Parvo Virus in Dogs : Parvo Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

More unique and severe parvo symptoms are developing as the parvo virus in dogs continues to mutate.

Fortunately, with the right steps from puppyhood through adulthood, you can prevent this dangerous disease from occurring, and it is treatable if caught early enough.

What is Canine Parvovirus?

Canine parvovirus, often referred to as parvo, is a very serious and fast-moving virus that is often deadly when left untreated. It attacks the gastrointestinal tract of puppies, adult dogs and wild animals of the same bloodline, such as foxes and wolves.

Parvovirus was first detected in the canine species in the late 1970’s and has since been recorded as a growing and mutating virus that is now on it’s 5th variant in the US and worldwide.

The two most common forms of parvovirus in the US today have the scientific names CPV-2b and the more recently discovered CPV-2c. CPV-2c was first recorded in Italy in 2000, but it took 6 years for the first case to be noted in the US. Both strands of this virus are serious and life threatening, but the more recently discovered 2c seems to have taken on more aggressive and deadly tendencies.

These forms of Canine Parvovirus are NOT transferable to humans.

The term “parvo” itself means “tiny” and accurately describes the virus, which is not visible to the naked eye. According to Parvobuster.com...

“1 gram of Parvo infected material contains 95 million virus particles, and yet it only takes 100 particles to infect your pet. Oh, as a refresher, 1 gram = 0.0352739619 ounces. So 1 gram is almost nothing, yet in that single gram of infected feces, for example, there are enough virus particles to infect all of the dogs in your neighborhood … and there would be plenty left over for several more neighborhoods!”

Now that you understand the basics of the Canine Parvovirus, let’s move on to the parvo symptoms… memorize them in case you are required to act quickly to save the life of your dog.

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The 8 Most Common Parvo Symptoms in Dogs

Puppies are much more likely to contract and display parvo symptoms (see our Parvo in Puppies page).

The majority of adult dogs who contract parvo, especially those who contract the weaker form, show no symptoms.

Those that contract the stronger form can experience more severe parvo symptoms that often come on in a rush, including…

  • Lethargy
  • Depression or lack of interest in usual activities

Any time your dog is acting very sluggish and not like himself, take him in to get checked out. This is often a first sign that your dog’s energy is being used to fight of disease or infection.

  • Loss of appetite and thirst
  • Weakness
  • Severe dog diarrhea (usually containing blood, but not always)
  • Dog vomiting
  • Fever
  • Dehydration

Once a dog has been exposed to parvo, the virus itself usually has a 3 to 15 day incubation period wherein your dog will show no parvo symptoms. However, some dogs may show symptoms within 24 hours of exposure.

When in doubt, it’s wise to play it safe and take your dog in to be checked by your veterinarian.

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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How is Parvo in Dogs Spread?

Parvo is highly contagious and is spread from one dog to another through direct dog-to-dog contact or from contact with the virus in one of the following ways:

  • Contact with infected feces – this can happen while your dog innocently sniffs or rolls in dog feces while on a walk or playing in the park. It can also happen by you stepping in another dog’s feces and then transporting it back to your home or yard via your shoe or other clothing.
  • Direct contact with an infected dog in any way in any place
  • Contact with a person who has handled infected dogs or their feces and may carry the virus on their hands, hair or clothing
  • Contact with any hard or soft surface that has been exposed to the virus including, but not limited to, kennel floors, sidewalks and grass.
  • Contact with food/water bowls, toys or collars and leashes used by an infected dog

The parvovirus is very durable and can live a long time on various surfaces, such as those mentioned above, if they have not been sanitized properly. The virus is resistant to heat, cold, humidity and drying and is actually believed to thrive in freezing temperatures.

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Treatment for Parvo in Dogs

The scariest aspect of parvovirus is that it has the capability to kill dogs, especially puppies, very quickly after the first symptoms appear. Most deaths occur within 48 to 72 hours after the parvo symptoms show themselves in the dog.

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.

Most of these deaths are the result of severe dehydration or a secondary virus (not the result of parvo itself), and immediate action is your best weapon.

So what is the first thing you should do if you suspect your dog has contracted parvo? Get them medical assistance immediately. If your vet’s office is closed for the night, weekend or holiday, then you need to find the nearest Pet Hospital and get your dog examined as soon as possible.

You will need to bring a recent fecal sample to the vet for lab analysis, as this will provide a positive or negative diagnosis of Canine Parvovirus.

Upon arrival, the veterinarian will likely do a physical exam to determine the severity of the dog’s condition. The vet will also ask you a number of questions about the dog’s health history, along with details about vaccinations including the Parvovirus Vaccine in particular.

It is important to understand that there is currently no medicinal treatment for parvovirus. In order to give the dog it’s best chance at survival, the vet will place the dog on an IV to help prevent further dehydration. The vet will also attempt to stop any diarrhea and vomiting through the use of medicines. It is also vitally important that the dog be kept warm throughout this entire process. The rest is up to the dog’s immune system to fight off the virus on its own.

Healthy adult dogs have a much better chance at survival than less healthy adult dogs, young puppies and elderly dogs.

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How to Prevent Parvo in Dogs

The most effective way of protecting your dog from parvovirus is to have them vaccinated.

From a more holistic angle on vaccinations, most puppies should have their first parvovirus vaccine at 20 weeks of age, followed by the second round at 28 weeks. Adult dogs should not receive follow-up vaccinations less than 3 years apart.

Please note that conventional veterinary medicine may recommend vaccinations be administered much earlier than stated above. It is up to you to decide which route you want to take with your dog’s health care. To make an educated decision on this important topic and for more information on vaccinations and the recommended schedules, see our Dog Vaccination Schedule & Dog Vaccinations page.

If you are the owner of a puppy under the age of 4 months, you will need to go to much greater lengths to keep your dog protected, see our Parvo in Puppies page for the details.

Aside from vaccinating your dog, there is very little you can do to prevent her from coming into contact with parvovirus. The virus has truly run rampant all over the US along with the rest of the world and is especially prevalent in cities and suburban areas where the dog population and use of city parks is at a maximum.

By feeding your dog the right high-quality natural organic dog food, making sure he gets enough exercise, taking the time to learn and apply proper dog grooming instructions, routine vet check-ups and a safe dog vaccination schedule, you will arm your dog with the best possible defense against any virus, illness or infection.

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