Unveiling Parvovirus: Protect and Treat Your Canine Companion


Dr Charlotte

11 Oct 2023

📖 Key Takeaways

  • Parvovirus is a highly contagious virus which primarily affects puppies and unvaccinated young dogs

  • It can be spread via faeces but also by contaminated objects like dog bowls or even shoes

  • Symptoms are usually gastrointestinal (vomiting and diarrhoea) and can progress to collapse, shock and even death

  • Treatment includes of hospitalisation and supportive care - prevention is key

  • Early treatment is important, as is managing spread through both vaccination and appropriate disinfection of affected areas

  • Fetch will cover the cost of a parvovirus infection, as long as your pet was fully vaccinated at the time of infection, and the infection was not pre-existing

Parvovirus in dogs, the ins and outs of this deadly virus

Parvovirus, known as Parvo, is a very serious infection that can be fatal to puppies. Even with treatment, survival is not guaranteed, with unvaccinated puppies most at risk.

💡 Vaccination against parvovirus is essential for dogs, especially puppies, and strictly following the vaccination schedule recommended by your vet will ensure appropriate protection.

What is Parvo exactly?

Parvovirus in dogs, also known as canine parvovirus (CPV) or ‘Parvo’ , is a highly contagious and potentially deadly viral disease that causes severe diarrhoea. Parvo mainly affects puppies and unvaccinated or incorrectly vaccinated young adult dogs. It can also affect dogs with weakened immune systems. CPV belongs to the Parvoviridae family of viruses and comes in two main forms: CPV-2a and CPV-2b. These forms are similar in their effects on dogs, with CPV-2b being slightly more common in recent years.

How do dogs get infected with Parvo?

Parvovirus is very contagious, meaning it gets transmitted and spreads easily. Dogs get infected by Parvo through direct and indirect contact with infected dogs or their faeces. It can be transmitted through contaminated objects like food bowls, toys, clothing, people’s shoes and clothes and the environment. It’s a very hardy virus! It can survive outside for months so dogs can pick it up anywhere a dog goes.

💡Parvoviruses can affect dog and cats but the parvo virus that infects dogs isn’t the same as the strain that infects cats, so dogs and cats don’t transmit the disease to each other. People cannot get sick from their dog’s parvovirus.

What does Parvo do to my dog?

Parvovirus targets rapidly dividing cells, mainly white blood cells, intestinal cells and in young puppies, cardiac cells. It multiplies and eventually kills a certain type of white blood cells (called lymphocytes), weakening the dog’s immune system. It will shortly move to its main target, the cells that line the inside of the small intestine. There it’ll kill the young intestinal cells that normally replace the old ones. The lining of the small intestines gets replaced constantly, so when a dog has Parvo, that doesn’t happen anymore and the intestinal barrier no longer functions. This means things that should be in the intestines can can end up in the bloodstream, and vice versa. Bacteria may migrate to the blood stream making the infection worse, and increasing amounts of liquid, electrolytes and proteins are lost in the faeces, leading to further dehydration and nutrient loss. If the heart is still in growing, especially in young puppies, parvovirus can infect the cardiac muscle cells and damage them causing cardiac dysfunction.

A dog infected with parvo will typically have severe vomiting and severe diarrhoea (often bloody), lethargy, loss of appetite, and fever. When dogs don’t eat or drink much and have severe diarrhoea, they can end up with dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. In severe cases, they can suffer septic shock, caused by toxins from bacteria entering the blood stream - this can lead to death.

High Risk Groups:

Puppies between 6 weeks and 6 months of age are at the highest risk of contracting parvovirus because their immune systems are not fully developed. Unvaccinated adult dogs and dogs with weakened immune systems are also at risk.

How do vets diagnose Parvo?

Your vet can diagnose parvovirus through a combination of clinical signs, blood tests, and faecal tests. Your vet will likely need a fresh sample of diarrhoea to run their test on. Some tests can be done at the vet clinic but sometimes if those tests aren’t clear, your vet might want to send a faecal sample to a lab to get a more sensitive test done.

Fetch will cover the cost of a parvovirus infection, as long as your pet was fully vaccinated at the time of infection, and the infection was not pre-existing

How is Parvo treated?

If left untreated, a puppy with Parvo has a very high risk of dying. So puppies with diarrhoea absolutely need to see the vet quickly!

There is no specific antiviral medication to cure parvovirus. Treatment is supportive, which means the goal is to help them to survive by giving them what they need to fight the infection. Unfortunately the treatment cannot kill the virus. Dogs with Parvo will be isolated to stop spreading the virus to other dogs in the vet hospital. They’re likely to receive fluid therapy to offset dehydration, loss of electrolytes and proteins and to receive energy (glucose). Medications to control vomiting and diarrhoea, and antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections are often used. As most dogs won’t eat on their own, your vet can sometimes place a nasogastric or nasooesophageal tube (a small tube that goes from the nose to the stomach or to the oesophagus) to provide food and help support gut recovery and maintain body weight. Recovery can take several days or even weeks.

If diagnosis and treatment start early - puppies have a much better chance of survival (up to around 70-90%).

How do I protect my puppy against Parvovirus?

The most effective way to prevent parvovirus is through vaccination.

Puppies typically get a series of vaccinations starting at around 6-8 weeks of age, usually with 2 boosters given at intervals of 3-4 weeks. Sometimes puppies get vaccinated even earlier if the risk of catching Parvo is high.

It’s really important to follow the vaccination schedule recommended by your vet. One vaccine for a puppy isn’t enough! No-one likes to get jabbed but when it can save your puppy from this deadly disease, it’s worth it. If in doubt, always check with your breeder and your vet.

Adult dogs also should receive regular vaccinations as well. Your vet will recommend the appropriate vaccination schedule - current vaccines are effective against CPV-2 as well as the other CPV2a and CPV-2b strains.

Maintaining good hygiene and avoiding contact with infected dogs or contaminated environments can also help reduce the risk of infection. If your dog has Parvo, be mindful of not spreading the virus around. Remember the virus can travel on your shoes and on your clothes. If a friend of yours has a dog with Parvo and you have a puppy, just don’t visit them for a little while!

Vet hospitals are very careful and have strict protocols in place to avoid Parvo transmission between dogs in their clinic. They will barrier nurse the dog, and have cleaning and disinfecting protocols for contaminated areas with bleach solution because it can be such a risk to other puppies.

💡 It's crucial to contact your veterinarian if you suspect your dog may have parvovirus, as early diagnosis and treatment are key to improving the chances of survival.