Canine parvovirus is a relatively common gastrointestinal disease that can strike fear in the heart of a new puppy owner if they notice foul-smelling, bloody diarrhea, or copious vomit piles. This illness can affect dogs of any age, but most cases are seen in puppies ages 6 weeks to 6 months. Unvaccinated adult dogs are also at risk, as well as the rare dogs who fail to develop immunity, despite proper vaccination boosters. If you’re welcoming a new puppy or a stray dog into your home, take the time to brush up on your parvovirus knowledge, to keep your new best friend safe and healthy.

What is canine parvovirus?

Canine parvovirus, commonly referred to as parvo, is a somewhat frequently encountered disease in young puppies or unvaccinated adult dogs. Parvo attacks the intestinal lining and bone marrow, and can rapidly lead to a fatal outcome without prompt veterinary treatment. Fortunately, this disease is largely preventable with proper vaccination, hygiene, and common sense. For example, avoid taking your 8-week-old puppy to pet stores or dog-friendly restaurants, letting them run around outside where animals have defecated, and interacting with strange dogs of unknown vaccination status. 

How is canine parvovirus transmitted?

Parvovirus is highly contagious, and can be transmitted through direct or indirect contact. Since a large amount of the virus resides in infected dogs’ stool, your healthy dog may contract the disease by sniffing another dog’s hind end, or their stool. If you’ve been around a sick dog, you can carry the virus home on your skin, clothing, or shoes. Puppies and dogs in animal shelters or boarding facilities with parvo outbreaks are at increased risk, because of the close quarters, and the possibility of poor disinfecting protocols. The virus can linger on food and water dishes, collars and leashes, kennel surfaces, and bedding, and can easily pass from dog to dog without proper sterilization with bleach.

In addition to being incredibly contagious, parvovirus is a hardy pathogen that is difficult to kill. Resistant to heat, sun, cold, and rain, the virus can live in the soil for more than a year, and survive on indoor surfaces for up to two months. 

What are the signs of canine parvovirus?

While early stage parvo signs can be vague, and pet owners may think their puppy simply ate something they shouldn’t, more advanced disease can be easy to identify. Since this disease attacks the gastrointestinal tract, most signs link to this system, and can include:

  • Lethargy
  • Inappetence
  • Vomiting
  • Severe, often bloody, diarrhea
  • Fever or hypothermia

Without prompt veterinary care, most deaths occur 48 to 72 hours after the first clinical signs. Puppies, in particular, can rapidly become dehydrated or experience septic shock as their intestinal tract and immune system are attacked. Always immediately contact your family veterinarian or our team if your puppy is vomiting or has diarrhea.

How is canine parvovirus diagnosed and treated?

Although the parvo diarrhea odor is often a clear-cut disease indicator, an in-house snap test provides speedy results, allowing for prompt treatment and the best prognosis. Depending on the severity of clinical signs and your puppy’s blood work, we will likely recommend hospitalization with an intravenous (IV) catheter for fluid therapy and IV medications, and may also place a feeding tube to ensure your puppy receives adequate nutrition. Puppies who receive round-the-clock nursing care with continual treatment protocol updates have the best chance at fighting off this disease.

How can I protect my dog from canine parvovirus?

Parvovirus can be a scary diagnosis; however, you can keep your best friend safe and healthy in a variety of ways. Follow these tips to protect your furry pal:

  • Ensure your puppy or adult dog receives parvovirus vaccinations on the appropriate schedule, and avoid missing boosters. 
  • Keep your new puppy away from dogs of unknown vaccination status, and avoid areas such as dog parks until your puppy is fully vaccinated. 
  • Allow your puppy to socialize and interact with other canines who have received the appropriate vaccinations, such as those at puppy class, or family dogs. 
  • Always pick up after your puppy, to prevent the spread of infectious disease and intestinal parasites. 
  • Keep your pup from sniffing stool piles when out walking.
  • Wash your hands, and change your clothing, before interacting with your pooch after you’ve been around a sick dog. 
  • Keep handy our Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care phone number—(919) 781-5145—in case your pup becomes ill overnight, or on a weekend or holiday.

If you notice your pup showing any parvovirus signs, don’t wait until your family veterinarian is back in the office. Parvo is an emergency that requires prompt treatment for the best outcome and full recovery. Our team is here for you and your pet 24/7—give us a call