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Signs of Parvo: What Every Pet Parent Needs to Know

Signs of Parvo: What Every Pet Parent Needs to Know

Parvo, or canine parvovirus, is a highly contagious viral infection that affects dogs. While parvo can be quite serious, it can be manageable through good veterinary care if caught early enough. Of course, prevention is the best course of action. With appropriate vaccination you can help your puppy avoid a parvo infection

Most cases of parvo occur in puppies between 6 weeks and 6 months old. The virus spreads through direct contact with an infected dog or through contact with an infected dog's feces or any other object in an infected dog's environment —yet another good reason to always pay attention to what your dog is doing when you’re out for a walk and keeping them away from other dogs until they are fully vaccinated.

Let’s take a closer look at the warning signs of parvo to look out for, what breeds are most vulnerable, and the most effective ways of preventing or managing this virus.

Spotting the signs of parvo

When a dog is infected with parvo, it usually takes 3 days to a week for symptoms to develop. The primary signs of parvo include:

  • Lethargy or a general lack of energy

  • Vomiting

  • Fever

  • Diarrhea (often bloody)

  • Decreased appetite

  • Sudden weight loss


Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances may also occur from vomiting and diarrhea, as well as parvo's ability to impair nutrient absorption from food. It can also impact gut barrier function. These can weaken your dog’s immune system and possibly lead to secondary infections, either viral or bacterial.

Parvo also compromises the lining of your dog’s intestines. This allows blood and protein to leak into the intestines, eventually causing anemia. It also allows endotoxins to leak out into the bloodstream, which can potentially lead to a condition known as endotoxemia. By this point, your dog’s white blood cell count will have dropped, and they may develop a distinctive, unpleasant odor.

Since the advanced stages of parvo can lead to shock and even death, immediately seek veterinary attention as soon as you suspect a parvo infection.

Which animals are most vulnerable to parvo?

Although parvovirus primarily affects pet dogs, it has been known to make the species jump to other mammals. While humans don’t have anything to worry about, there are documented cases of parvo in wolves, foxes and skunks. The virus can also be transmitted to cats, but don’t worry if you have a cat in the home as canine parvovirus doesn’t lead to disease when this happens.

Also, some dog breeds seem more susceptible to parvo than others. These include:

  • Doberman Pinschers

  • English Springer Spaniels

  • German Shepherds

  • Labrador Retrievers

  • Pit Bulls

  • Rottweilers


However, pet parents of all breed-types should be aware of this disease and benefits of vaccination as this disease can be deadly. If your puppy begins showing any signs of parvo, you should seek vet attention immediately and be cautious of your pet’s interactions and movements until they are fully vaccinated.

Diagnosing parvo

Parvo is a relatively new virus. It was officially recognized for the first time in 1978. But because of its highly virulent nature, the disease managed to spread worldwide in under 2 years.

Most often, a simple stool sample is all that is needed for a parvo diagnosis. Save the baggie when you pick up after your dog and bring them both in if you see signs of parvo in your puppy.

Sometimes, parvo can be confused with coronavirus or other forms of small intestine inflammation (enteritis). If this is ever the case, the presence of blood in the stools, a low white blood cell count and possible necrosis of the intestinal lining help your veterinarian make the right diagnosis so they can help get your dog the right treatment as quickly as possible.

Treating parvo

While there’s still no cure for parvo, early detection and proper medical treatment can greatly improve an infected dog’s chances of survival.

Veterinary care for parvo may require an initial hospitalization. The infection often leads to severe dehydration and can also damage your dog’s intestines and bone marrow. Around-the-clock veterinary care will be crucial. Treatment often involves intravenous fluids to offset dehydration and nutrition therapy to help your dog regain strength and vitality. Medication to help control vomiting might also be included, as well as a course of antibiotics and antivirals to deal with secondary infections. In some extreme cases, a blood plasma transfusion from a donor dog might also be required.

The survival rate varies depending on how quickly parvo is diagnosed, the age of the dog and the aggressiveness of the treatment. Left untreated, the virus has a 91% mortality rate. However, with effective veterinary intervention, the survival rate is almost 70%. Sadly, however, puppies are more susceptible to the virus because of their less developed immune systems.

Preventing parvo

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and, when it comes to parvo, that statement was never truer. Because the disease is so virulent and contagious, vaccinations are the best way to protect your dog.

It is recommended that puppies get three rounds of vaccinations to help protect them from parvo and other preventable diseases. Shots are recommended at 6-9 weeks, 9-12 weeks, 12-16 weeks and boosters after that when required.

Although it is important to socialize your puppy with other dogs early on, avoid socializing with unfamiliar or unvaccinated dogs until two weeks after your puppy gets their last round of vaccinations—just to be on the safe side.

Your puppy’s best shot at survival

Parvo is one of the hardiest viruses known to science. While most flu viruses die outside a host body in less than 24 hours, parvo can live in feces and the surrounding soil for up to a year, regardless of the weather. The virus endures extreme temperatures, both high and low, with no problem. In the face of such a relentless foe, you need to give your puppy the best defense possible.

Giving your puppy a complete round of vaccinations—including parvo—is your best chance of preventing this terrible, often deadly virus. While there are effective treatments available in case your puppy contracts parvo, there’s still the risk of death involved, even in well-developed immune systems. While knowing the signs of parvo can help lead to an earlier diagnosis and increase your puppy’s chances of survival, it’s much better to give your puppy the best shot possible for a long and healthy life.

If you have any concerns about the well-being of your pet, always reach out to your veterinarian as soon as possible.