Almost every dog owner has heard about the horrors of parvovirus. When a new puppy has diarrhea or a vomiting episode, fear sets in. Most parvo cases are puppies between the ages of 6 weeks and 6 months. Some puppies cannot fight off the disease, despite prompt, aggressive treatment, while older dogs have stronger immune systems and stand a better chance of recovering. Yet, this horrifying disease is preventable in both puppies and adults, and a proper vaccination protocol ensures your dog’s chances of contracting parvo are slim. 

What is parvovirus in dogs?

Parvo is a highly contagious virus that affects dogs of all ages, but especially puppies with immature immune systems, and is a common cause of acute gastrointestinal illness in young dogs. Parvo also can come in a cardiac form that attacks the heart muscle of fetuses and very young puppies, often resulting in death. 

How is parvovirus transmitted to pets?

Parvo is mostly spread by direct contact with an infected dog, or by contact with infective feces. The hardy virus is also easily spread by fomite transmission, where infective fecal material that is carried along on clothes, shoes, or other objects, touches and infects another dog. 

The virus is shed in the feces of infected dogs four to five days after exposure, throughout the illness, and for about 10 days after recovery. Difficult to kill, parvo can linger in the soil for up to a year, and is resistant to most cleaning products and weather changes. To properly disinfect a contaminated area, remove all waste products (i.e., vomit or feces) and thoroughly wash the area with a concentrated bleach solution, one of the few disinfectants that kills the virus. We do not recommend that families who have had an infected dog get a puppy soon after a parvo diagnosis. 

How will I know if my dog has parvovirus?

Parvovirus acts quickly. Dogs may appear fine, and then rapidly succumb to illness over the course of a couple of days. Parvo signs are similar to many other gastrointestinal illnesses, and may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (possibly bloody)
  • Inappetence
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration

Severe bloody diarrhea with an unforgettable odor is often the classic parvo sign, but if your dog shows any of these signs, call us immediately. Parvo may not be the cause, but these signs can indicate other life-threatening illnesses, such as a foreign body obstruction.

How is parvovirus in dogs diagnosed and treated?

To reduce the possibility of contamination, parvo is often the first disease ruled out in a dog suffering from vomiting and diarrhea. Our team will take a complete history, including vaccinations and potential exposure to an infected dog, and perform a quick, highly accurate fecal test, which will give a positive or negative result in under 10 minutes and help determine whether your sick dog has parvo. 

Once we diagnose a dog with parvo, we will hospitalize her in our isolation ward. If we only suspect your dog has the virus, we will take extensive precautions to limit contamination, including wearing gloves, protective footwear, and full-body gowns, as we provide supportive care. 

Dogs with parvo suffer from fluid loss through vomiting and diarrhea, so we will place an IV catheter in your pet to administer fluids, antibiotics, anti-nausea medication, stomach protectants, and antacids. Depending on her illness severity, we may also give her a deworming medication, place a feeding tube, or medicate for abdominal pain. 

As parvo is a viral illness, nursing care is all we can provide to help your pet fight off the disease. We will tailor a treatment plan to your parvo-stricken pet’s specific needs that will include proper nutrition, antiemetic medication, and adequate hydration, as well as antibiotics to protect against secondary illness. Some pets bounce back quickly from illness, while others may require a week or more of hospitalization. 

How can I protect my dog from parvovirus?

An appropriate vaccination schedule is the best method of protecting your dog from parvo, because routine vaccinations ensure lifelong immunity. Avoiding places unvaccinated dogs frequent will also help prevent your dog from contracting the disease.

Dobermans, German shepherds, rottweilers, English springer spaniels, pit bulls, and Alaskan sled dogs appear more susceptible to contracting parvo. If your pet is one of these breeds, a proper vaccination schedule is critical for protection.

With proper vaccination and prompt removal of fecal material, your pup is as fully protected as possible from parvo. But, are you still worried about this disease? Schedule an appointment for your pooch’s wellness visit, booster her vaccination, and protect her from parvovirus.