What Is Parvovirus?  

The canine parvovirus (CPV) infection is a highly contagious viral illness that affects dogs. The virus manifests itself in two different forms.

The more common form is the intestinal form, which is characterized by vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and lack of appetite (anorexia). The less common form is the cardiac form, which attacks the heart muscles of fetuses and very young puppies, often leading to death.

The majority of cases are seen in puppies that are between six weeks and six months old. The incidence of canine parvovirus infections has been reduced radically by early vaccination in young puppies.

What Are The Signs Of Parvo?

The major symptoms associated with the intestinal form of a canine parvovirus infection include:  

  • Lethargy  
  • Vomiting
  • Anorexia  
  • Bloody diarrhoea  
  • Dehydration  
  • Collapse

The intestinal form of CPV affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, and an affected animal will quickly become dehydrated and weak from lack of protein and fluid absorption. The wet tissue of the mouth and eyes may become noticeably red, and the heart may beat too rapidly.

When your veterinarian examines your dog’s abdominal area, your dog may respond due to pain or discomfort. Dogs who have contracted CPV may also have a low body temperature (hypothermia), rather than a fever.  

How Is Parvo Spread?

Most cases of CPV infections are caused by a genetic alteration of the original canine parvovirus: the canine parvovirus type 2b. There are a variety of risk factors that can increase a dog’s susceptibility to the disease, but mainly, parvovirus is spread either by direct contact with an infected dog, or indirectly, by the fecal-oral route.

Heavy concentrations of the virus are found in an infected dog’s stool, so when a healthy dog sniffs an infected dog’s stool (or anus), that dog can contract the disease. The virus can also be brought into a dog’s environment by way of shoes that have come into contact with infected feces.  

There is evidence that the virus can live in ground soil for up to a year. It is resistant to most cleaning products, or even to weather changes. If you need to clean up a parvovirus-contaminated area, first pick up and safely dispose of all organic material (vomit, feces, etc.), and then thoroughly wash the area with a concentrated household bleach solution, one of the few disinfectants known to kill the virus. If a dog has had parvovirus in a home, it is best not to have a puppy in that home for several years.  

Due to the density of dogs, breeding kennels and dog shelters that hold a large number of unvaccinated puppies are particularly hazardous places. This is why your veterinarian will want to re-vaccinate your puppy even if records from the breeder indicate it has had a vaccination. Shelters and rescue groups will often place puppies into foster homes until they are ready for adoption to minimize risk of spreading parvovirus.  

For unknown reasons, certain dog breeds, such as Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, English Springer Spaniels and Alaskan sled dogs, are particularly vulnerable to the disease. Your veterinarian may recommend an extended vaccination protocol in these breeds.  

Diagnosis Of Parvovirus In Dogs    

CPV is diagnosed with a physical examination, biochemical tests, and a special test for the parvovirus in feces. A urine analysis, abdominal radiographs and abdominal ultrasounds may also be performed. Low white blood cell levels and significant dehydration are indicative of CPV infection, especially in association with bloody stools.    

Biochemical and urine analysis may reveal elevated liver enzymes, lymphopenia, and electrolyte imbalances. Abdominal radiograph imaging may show intestinal obstruction, while an abdominal ultrasound may reveal enlarged lymph nodes in the groin, or throughout the body, and fluid-filled intestinal segments.    

You will need to give your vet a thorough history of your pet’s health, vaccination history, recent activities and onset of symptoms. It is important to retrace your dog’s steps for both possible exposure and potential contamination. 

What Is The Treatment For A Dog With Parvo?

A diagnosis of parvo can be made via an instant test available at most veterinarians.    

There is no cure for parvoviral gastroenteritis as it is caused by a virus. Veterinarians can only the treat the symptoms and try and keep your dog or puppy alive by preventing dehydration and loss of proteins.    

Puppies infected with parvo need to be treated intensively and may spend a week or more at the vet clinic. Fluid and electrolyte treatment is essential and this is often combined with anti-biotics. Infected puppies vomit excessively and will need to be treated with anti-emetics. These puppies are unable to absorb any nutrients from what little food they may keep down, hence it is vital to monitor their glucose, albumin (blood protein) and potassium levels and correct these as necessary.    

Some puppies will require plasma transfusions to treat the lower protein levels in their blood. Affected animals are normally very nauseous and not inclined to eat on their own. Some puppies will accept force feeding while other require the placement of a feeding tube. Good nursing care is essential for puppies affected by parvo. 

Living And Management  

Even after your dog has recovered from a CPV infection, they will still have a weakened immune system for some time, and will be susceptible to other illnesses. A high-quality, easily digestible diet is best for your dog during recovery.  

Your dog will also continue to be a contagion risk to other dogs for at least two months after the initial recovery. You will need to isolate your dog from other dogs for a period of time, and you may want to tell neighbors who have dogs that they will need to have their own pets tested.  

Wash all of the objects your dog uses (e.g., dishes, dog crate, dog kennel, dog toys). Machine washing is best—anything that can go into the dishwasher or washing machine and dryer should. Everything else should be deep-cleaned using a concentrated bleach solution as recommended by your veterinarian.  

Recovery comes with long-term immunity against the parvovirus, but it is no guarantee that your pet will not be infected with the virus again. 

How Do You Prevent Your Dog/Puppy From Contracting Parvo?

The only way to prevent parvo is through vaccination. Puppies should receive their first vaccine at 6 weeks of age with two more vaccinations thereafter at 9 and 12 weeks of age. Your veterinarian will assess your puppy on it’s first visit and will provide you with the dates for follow-up vaccine.

Dogs are usually vaccinated on an annual basis thereafter. The parvovirus is included in this combination vaccine.

Should you have a puppy that has parvo, care should be taken when introducing new puppies into your environment as the parvovirus persists in the environment for long periods of time.

Dilute bleach is one of the readily available disinfectants that kills parvovirus but may take up to ten minutes to reach full effectiveness.


Reference: Bayer HealthCare, Ettinger.

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