What is Parvo?

Parvovirus is a viral disease in dogs It is an extremely dangerous virus to puppies and unvaccinated dogs.  This is because the virus is hard to kill, can live for a long time in the environment, and sheds in large quantities by infected dogs. The virus spreads through the shedding of cells, and it is highly infectious.  The growth of this virus takes place in rapidly dividing cells, such as those in the intestinal lining, bone marrow, and heart. The virus attacks and kills these cells, causing a myriad of symptoms and suppression of white blood cells.

This disease is very serious and there is a low survival rate.  Usually, adult dogs will not contract this virus unless they never received their puppy vaccinations, have not received a booster vaccination as an adult, or have a significantly lowered immune system. Parvovirus can live outdoors for months, if not years, and is resistant to many disinfectants.  However, it is susceptible to diluted bleach and some specialized cleaners commonly used in veterinary hospitals.  

Can Be Deadly

This is a very serious disease. Some puppies infected with parvovirus will die despite prompt and adequate treatment. On average, 40% -75 % of puppies treated for parvovirus will live depending on how quickly they get treatment. Without treatment, 90% or more of infected puppies will die. If you have a puppy, do not take any chances. Have your puppy examined by your vet if diarrhea is a factor in any disease. It is better to be safe than to be sorry.

If your dog becomes infected with parvovirus and makes it through the first three to four days, there is a higher chance that the puppy will recover. It is vital, however, that a puppy receives supportive therapy immediately if Parvo symptoms arise. It must be stressed that this is not a bad case of doggy flu; without medical treatment, most puppies will die.

Parvovirus Vaccine

The parvovirus vaccine is imperative for puppies. When your dog becomes an adult, a booster is necessary. Puppies should receive a total of three vaccinations for parvo.  One vaccine at 8 weeks, one at 12 weeks, and one at 16 weeks of age. Seven to ten days after the last booster, your pup should have significant antibodies and can go anywhere you want to take them. When your dog turns one year of age, it should receive another booster.  After that point, your dog needs a booster vaccine every year or a titer to ensure that it still has the necessary antibodies.  


Since Parvo attacks the lining of the digestive system, it causes dogs and puppies to not be able to absorb nutrients or liquids. Puppies are especially prone to it because they have immature immune systems. When dogs and puppies contract Parvo, they often have a high fever, significant diarrhea (often bloody), vomiting, anorexia, and lethargy. Often within 24 – 48 hours of the first presentation of symptoms, they stop eating and drinking.  Additionally, they will have a bloody, foul-smelling, liquid-like stool. In some cases, dehydration, shock, and death can follow. 

Parvovirus Transmission

Generally, it takes 7-10 days from the time of exposure for dogs and puppies to start showing symptoms and to test positive for Parvo. Parvo is highly contagious to unprotected dogs. Parvo spreads through a dog’s exposure to contaminated feces. However, being able to see the contaminated feces is not a necessity for the virus to be present.

The Parvo virus can live in the ground, on the ground, on any surface, on peoples’ hands, or on the clothing of people that have been around a contaminated animal or location. Dogs could also carry it on their fur or paws if they have laid, rolled, or stepped in contaminated fecal material. Parvo can live for many months outside of the animal. Adult dogs may be infected carriers without showing any clinical signs. Dogs with the typical diarrhea that parvovirus causes shed the virus even if they are not showing any other symptoms. 

Treatment of the Parvovirus

Without intense treatment, Parvo infection will cause death due to dehydration, blood loss, and the loss of their intestinal walls. Treatment generally consists of trying to regulate electrolyte levels, keeping the fever down, providing proteins, and making sure the pup stays hydrated.  Treatment includes IV or subcutaneous fluids and intense antibiotics. There is no “cure” as this is a virus and not a bacterial infection. In turn, treatment is based on the symptoms.

Breed Susceptibility

Although the reason is unknown, some breeds are more susceptible to parvo than others.  These breeds include German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, English Springer Spaniels, Bull Terriers, Pit Bulls, Huskies, Malamutes, Labradors, and American Staffordshire Terriers.  These breeds seem to succumb to Parvo faster and with less chance of recovery than other breeds.

Preventing the Spread

Remember that Parvo can be transferrable and/or live on shoes, clothes, hands, car tires, the ground, household items, and more. Basically, parvo can live on any hard or porous surface.

The surest way to avoid Parvo infection in your dog is to adhere to the recommended vaccination protocol noted above. The common “puppy shot” includes the parvo immunization.  This vaccine provides protection against several potentially fatal canine diseases all at the same time. If your pet becomes infected, please keep in mind that dogs with Parvo shed the virus in their feces and are extremely contagious to other dogs.

Disinfecting After Parvo

Follow these recommendations to help prevent the spread of this disease. Keep the infected dog isolated from all other dogs for one month after full recovery. 

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