Skip to Main Content
Ask About Financing


Dog Parvovirus: Symptoms & Prevention

Parvovirus is a highly contagious, potentially deadly virus that's spread through contact with contaminated items such as bowls or toys. It can afflict both dogs and puppies. Here, our Elk Grove vets discuss symptoms, treatment and prevention of parvovirus in dogs. 

What is Parvovirus in Dogs?

Also called canine parvovirus or "parvo", canine parvovirus is one of the most serious viruses that can afflict a dog. Fortunately for our dogs (and for us), there's a vaccine to prevent the condition. 

This infectious DNA virus was discovered in the 1960s and has quickly evolved to become a serious health threat to canines everywhere - mainly because the virus is so highly contagious. 

Parvovirus is also difficult to kill and can survive for a long time in the environment. Dogs that have been infected also shed the virus in large quantities. While the highly effective parvovirus vaccine can prevent this virus, the disease is unfortunately still very prevalent, especially in puppies and adolescent dogs. 

How do Dogs Get Parvovirus?

Though the extremely contagious parvovirus is not airborne, it does spread quickly and efficiently and can be found on many surfaces. 

It's able to survive outdoors for months, if not for an entire year and is resistant to many disinfectants. That said, some diluted bleach and specialized cleaners typically used in animal hospitals may be used to clean the virus from surfaces. 

While parvovirus can be spread via contact with contaminated feces, solid feces do not necessarily have to be visible for the virus to be present. If a dog interacts with infected fecal material and carries the virus on their paws or fur, they may contract it. Parvovirus can also survive on people's clothing or hands, as well as on surfaces and in kennels. 

Unvaccinated dogs of any age can be infected. However, parvovirus often afflicts puppies between the ages of 6 weeks to 6 months. 

Why Are Puppies Susceptible to Parvo?

If the mother dog is fully vaccinated against parvo, her puppies will inherit antibodies from her, which will protect them against the virus for the first 6 weeks of their lives. 

That said, puppies usually start to wean at about 6 weeks of age, and it's around this time that their immune systems weaken and young pups become susceptible to the disease. 

That's why our Elk Grove veterinarians urge pup parents to begin vaccinated their pooch against parvo at 6 weeks of age, as around this time the mother's antibodies will no longer be present to protect the puppy

However, your young dog won't be fully protected against the parvo until they've received all 3 parvo vaccinations. During the gap between weaning and full vaccination, puppies are most likely to catch parvo during this timeframe.

What are the Symptoms of Parvovirus in a Dog or Puppy?

If parvovirus has infected your dog, symptoms will begin to appear within 3 to 7 days. 

If your puppy is infected,  you may notice him acting lethargic. He may also have a reduced appetite in the early stages of the illness. If parvovirus is causing your dog's symptoms, they may also start to display these signs:

  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Belly pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

As the virus progresses, puppies become severely ill. Hypothermia may set in and their heart rate may rise due to the extent of infection and dehydration. They may also collapse. As the stages of the virus take effect, dogs begin to suffer from severe diarrhea and vomiting. 

What are the Stages of Parvovirus?

The stages of parvovirus mimic the stages of numerous viral infections. 

1. Infection 

A puppy or adult dog becomes exposed to an infected dog's feces, which carries viral particles. These particles can thrive in the environment (whether on a surface or on the ground), the mother dog, objects, clothing or even people that come into contact with the infected dog's fecal material. 

2. Incubation 

During the 3 to 7-day incubation period, an infected dog will not display symptoms but this is when the virus is attacking the body's most rapidly dividing cells. It will typically focus on the throat or tonsils and multiply. then invade the body's other systems. 

Once it enters the bloodstream, the virus gets into the bone marrow and cells that line the wall of the small intestines. 

When small puppies are infected with parvo, the heart may also be susceptible to damage including poor function, arrhythmias and inflammation. 

3. Illness 

The bone marrow becomes infected, the body's protective white blood cells decrease and the virus attacks the immune cells. 

This means the body's ability to protect itself is severely weakened and it will be more easy for the virus to invade the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, where the worst damage happens. 

The GI tract will no longer be able to absorb nutrients, prevent bacteria from migrating to the gut or prevent fluid loss into the stool when the virus attacks the lining of the small intestine. 

This can lead to severe health issues, including lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, severe dehydration, fever and potentially sepsis. 

While parvovirus in dogs is not always fatal, those that die typically due so from dehydration or shock, along with the damage caused by intestinal bacteria that produce septic toxins that enter the bloodstream. 

4. Recovery

Every dog will go through the recovery process differently depending on the severity of the disease and the damage it's done to their system. Your pooch may have a long recovery process ahead of them. 

Dogs that do recover from parvovirus infection are typically ill for 5 to 10 days after symptoms begin. Puppies recovering from parvovirus will need a nutritious diet to help heal their intestines. 

Your veterinarian will likely recommend a bland, easily digestible, nutritionally balanced prescription diet that will be gentle on your young dog's recovering GI tract. 

How is Parvovirus Diagnosed in Dogs?

Any puppy or unvaccinated dog that has been vomiting or showing signs of diarrhea should be tested for parvovirus. This relatively quick and inexpensive test can be performed by testing the feces or taking a swab of the rectum. 

Your vet at Bruceville Pet Hospital will also likely recommend blood work, since some dogs may be suffering from anemia due to blood loss in the intestines or have extremely low blood sugar levels from the combination of lack or sugar reserves and serious illness in young patients. 

Since vomiting and diarrhea can potentially be attributed to vomiting and diarrhea, additional tests such as X-rays, additional fecal samples or ultrasounds may be required.

How is Parvovirus Treated?

Dogs with parvovirus will need to be closely monitored. Ideally, they should be hospitalized where they can receive the care and attention they require.

That said, many owners do not have the financial resources to pay for multiple days of hospitalization.

Outpatient therapy may be successful as long as the owner can administer medications and follow a rigorous schedule of daily check-ins with their vet to ensure their pooch is responding to treatment. 

The cornerstones of treatment for parvo are IV fluids and electrolyte management. Antibiotics can be prescribed to prevent secondary infections, along with medications to help relieve vomiting, pain and nausea. 

Dewormer should be provided since many puppies will also have intestinal parasites that can make diarrhea symptoms worse. IV supplementation will be needed if sugar levels are low. 

Nutrition is also an essential component of treatment. If a patient is not eating enough on their own, they may require a temporary feeding tube to be placed in their nose. It will go directly into the stomach or esophagus to ensure your dog gets the required nutrients. 

A plasma transfusion may be needed for severe cases to help replenish blood proteins and loss of clotting factors. 

What is the Prognosis for a Dog with Parvo?

While it's possible for a dog to survive parvo, prognosis will depend on size, age and how sick the dog is when owners first take them in to see their vet. This virus is very aggressive and has a very high mortality rate. Without early treatment, most patients will not survive.

Ensuring medical treatment is administered at the first onset of illness will increase your dog's likelihood of recovery. 

How Can I Prevent My Dog from Contracting Parvovirus?

There are three measures dog owners can take to prevent infection. These include:

  • Vaccination
  • Avoid high-risk areas (pet stores, dog parks, etc.) while dogs are unvaccinated or still a puppy 
  • Cleaning with appropriate disinfectants

Can a Dog Get Parvovirus Twice?

Dogs that have been infected with this virus and recovered are unlikely to contract parvovirus again. The immunity from the virus lasts for several years, protecting your dog from reinfection. 

While it's theoretically possible for a dog to get parvo twice, but such risks are very slim.

Pet Vaccinations Near Elk Grove 

Parvovirus is one of the core dog vaccines your dog will require, as it will protect them against infection. 

At Bruceville Pet Hospital, pet vaccinations typically start when a puppy is 6 to 8 weeks old. They should receive a booster every 2 to 4 weeks until they reach 16 to 20 weeks of ave. An annual booster should be administered the following year and generally every 3 years after that. 

Proper disinfection will also play an important role in preventing this highly contagious virus. If your dog is being treated with parvovirus, he should be isolated during active treatment and for up to 2 weeks after recovery. 

Most common household cleaners cannot kill parvovirus. Properly diluted bleach (1:30 ratio with water) is effective if left to soak for at least 10 minutes after all organic material (food, feces, etc.) has been removed. The virus can survive for months or years in an environment that does not receive direct sun exposure and is not properly disinfected. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your puppy or dog showing any signs or symptoms of illness or parvovirus? Contact our Elk Grove veterinarians immediately. Your pooch's life may depend on it. 

New Patients Welcome at Bruceville Pet Hospital

We are happily accepting new patients at our conveniently located Elk Grove veterinary clinic! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of companion animals. Reach out today to book your pet's first appointment.

Contact Us

Book Online (916) 690-8914