Parvo in Puppies :
What You Should Know

Parvo in puppies, also known as Canine Parvovirus type 2 (CPV-2), is a highly contagious disease that can be deadly in certain cases, many of which include young puppies under the age of 4 months.

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This page focuses specifically on parvo in puppies. For general information about Canine Parvovirus in adult dogs, see our Parvo Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention page.

This disease, first discovered in 1978, has recently become more prevalent due largely to the issue of overpopulation in cities and suburbs, which has led to insufficient sanitation of the parks, sidewalks and common areas.

For the owners of young puppies, Canine Parvovirus or “parvo” should be a major concern and something you go to great measures to prevent. This article focuses specifically on the what’s, why’s and how’s of parvo in puppies.

What is Canine Parvovirus?

Canine Parvovirus is a fast-moving, serious disease that is caused by a virus that attacks the gastrointestinal tract of puppies, adult dogs and other wild animals such as foxes and wolves.

There are five variants of parvo in puppies, none of which are transferable to humans. CPV-2b is the most common, followed by CPV-2c which is much deadlier.

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Symptoms of Parvo Virus in Puppies & Why It Is More Life-Threatening

The primary signs and symptoms of parvo in puppies include…

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  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Severe, often bloody dog diarrhea
  • Dog vomiting

These symptoms will usually begin to show 3 to 15 days following exposure to the parvovirus, but in some puppies it may take a shorter or longer amount of time.

The symptoms of severe and continuous vomiting and diarrhea should be of the greatest concern for a young puppy. Puppies will become dehydrated very quickly when they are expelling so much fluid.

The majority of puppy deaths from parvovirus are a result of dehydration and happen within 48 to 72 hours following the first physical symptoms. However, the new 2c strain of parvovirus has been known to kill some puppies within the first 12 hours, which makes immediate action pertinent to the survival of an infected puppy.

Young puppies, just like any young mammals, are less equipped to fight off a strong and invasive virus like the parvovirus simply because their immune systems are less developed and not as strong. Puppies receive a good amount of immunity and strengthening vitamins from their mother’s milk, but often times that is not enough.

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How Parvo in Puppies Is Spread

One of the most frightening aspects of this virus is its ability to spread from one host to another with ease. In order for a puppy to contract parvovirus, the puppy needs to come in direct contact with the virus through one of the following ways:

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  • Direct dog-to-dog contact
  • Contact with contaminated feces
  • Contact with the hands or clothing of people who have handled infected dogs or feces
  • Shared food and water bowls
  • Kennel surfaces
  • Shared collars and leashes
  • Contact with your shoes (or floors of your home) after walking through a park or accidentally stepping in infected dog feces

Basically, when it comes to your young, un-vaccinated puppy, there is truly no guaranteed safe public place for him to be without risking exposure to the parvovirus.

Parvovirus is resistant to factors such as heat, cold, humidity and drying. It is also able to survive on various surfaces for long periods of time.

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Why are young puppies at greater risk of infection?

The answer is quite simple…

The majority of knowledgeable veterinarians will not vaccinate a puppy under the age of 20 weeks, or around 4 months old, with the Parvovirus vaccine.

There are some conventional veterinarians that will vaccinate puppies categorized as “high risk” as soon as 5 weeks of age. We support a more holistic approach to dog care and believe that vaccinations given too young can be harmful to the overall, life-long health of the dog.

It is important for you to discuss this topic with your veterinarian at your puppy’s first appointment. To view a chart that compares holistic vaccination schedules with conventional vaccination schedules and to learn more about dog vaccinations in general, see our Dog Vaccination Schedule page.

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Diagnosis & Treatment of Parvo in Puppies

In most cases, you the dog owner will be responsible for recognizing the initial signs and symptoms of parvovirus in your puppy and acting immediately.

Emergency Veterinary Hospitals

If your pet is experiencing an emergency, go to Pets911.com and enter your zip code to find the nearest veterinary hospital.

Call your veterinarian right away and tell them you need an emergency appointment to test for parvovirus in your puppy. If your vet’s office is closed for the night or weekend, then visit your nearest animal hospital promptly.

Once in the office, your veterinarian will run some tests and ask about the medical history of your puppy. They will likely ask you to bring a fecal sample with you to the office, which will be analyzed in the lab and provide a positive or negative diagnosis of parvovirus.

There are no specific drugs available to treat parvovirus, so it is up to your puppy’s immune system to fight it off. The vet will likely put the puppy on an IV to prevent dehydration and loss of electrolytes. They will also try to prevent further vomiting and diarrhea along with any type of secondary infection. It is also important for the puppy to be kept warm throughout this care.

Unfortunately, there are still puppies who die from parvovirus despite the right care from you and your vet. This is why it’s extremely important for you to take all precautions and preventive measures against this frightening virus.

If your dog is only displaying one of the 5 main symptoms of Parvovirus, you are likely dealing with a different digestive or health issue.

To figure out exactly what the problem might be, head to the top of this page and type your dog’s symptoms into the search box provided. Also, if you would like to ask for a professional opinion from our veterinarians, go to our My Online Vet Ask-a-Veterinarian page.

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Prevention of Parvo in Puppies

Keep your young puppies away from any public places for the first 22 weeks of their lives.

During those first few months, keep your puppies inside your home or outside in a fenced private backyard. If you live in an apartment complex, the grassy common areas are not considered private and therefore could pose a risk to your un-vaccinated puppy. This should be considered before adopting a new puppy under 4 months old, and we recommend evaluating all of your options to keep your new puppy safe and healthy.

At 22 weeks, strongly consider having your puppy vaccinated against Canine Parvovirus, after which you can feel more secure with your soon-to-be routine dog park visits and daily walks.

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