Parvovirus in Dogs: What You Need to Know

Known to be fatal, parvovirus is one of the most contagious viruses your dog can get. The virus is particularly prevalent in puppies aged between six weeks and six months and unvaccinated dogs. Dogs suffering from canine parvovirus are often said to have ‘parvo.’ Fortunately, it is preventable with proper vaccination. 

 Younger puppies and unvaccinated dogs are at higher risk. The virus affects a dog’s digestive tract while destroying body cells. The virus spreads through direct contact with feces and indirect contact with contaminated objects, people, environment, food, water, or even kennel surfaces. The virus transmits from one place to place by contaminated objects or by a dog’s feet and hair.

It’s not easy to kill a virus that stays for an extended period in the infected environment. The good news is that it is preventable through vaccination and proper care. 

In this article, we will look at everything you need to know about parvovirus in dogs and puppies.

What Is Parvovirus in Dogs and Puppies?

Parvovirus in dogs often referred to as “parvo,” is an infectious DNA virus. It is commonly found in young puppies and unvaccinated dogs. Parvovirus affects the dividing cells of a body, with the bone marrow and intestinal tract being the most affected. 

Despite being common in puppies and adolescent dogs, it can also affect adult dogs if they are not vaccinated. Fortunately, parvo disease is preventable with proper hygiene and vaccination. Avoid having strange dogs in your compound, and ensure your puppy interacts with dogs that are vaccinated. 

History of Parvovirus

Canine parvovirus type 2 “CPV” first emerged in Europe in the 1970s. The pathogen is suspected of having been derived from a cat-related virus, feline panleukopaenia (FPLV). By 1978, the virus had spread worldwide, causing millions of infections and thousands of deaths in dogs. The virus also affects wild canines like wolves and foxes. Due to DNA, parvovirus infection could be an extension of 2 or 3 genetic mutations in FPV.

In 1981, Baker Institute scientists created a vaccine for the disease and have continued to study its evolution to determine whether existing vaccines offer adequate protection from new strains of CPV.

What Causes Parvovirus?

Parvovirus is caused by direct or indirect contact with infected feces. Unlike common belief, it isn’t just present in solid feces but can also live on surfaces, people’s hands, or on contaminated clothing and surfaces. Pets could also carry the virus around on their paws if they contact infected fecal matter.

The virus can survive outdoors for months and is resistant to several disinfectants. If your dog is not updated with their vaccination and gets in direct contact with an infected dog, they may also get an infection. 

Symptoms of Parvovirus in Dogs

A dog infected with canine parvovirus will display symptoms within three to seven days of the infection. The sooner you can identify the early signs of the virus, the sooner you can get your dog to a vet. Some of the major symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low body temperature
  • Depression

These signs could be of parvovirus or any other serious illness. Visit your vet immediately for further diagnosis if you notice any of the above signs.   

What Are Stages of Parvo in Dogs?

Like most viral infections, parvo follows some particular stages.

1. Infection: This is the first stage. Young puppies or unvaccinated dogs may be exposed to infected feces or an infected dog. These viral particles can be anywhere around you. They can remain in the environment, on surfaces, the puppy’s mother, infected dogs, or any object that comes across any contact with the parvovirus. 

2. Incubation: The incubation period occurs between three and seven days. A dog infected with the virus will not immediately display any symptoms. During this period, the virus starts spreading in the body, dividing body cells. The virus hits bone marrow and small intestines, causing inflammation. The heart may also be affected in some puppies, causing poor heart function, arrhythmia, and heart muscle inflammation.

3. Illness: At this stage, the bone marrow is more affected. This infection leads to a drop in protective white blood cells, resulting in a weakened immune system. A weak immune system lowers the ability of your dog’s body to fight off infections allowing the virus to spread easily to the gastrointestinal tract. This affects the absorption of nutrients, preventing fluid loss into stool and bacteria moving into the gut. In effect, this leads to serious medical health issues such as vomiting, fever, dehydration, severe lethargy, and diarrhea. 

4. Recovery: Full recovery depends on the severity of the disease and the damage incurred. Dogs that are sick for five to 10 days after symptoms manifest have higher chances of recovery. As a pet owner, it is important to help your furry friend recover through adequate nutrition. Adopt an easily digestible diet that is gentle on the GI tract and nutritionally balanced.

Prevention of Parvovirus in Dogs

Despite being highly contagious, parvo is preventable. Here are some measures you can take to protect your furry friends from getting infected with parvovirus. 

Receive vaccination

Young puppies tend to have low immunity. The only immunity they have is derived from the milk they suckle from their mother. This, however, isn’t sufficient protection for puppies against parvo and hence requires vaccination. For adequate protection, puppies need to go through a full course of vaccinations. 

The vaccine is offered in three-shot series. The first dose is administered between six and eight weeks of a puppy’s life. The second dose is given at about 10 to 12 weeks and the third at about 14 to 16 weeks. In addition, after a year, another booster is administered, then once every three years after that. These vaccinations will ensure your dog has a strong body immune to fight back the parvovirus. However, if you miss any routine vaccination, your vet may advise you to start the vaccination all over again.

Proper hygiene

Parvovirus can live on surfaces for a long period, and getting rid of it can be difficult. Fortunately, parvovirus is not air-bone. It can only spread by direct contact with infected dogs, people, fecal matter, or objects. 

It is important to disinfect your home often to get rid of any viruses on your surfaces that you or your family may have tracked into the home. Instead of using regular soaps, which will not clear parvo, use a bleach solution. You can also use antiseptic solutions such as potassium peroxymonosulfate. 

Avoid interactions with unvaccinated dogs

Vaccinated dogs are resistant to parvovirus but, unfortunately, can still spread it. For example, if your dog is vaccinated but steps into a pile of feces contaminated with parvo, they will not get parvo. Still, if an unvaccinated dog licks the contaminated dog’s paws, they will get parvo.

Unvaccinated dogs and those with an incomplete vaccination course should not interact with unvaccinated dogs. It is advisable for pet owners with dogs still going through the vaccination or unvaccinated to avoid spaces where dogs with unknown vaccination histories congregate or pass through, such as dog parks, hiking trails, and pet-friendly restaurants. Unvaccinated puppies can interact with vaccinated dogs. Ensure your dog is vaccinated to help them better socialize with other dogs. 

Deworm your dog

Unvaccinated dogs and puppies have incredibly low immune systems, which makes them susceptible to parvo. Puppies and dogs with intestinal worms tend to have an even lower immune system putting them at higher risk of contracting parvo. It is advisable to deworm your dog as it prevents the contraction of parvo and other viruses. Work out with your vet to either go in for monthly heartworm medication or have a prescription for over-the-counter dewormers four times every year. 

Treating Parvovirus in Dogs

Other than observed clinical signs, diagnostic tests are also carried out to confirm that your dog is indeed infected with parvo before taking on any course of treatment. These tests are done on your dog’s feces and blood. These tests help rule out any secondary bacterial disease and help your vet administer the correct drug at that particular moment. 

While there is no cure for parvo in dogs, treatment involves supporting your dog so that its body can fight off the virus. This supportive care involves: 

  • Painkillers to ease abdominal pains
  • Blood transfusion to replace cells in the blood system if necessary
  • Antibiotic treatment to prevent any secondary infection
  • Intravenous fluids to hydrate your dog
  • Focusing on nutrition through tube feeding if necessary
  • Antiemetics to stop vomiting
  • Correcting electrolyte imbalances and low blood sugar

Canines are not good with oral medication, so attempting home treatment can be challenging. For this reason, hospitalization is recommendable for dogs infected with parvo. Usually, dogs suffering from parvo are hospitalized for three to five days. In some cases, however, they stay up to seven days, depending on the severity of the disease.

A dog hospitalized with parvo has a 90% chance of survival, while a non -hospitalized dog has less than a 10% chance of survival. Even after recovery, your dog can still shed parvo for about a month; therefore, it’s advisable to isolate your puppy from other pets and crowded places. After three to four weeks of completing treatment, your dog should receive the parvo vaccine. 

Home Treatment for Parvovirus in Dogs

Due to the assumed high costs of veterinary treatment, some dog owners opt for home treatment. There is no home remedy for parvo. If your dog isn’t severely ill, a dog owner may attempt outpatient treatment with the help of a vet. 

Here are some outpatient treatments you can administer to your pet:

Hydrate your dog

One of the main causes of death in canine parvo is dehydration. You can check their hydration level by lifting the skin on the shoulder blade. If the skin returns within seconds, the hydration levels are alright. However, if it takes some time or returns slowly, then your dog needs to hydrate as fast as possible. A solution of water and Pedialyte is a great way to help your dog recover lost electrolytes. If your dog is too weak to take fluids by themself, you may need IV fluids which you can get from your vet. 

Introduce baby food and supplements

Dogs suffering from parvovirus tend to suffer from nausea, so they may refuse to eat or drink. First, introduce a small portion of supplements that are high in vitamins and calories, such as:

  • Fish oil supplements to support the immune system
  • Probiotics – Ensure you get the ones specifically made for dogs.
  • Apple cider vinegar – These are anti-inflammatory and antibacterial supplements
  • Egg yolk – It is rich in protein and helps restore the lost weight 

When your dog can eat without vomiting, you can give them canned baby food instead of dry food. Make sure you add some water to the food before feeding your dog. If your dog cannot eat, try to dropper-feed them in small quantities at a time. With time they will gain back their strength.

Consider homeopathic remedies

Different homeopathic remedies could be of help. These include Parvoguard, Pet-Alive (Pavo-K), and Pain. These three products are available at pet stores or can be bought online. Before buying any product, you should first consult your vet. Especially if your dog is on antibiotics, the remedy might not go well with other drugs.

Other measures that you could adopt include using:

  • Karo syrup to raise your dog’s glucose level.
  • Antiemetics to stop vomiting
  • Antidiarrheals

It is important to note that although some dogs may recover from this protocol, it is much safer, and a positive outcome is more likely if your dog is hospitalized. 

Parvovirus in Puppies

Puppies aged between six weeks and six months are more susceptible to parvovirus. Puppies below six weeks old retain some of the immunity they derive from their mother antibodies through breastfeeding, assuming the mother was fully vaccinated against parvo. 

Puppies are more vulnerable to parvo than adult dogs. For this reason, puppies need extra care and precaution taken to prevent early deaths. The best precaution is vaccination. Puppies should get three–series shots of the parvovirus vaccine between age six and 14 weeks. Another parvovirus shot after a year should follow this. Your puppy also needs nutrients to constantly boost its immune system.

When getting a puppy from a rescue center or breeder, first ensure they have received at least their first vaccination against parvo. There should also be documentation to prove they have been vaccinated and confirmation of when the next jab is due. A step further would be to reach out to the said vet to ensure the jab was issued. 

In the canine family, some breeds are at risk of getting parvo. These breeds include German Shepherds, Rottweiler, Labrador Retrievers, English Springer Spaniels, American Staffordshire Terries, and Doberman Pinschers.

When to See a Vet for Parvovirus in Dogs

Parvo illness is a feared canine disease, and for a good reason. Not only is the virus extremely resilient, but it is also highly contagious and can take your dog’s life within days. If you notice your dog is experiencing loss of appetite, bloody diarrhea, and excessive vomiting, you need to visit your vet immediately. Parvo, however, isn’t a death sentence. With immediate veterinary attention and supportive treatment, puppies and adult dogs can complete recovery within a week. 

FAQs About Parvovirus in Dogs

How long are dogs with parvovirus contagious?

Well, within four to five days of exposure, puppies start shedding the virus. During this period, puppies and adult dogs are likely to be contagious. This is even before showing parvo signs. Canine parvovirus continues to shed virus even after clinical recovery of 10 days. 

As a pet parent, ensure your puppy is isolated for at least one month after recovery. Avoid places such as public parks, doggy care to curb the spread of the virus. Also, avoid socializing your dog with unvaccinated and partially vaccinated dogs. Until your dog completes their full dose, they should be isolated until they can mingle and socialize with other dogs again. 

Can dogs get parvovirus twice?

It is unlikely for a dog to get parvo again after recovery. However, they still need a complete round of vaccination.

How can you know if your puppy has parvo?

Parvovirus tends to have observable symptoms that can hint you of an infection. These symptoms include bloody diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, high fever, stress, and vomiting, among others. If your dog is experiencing the above symptoms, consult your vet for further medical diagnosis. 

How long should a dog with parvo be isolated?

A dog with parvo should be isolated from when the symptoms of parvo are first observed and upon confirmation of the virus by your vet. Recovery may take between one to three weeks and even longer for the virus to completely leave your dog. Advisably, your dog should be isolated for about four weeks or more. 

A test that clears your dog of the infection should end their isolation or quarantine. 

Can cats get parvo from dogs?

Yes, a recent study showed that canine parvovirus could affect cats. However, the virus has mild clinical signs in cats. A particular strain of canine parvovirus can cause severe illness in cats. In addition, cats have a type of parvovirus known as feline panleukopenia that can cause severe illness. 

The vaccine for feline panleukopenia may offer cross-protection against canine parvo. 

Dogs, on the other hand, can’t get parvo from cats. 

Is parvovirus in dogs contagious to a human?

No, human beings can’t get parvovirus from their dogs. Parvovirus is species-specific. Humans have their specific variant of parvovirus known as B19. The human variant only affects people and cannot infect pets. 

How long after parvo is a dog contagious?

After incubation, canine parvo will show clinical signs. An infected dog will still become contagious for about a month after you notice the symptoms. During the first two weeks of infection, the dog will pass the virus through its stool. The virus can stay active for a long period, and it is advisable to disinfect surfaces more often with bleach to keep your dog safe.

Can grown dogs get parvo?

Yes. However, young puppies are at high risk than mature dogs. This is because grown dogs have stronger immune systems that can protect them from infections. If your adult dog is not vaccinated, they are prone to getting parvovirus though the symptoms might not be fatal. 

Can parvovirus in dogs be cured?

There is no cure for parvovirus in dogs. Usually, vets offer supportive care during the illness to treat its symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and lethargy. There are also vaccines for parvovirus, which can be administered to prevent your puppies and adult dogs from contracting the virus.

How often should dogs get parvo shots?

Young puppies should get a three-shot series. The first dose should be between six and eight weeks. The second dose, between 10 and 12 weeks of age, and the last dose should be between 14 and 16 weeks. Another booster shot is given after a year and then again after three years. If you forget these routine vaccinations, you may be forced to start the shots all over again. There is no harm in giving your new dog a booster shot if you aren’t sure of their medical history. 

In conclusion

Parvovirus in dogs is a fatal and highly contagious viral disease. While it has no cure, the virus is preventable and manageable. Understanding how parvo is spread and prevented and its symptoms are the first steps towards keeping your dog safe. Ensure your dog is fully vaccinated and the treatment is well documented to easily keep track of routine vaccinations. 

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