How do dogs catch Parvo? Canine Parvovirus Signs, Symptoms and Treatments


Canine parvovirus, also known as “parvo” or simply CPV, is a potentially fatal contagious intestinal disease that affects puppies.

However, immunocompromised adolescent and adult dogs are also at risk of infection with the virus.

Without vaccination, canine parvovirus is approximately 90% fatal without treatment.

The breeds most at risk of being infected with parvo are Rottweilers, American Pit Bulls, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers and Doberman Pinschers.

But the good news is that parvovirus can be prevented with vaccination – here’s everything new dog owners need to know.

What is parvovirus?

Darin Collins, executive director of the American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Health Foundation, believes that unvaccinated dogs and young puppies are most at risk.

He said NewsweekCanine parvovirus, or parvo, is a highly contagious virus that affects all dogs, but puppies under four months old and unvaccinated dogs are most at risk of contracting this virus.

“Parvovirus affects a dog’s gastrointestinal tract and is transmitted through direct contact between dogs and through contact with contaminated feces, people, or environments.”

The virus can also contaminate kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes, meaning those exposed to puppies should maintain a hygienic diet.

Parvovirus is resistant to heat, cold and humidity and the virus can also remain in the environment for long periods of time.

Puppy with anything intravenously on the operating table in a veterinary clinic. Parvo is able to cause distress to dogs
Kozorog/Getty Images

Parvovirus signs and symptoms

There are several unpleasant signs that this debilitating virus has taken hold of your dog, but fortunately these are easily visible to those who know what to look for.

AKC’s Collins said: “Parvo is potentially very serious and can lead to life-threatening complications.

“If your puppy or dog exhibits any of the following signs or symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately.”

  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Fever or low body temperature
  • Vomiting
  • Severe bloody diarrhea

The highly contagious virus usually has a week-long incubation period before symptoms appear, but it can be as short as three days.

Canine parvovirus
A veterinarian injects a 5-in-1 vaccine into the back of an uncomfortable Lhasa Apso puppy at a local clinic. Parvovirus is preventable by vaccination.
Iryna Imago/Getty Images

Treatment of parvoviruses

With parvovirus prevention, and failing that, it is essential to act quickly.

The AKC said, “For unvaccinated dogs, early detection and aggressive treatment are integral to a dog’s survival from parvovirus.”

“Because the virus is so contagious, dogs suspected or known to have parvo should be immediately isolated. There are no specific medications available to kill the virus. Dogs with parvo should also be kept warm “, said the AKC.

Treatment involves managing the dog’s symptoms until his immune system can fight off the viral infection. This should be started immediately and consists of intensive care efforts to combat dehydration by replacing lost electrolytes, proteins and fluids, controlling vomiting and diarrhea and preventing secondary infections.

The AKC said pet owners should not delay because “dehydration can set in quickly with the rapid onset of vomiting and diarrhea.”

“The virus weakens a dog’s immune system, reducing its ability to fight off secondary infections, so vets will monitor and put an infected dog on antibiotics to fight these other infections.”

A mixed-breed puppy with parvovirus
A mixed breed puppy with parvovirus at the veterinary clinic.
Todorean Gabriel/Getty Images

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