Canine Parvovirus: Symptoms and Treatment

Learn the essential facts about Canine Parvovirus and the steps you’ll need to take if your puppy contracts this deadly virus.

Mar 5, 2024By Donna Hobson
canine parvovirus symptoms treatment

Canine Parvovirus is the most common infectious disease in dogs, known for its high level of contagiousness and severe degree of damage it inflicts on the intestines. So, the last thing you’ll want to hear is that your beloved puppy has contracted Parvo.

It’s important to remember that with proper care, up to 80% of dogs can survive Canine Parvovirus. If you want to protect your dog against this deadly disease, the best steps are to educate yourself and know what to do in an emergency. Here is some vital information that could one day help to save your dog’s life.

What Is Canine Parvovirus?

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Canine Parvovirus - or Parvo - is a viral disease that is highly contagious for all dogs, especially puppies younger than four months and adult dogs reaching their senior years. The virus spreads by direct contact with infected dogs or indirect contact with a contaminated object.

First discovered in 1967, this virus has rapidly grown as a severe threat to canine health. Several reasons for this status include the fact that the virus is difficult to kill, it can survive in the environment for long periods, and infected dogs shed the virus in large quantities.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, CPV is a disease of the stomach and small intestines. This is because these are the areas where the virus does the most damage; Parvo destroys cells, prevents absorption, and distorts the gut barrier in the small intestine. In puppies, CPV can also affect the bone marrow, lymphopoietic tissues, and heart.

What Are the Symptoms of Parvovirus?

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Following exposure to viral particles, a dog will generally begin to display the symptoms of CPV within three to seven days. The most common first sign is lethargy, followed by a loss of appetite. At this stage, many dogs will also have a fever.

As the illness progresses, many dogs suffer vomiting and diarrhea as the virus attacks the gastrointestinal system, and some puppies develop high heart rates and hypothermia.

The worst damage from CPV occurs in the gastrointestinal tract, where the virus attacks the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing nutrients, stops fluid loss, and acts as a barrier against bacteria. When this happens, your dog may start to present the following health concerns:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Lethargy

How Do You Treat Parvovirus in Dogs?

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If you spot symptoms of Parvovirus in your dog, the first step to treatment is to get them tested for the virus. ELISA tests are the most common way to diagnose your dog; these involve you taking your dog to the vet for a fecal swab.

Acting quickly is essential with Parvo, as the highest risk of death occurs between 24 and 72 hours. The virus is not always fatal, but for the puppies who do succumb, it is often due to shock or dehydration. Ensuring your puppy receives adequate support and care massively increases its chance of survival. The mortality rate of CPV can reach as high as 91% without treatment. However, the mortality rate can drop as low as 4% with proper care.

There are no home remedies to treat the virus, so you must always seek professional assistance to help manage the symptoms of your dog’s illness. Generally, the hospital will want to keep your dog for between five and seven days while they tackle the worst of the symptoms. When they release your dog, they will give you advice on how to help them through recovery, such as sticking to a bland food diet.

Can Dogs Transmit Parvovirus to Humans?

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Humans can catch Parvovirus, but the disease is species-specific, so you won’t catch it from your dog. Similarly, dogs cannot contract Parvo from humans; only contact with a strain from the same species is contagious. That being said, you can act as a carrier for CPV if you come into contact with an infected dog.

In addition, there can be some crossovers between species. While cats have their own version of Parvo called feline panleukopenia, they can also be susceptible to Canine Parvo. In most cases, feline symptoms of CPV will be less severe than they present in dogs, but one strain is particularly detrimental to a cat’s health.

How Can You Prevent Your Dog from Contracting Parvovirus?

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While Parvovirus is not an airborne disease, it is incredibly contagious and spreads easily on various environmental surfaces, such as kennels, hands, clothing, fur, and paws. The virus can survive outdoors for years and is resistant to many common disinfectants. Because the virus is so difficult to kill, vaccination is the best defense for your dog.

Puppies will receive their Parvo vaccinations at 6, 8, and 12 weeks. While they may retain some antibodies from their mother, they will not be sufficient to protect them against the virus without these essential boosters. During this stage of their life, puppies need protection from other dogs and any environments that could potentially be contaminated.

When your puppy sniffs or licks infected feces, they are exposed to Parvovirus. And many other objects pose a risk through indirect transmission. These include food dishes, water bowls, collars, leashes, and the hands and clothing of those who have come into contact with infected dogs. For these reasons, you must use a parvo disinfectant on shared or second-hand items.

If you know your dog is vulnerable - under four months old or over six- you need to take adequate steps to protect them against potential exposure to the virus. Make sure they stay up to date with vaccines, keep their possessions clean and separate from other dogs, and keep an eye on them when you take them outside.

Donna Hobson
By Donna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.