Parvo in Dogs: Causes, Early Signs, Prevention and Treatment

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Learn how to recognize the signs of parvo in puppies and dogs.

A vet giving a yellow Labrador retriever puppy a parvovirus vaccine.

If you’ve ever owned a puppy, you've probably been warned about a deadly disease called canine parvovirus, or “parvo” for short. Learn more about parvo, including how your dog or puppy can get it, the early warning signs, as well as how to prevent and treat it.

What Is Parvo in Dogs?

Parvo is a highly contagious virus that can affect unvaccinated dogs of any age, but it is especially worrisome in puppies. Parvo is preventable with vaccination, but being aware of the risks of the virus can help keep your dog protected.

How Do Dogs Get Parvo?

Your dog can contract parvo in several ways:

  • Eating, sniffing or licking the feces of an infected dog
  • Drinking from contaminated water bowls
  • Coming in contact with contaminated leashes or collars, or the clothing, shoes or hands of people who have handled infected dogs

Puppies are at especially high risk for catching parvo because their immune systems are not yet fully developed. The disease is most severe in young, growing puppies that harbor intestinal parasites. This is why it is extremely important to vaccinate your puppy against parvovirus as soon as possible.

What Are the Early Signs of Parvo?

Parvo symptoms can worsen quickly, and the disease can be fatal. If your dog shows any of the following early signs of parvo, see your veterinarian immediately:

  • Profuse, bloody diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weakness
  • Collapse
A lethargic black Labrador retriever lying on a vet table being examined, showing signs of parvo.

Can a Dog with Parvo Survive?

Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for parvo and the virus can be fatal, especially in puppies. However, if diagnosed, your dog will receive intensive supportive therapy and nursing care while fighting the virus, and will be kept separated from other dogs to avoid the spread of infection. Treatment for parvo often includes:

  • Hospitalization and close monitoring by the veterinary team
  • Intravenous fluid therapy to rehydrate your dog and correct electrolyte imbalances
  • Antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections and prevent sepsis
  • Analgesic medications to control pain
  • Anti-nausea medications to manage vomiting and improve appetite
  • Nutritional support, including a feeding tube, until your dog is able to eat independently

How Can I Prevent Parvo in My Dog?

Fortunately, you can help protect your dog from parvo in several ways:

Get Your Puppy Vaccinated

The parvovirus vaccine is highly effective, and it is considered a core vaccine strongly recommended for all puppies. Your puppy will usually receive the parvovirus vaccine starting at around eight weeks of age, and will continue to receive it until 16-20 weeks of age.

Adult dogs are less susceptible to parvo, but they can still get it if they are not vaccinated. Make sure to follow your veterinarian's recommendations to booster your dog's parvo vaccine regularly.

Spread the Word

You can also help prevent the spread of parvo by notifying your neighbors if your dog has been infected, so they will know to keep their dogs away from your yard. And if your puppy is recovering and seems better, it is important to keep them away from other dogs for another two weeks as they may still be shedding the virus.

Disinfect Your House and Yard

The virus can usually be killed using diluted bleach (½ cup of bleach per gallon of water) to clean color-fast surfaces like bowls, toys and hard floors. When laundering bedding, sheets, clothing or other contaminated fabrics, it’s recommended to use a detergent with bleach and a high heat cycle to thoroughly dry all fabric.

Outside, you may be able to dilute the amount of virus by hosing down patios and walkways and watering your lawn frequently. Keeping your dog away from areas in your yard that do not receive much sunlight is recommended as well because the virus can survive better in damp, shaded areas.

Make sure to take your dog to your veterinarian for regular wellness visits and vaccine boosters. The best way to help prevent your dog from getting parvo is through vaccines. Keeping your dog's vaccinations up to date will not only protect your dog, but can also help prevent the spread of parvo to other puppies in your area.

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Date of review June 2021

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