus is resistant to all climates, surviving in cold, hot, dry, and humid environments for long periods. It’s transmitted through direct contact with an infected dog or indirect contact with contaminated stool, cages, people, or objects, like leashes, collars, and food or water bowls. It travels easily from place to place on the feet or hair of dogs or by contaminated shoes. 


Signs of Parvo in Dogs

The sooner you can catch the early symptoms and signs of parvo in dogs, the quicker you can get your pet to the vet and on the path to treatment. Contact your vet immediately, if your dog displays any of these symptoms, as it could be a sign of parvo or other serious illness:

  • Lethargy
  • Foul-odored stool
  • Bloody diarrhea 
  • Fever or low body temperature
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Dehydration
  • Depression

Because canine parvovirus is most common in puppies, it’s important that you don’t wait for any specific symptoms to arise before contacting your vet. Instead, we encourage you to reach out whenever your pet acts odd or feels under the weather.  


Preventing Parvovirus in Dogs

The best way to prevent parvovirus in dogs is by vaccinating your pet and keeping up with a regular immunization plan. Young puppies are particularly susceptible because they rely on their mother’s antibodies for the first few weeks of life. Once this natural immunity wears off, they have a harder time fighting infection because their immune systems are not mature enough to fight it. For this reason, they must get their first dose between six and eight weeks old, then boosters every three to four weeks until they are 16 weeks old. Your veterinarian will be sure to get your pet on the best preventative plan specific to their needs. Some other ways to prevent parvovirus in dogs include:

  • Keep a clean home
  • Keep up with your pet’s hygiene 
  • Limit socialization/exposure to unvaccinated dogs
  • Make sure all other pets in your household are vaccinated
  • Avoid dog parks, boarding facilities, traveling, long walks, and play dates until fully vaccinated


Parvo Treatment

Because no specific medication is available that will kill the virus; it’s important to contact your vet and begin parvo treatment as soon as possible. Canine parvovirus is typically detected through a physical exam, lab testing, and sometimes fecal testing. Treatment will usually consist of care efforts that combat dehydration. This is done by replacing protein, fluid, and electrolyte loss, controlling diarrhea and vomiting, and preventing secondary infections. Treatment will help support the dog’s immune system until it can fight off the infection. During parvo treatment, keeping your dog warm and comfortable and providing good nursing care is essential. 

Canine parvovirus is not easily terminated, so early recognition and treatment are necessary for the most successful outcomes. In fact, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the survival rate of dogs treated by a veterinarian is 68 to 92 percent, and most puppies that survive the first three-to-four days make a complete recovery. Here at AZPetVet, your pet’s health, wellness, and safety are our top priority, so we urge you to be cautious of the signs of parvo in dogs, take preventative measures, and contact us immediately should symptoms arise. 

Disclaimer: Not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet. If you think your pet has a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately.