Canine parvovirus (i.e., parvo) strikes fear into the hearts of pet owners and veterinary teams—for good reason. The disease is extremely common in unvaccinated puppies, highly contagious, causes a great deal of suffering in affected animals, and is often fatal. 

Fortunately, the disease is easily preventable with vaccination. Because your Walnut Creek Veterinary Hospital team cares about every puppy, we want new puppy owners to know the following information about this deadly, but preventable, disease.

What is parvovirus infection in dogs?

Parvovirus infection was discovered in the 1970s and is caused by a highly contagious virus, canine parvovirus type 2 (CPV-2). The virus is extremely hardy and can live indoors for up to two months, and for months and sometimes years in the outside environment, because it can resist heat, cold, dryness, and humidity. Unvaccinated dogs and puppies younger than 4 months of age are most at risk of contracting the virus. Since parvo can be contracted so easily—for example, trace amounts of infected feces that your puppy licks from their paws after walking in the grass can cause severe infection—every dog owner should be vigilant about protecting their pet.  

How does parvo infection occur in my puppy?

Parvovirus causes severe gastrointestinal (GI) illness in your puppy. The virus attacks the bone marrow, where white blood cells that fight infection are produced, which impedes the body’s ability to fight the infection. The virus also invades cells in the small intestine, causing severe vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration and eventual shock. In addition, the damage to the intestines can allow toxins to leak into the bloodstream and cause sepsis. 

What are parvo signs in puppies?

Parvo signs are usually obvious five to seven days after your pet becomes infected, and progress to hemorrhagic (i.e., bloody) diarrhea and vomiting 24 to 48 hours after the first disease signs. Initial signs are generally non-specific, and may include lethargy, depression, and lack of appetite, but the disease progresses rapidly, and sudden-onset high fever, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea will likely follow. Most pets can survive if they receive early, aggressive veterinary supportive care, but without treatment, many will die.

If your puppy or dog is showing any parvo signs, especially if they are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated, immediate veterinary care at Walnut Creek Veterinary Hospital is critical. 

How will my puppy be diagnosed with parvo?

We will do a comprehensive physical exam, and may recommend a fecal test, which can be completed in our hospital in less than 15 minutes, to confirm a parvo diagnosis. 

What are the treatment options for dogs with parvo?

Treatment options include supportive care and management, and will vary, depending on the level of your dog’s illness. However, some treatments are almost always necessary, including:

  • Hospitalization — To provide intravenous fluid therapy to replace the large amounts of fluid lost through vomiting and diarrhea
  • Aggressive intravenous medical therapy —  To support your puppy’s system in fighting off infection
  • Other medications — Anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea medication may help 
  • Blood transfusion — To replace the white blood cells lost when the virus attacked your pup’s bone marrow 

How can I prevent parvo in my dog?

If parvo is caught early and aggressive therapy initiated, dogs can be treated successfully, but recovery can take a long time, and be costly. Therefore, disease prevention is vital.

The parvo vaccine is extremely effective, and is considered a core (i.e., critical) vaccine for puppies. Parvo vaccine is typically combined with canine adenovirus, distemper, and parainfluenza vaccines, and administered every three to four weeks from age 6 to 16 weeks, followed by boosters one year later, and then at one- or three-year intervals. Our veterinarian will recommend a vaccine schedule based on your dog’s lifestyle and overall health. 

Because the virus survives so well outside the body, supplies such as bowls, toys, blankets, crates, beds, and leashes can be easily contaminated. The virus is resistant to most household cleaning products, except bleach, and indoor items should  be cleaned with a 1:30 bleach:water solution.

Outdoor environments, such as dog parks and your yard, can also be contaminated but cannot be disinfected, so unvaccinated puppies and incompletely vaccinated dogs should not be allowed in these areas until they are fully protected. Never allow them to investigate feces, and pick up any feces in your yard immediately. If your dog shows signs such as vomiting or diarrhea, they must be isolated so that they don’t shed the virus into the environment and put other dogs at risk. 

Parvo is a frightening disease that can be hard to fight, and can be fatal, so ensure you vaccinate your puppy and provide regular preventive care. Make an appointment with the Walnut Creek Veterinary Hospital team as soon as you bring your new puppy home, to ensure they are protected from infectious diseases, and especially canine parvovirus.