Dog Health Part 1: Parvo Virus [2021 UPDATE]


Home / Dog Health / Dog Health Part 1: Parvo Virus [2021 UPDATE]


A diagnosis of dog parvovirus is the last thing a pet parent or dog breeder wants to find out. Unfortunately, this is a common illness with severe consequences.

This is why it’s important to know how to identify the early signs of parvo in dogs.

What is parvovirus? 

The canine parvovirus is responsible for this disease in puppies.

It is highly contagious and quickly spreads via contact with a contaminated surface or direct contact with an already infected dog.

A puppy is vulnerable to the virus each time he/she licks, sniffs, or eats feces.

An example of indirect transmission is when someone interacts with an infected dog and then touches your dog

If your puppy makes contact with a contaminated water or food bowl, leashes, collars, clothing, or objects, then it may contract the dog parvo. 

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, parvovirus is a disease of the small intestines and stomach because these are mostly affected by the virus.

The parvovirus infects the small intestine. Here it impairs the absorption of nutrients, destroys cells, and destroys the gut barrier.

Dog parvovirus can also affect the lymphopoietic tissues, bone marrow, and even the heart. 

Why are puppies susceptible to parvo? 

Puppies aged 6 weeks to 6 months are the most vulnerable to the virus.

Puppies less than 6 weeks still maintain some antibodies from their mother’s milk- assuming that she received her complete series of dog parvo vaccinations.

 Puppies receive their parvovirus vaccinations at 6, 8, and 12 weeks. Puppies remain vulnerable to the virus until they receive all three vaccinations in the series.

Pet parents must take extra care to ensure their puppies don’t come into contact with contaminated surfaces.

Ensure your puppy receives a canine parvovirus shot between 14 and 16 weeks, irrespective of how many vaccinations they’ve received earlier. This helps them develop sufficient protection. 

The severity of the disease varies across individual pups. Weaning is a stressful period for puppies, which often weakens their immune system.

If parvovirus is acquired during this period, it can lead to a severe case. A secondary infection along with the dog parvovirus can cause a severe form of parvo.

In addition, there are a few dog breeds that are more at risk for parvo:

  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Rottweilers
  • German Shepherds
  • English Springer Spaniels
  • American Staffordshire Terriers
Causes of Dog Parvo

Canine parvovirus is a very contagious disease. It spreads efficiently and rapidly.


How does parvo spread? 

Although dog parvo is not airborne, it can settle on several surfaces in the natural environment.

The virus can be found on collars, leashes, dog toys, food bowls, and dishes, etc. 

When contact with parvovirus-contaminated feces is made, it increases your puppy’s chances of getting the disease.

The virus can easily survive on kennel surfaces, on the ground, on clothing, and on a person’s hands. Your puppy may carry it on its paws and fur if it makes contact with fecal-contaminated material.

In addition, the virus can survive outside for months to years. It is very resistant to several disinfectants. Diluted bleach and a few specialized cleansers are used in veterinary hospitals. 

How do vets diagnose the virus in puppies? 

Your vet might use Fecal ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) tests to diagnose the virus in a clinical setting. 

A fecal swab is used for the test. It takes about ten minutes to get a definitive answer.

Even though this test is accurate, if your dog gets a negative test result, it doesn’t mean your symptomatic dog doesn’t have the parvovirus.

It might just be getting rid of the viral antigen at the time the test was performed. Further testing will be required in such cases.

Symptoms and Signs of Parvo in Dogs

A puppy diagnosed with parvo is a very ill dog. The faster you identify the signs of the parvovirus, the faster it can be treated with a successful outcome.

Given that the virus is common in puppies, you should visit your vet if your puppy doesn’t feel well.

Listed below, are the early symptoms of parvo in puppies.

Early symptoms of Parvovirus in puppies

  • Weakness
  • Anorexia
  • Vomiting
  • Weight Loss
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy

These are all very serious symptoms. Any of these signs may indicate dog parvo or another very serious disease.

Get in touch with your vet immediately if you think your pup has parvo. Notify the vet’s office ahead of time of your puppy’s symptoms.

This will give them a chance to take necessary quarantine procedures so that they can prevent the infection from spreading to other dogs. 

Puppies infected with the virus will begin to show certain symptoms with the first 3 to 7 days of infection.

Lethargy is often the first sign in an infected pup. Not wanting to eat and a high fever is also typical symptoms.

As the virus takes a grip over your pup, it may have severe diarrhea and vomiting.

A severely ill pup may collapse, have hypothermia and high heart rate from the severity of the infection and dehydration. 

Like most viral infections, dog parvovirus follows a series of stages.

The stages of dog parvovirus

At this stage, the pup or dog comes into contact with either fecal material or viral particles from an infected dog.

Infected viral particles can be found in a few places such as the surface or ground, mother dog, inanimate objects, clothing, and even people.

Only a minute amount of fecal matter is required to cause dog parvo. The infection is contracted once it enters your puppy or dog’s mouth. 


Once the virus enters the pup’s body, it undergoes an incubation period of 3 to 7 days.

During this time, the infected pup will likely not show any symptoms. At this stage, the virus attempts to enter the areas of the body with rapidly dividing cells.

It starts attacking the lymph nodes of the throat and tonsils. Targeting these cells enables the virus to increase its numbers efficiently and effectively.

It also enables it to invade other parts of the dog. Once dog parvovirus has multiplied sufficiently, it will enter the bloodstream and seek out other areas of rapid cell growth.

Most often, these areas are the bone marrow and the cells of the intestinal walls. In small puppies, the virus infects the hearts leading to inflammation.

It eventually leads to arrhythmias and weakened heart function. 


Once the virus invades the bone marrow, it targets new immune cells causing a drop in immunity-boosting white blood cells.

This weakens the puppy’s ability to fight off various viral and bacterial infections, particularly of the gastrointestinal tract. It is in this area that the severest damage occurs.

When the virus attacks the walls of the small intestine, it stops your pup’s GI tract from:

  • Absorbing nutrients
  • A fluid loss in the stool

At this stage, you can expect to see these signs of parvo in dogs:

  • Sepsis
  • Fever 
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting 
  • Severe dehydration

Dog parvo is not always life threatening, however pups who don’t survive usually die from shock or dehydration, including damage caused by toxins from intestinal bacteria that escape into the bloodstream. 


Successful recovery from the disease varies from pup to pup. A full recovery will take awhile, but this depends on how severe the parvovirus and the resulting damage is.

Puppies that recover from dog parvo will remain sick from 5 to 10 after the symptoms start.

During the recovery phase, it’s vital that your puppy receives good quality nutrition.

This enables their intestines to heal. While your dog is recovering from this infection, ensure you provide an easily digestible and bland diet.

There are several dog food brands that have prescription veterinary foods. These are formulated to be gentle on the gastrointestinal tract and nutritionally balanced. 


 Dog parvovirus treatment is based on the results of detailed blood work and assessment of clinical signs. The vet may conduct an ELISA test to look for virus antigens in your pup’s poop.

Additional diagnostic tests may be required. 

Keep in mind, there is no cure for this disease. Your pup’s vet will recommend supportive care over the progression of the illness.

The vet will also treat symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration. They will also make sure your pup is getting sufficient nutrition. 

Parvovirus is a serious virus that severely weakens a dog’s immune system. It lowers the white blood cell count, therefore hindering its ability to battle secondary infections. 

The severity of the damage to the puppy’s intestinal wall will determine the chances of a secondary infection. Your vet might recommend a course of antibiotic medications to fight off numerous bacterial infections.

Your puppy will be closely monitored for additional complications. 

In addition to the supportive care, your veterinarian will advise you about precautionary measures you will need to follow for other dogs and puppies in your home. 

Currently, no cure is available for the dog parvovirus. All treatment measures are designed to provide supportive care so that the pup is able to fight off the infection. 

Supportive care for confirmed dog parvovirus cases

  • Antiemetics to arrest vomiting
  • Hospitalization 
  • Administration of intravenous fluids
  • Providing nutrition using a feeding tube
  • Correcting the electrolyte imbalance or low blood sugar levels

Puppies may undergo sepsis. This is a condition of the gut where the bacteria leak out from the intestines and trespass into the bloodstream.

This requires antibiotic therapy. Puppies with a low white blood count or very high fever may also require antibiotics. Dog parvo can be a fatal disease.

Puppies that can survive the first four days are able to make a full recovery.

The survival chances of a pup treated by a vet is 68 to 92 percent.

It can take puppies up to a week to recover from the virus. 

Cost of parvovirus treatment

The cost of parvovirus treatment varies according to the severity of the disease, duration of stay in the hospital, and location of the clinic.

The cost may range from a few hundred dollars if you’re seeking an outpatient treatment to several thousand dollars for hospitalization. The latter is applicable in severe cases.

Pet parents can expect to pay $500 to $1,500 at the minimum. 

Preventability of parvovirus

Parvovirus is also an entirely preventable disease. All adult dogs and puppies should get their parvo vaccinations.

It is very important for female dogs used in breeding to receive their entire course of canine parvo vaccinations. 

This will help the newborn puppies to take some of their mother’s antibodies in their first month of life.

In addition to vaccinations, never let your puppy come into close contact with unvaccinated dogs until it has received all its parvo vaccines.

If you have other dogs in the home, ensure they’re also vaccinated.

Be careful about how you socialize your puppy. For instance, avoid going to dog parks or any place where multiple dogs might congregate.

These are potential hotspots for the parvovirus.

If you plan to socialize your puppy, do so in a less public place such as at another pet parent’s home.

This will give you surety that the other dog has received the parvovirus vaccinations. 

Boarding facilities, puppy training classes, and dog daycare centers require vaccination proof in order to use their services.

However, it’s a good idea to discuss the required level of caution with your veterinarian.

An exception is if you participate in puppy classes at a reliable training facility.

All puppies participating in the training are required to take their first parvovirus vaccination. 


Since there is no cure for the parvovirus, pet parents often wonder whether a puppy can get the virus twice?

Although not impossible, the chances are very low that a puppy recovered from dog parvo might get it again. Immunity for the virus can last for several years.

However, you should still opt for routine vaccination for your dog, as recommended by the veterinarian. 

Parvovirus can be a fatal disease if pet parents fail to recognize the early parvo signs and symptoms in dogs.

If you suspect your puppy might have the virus, contact the veterinarian immediately! 

about the author

Frank Harrigan

Frank loves tacos and dogs - the good, bad and ugly sides of dog ownership.

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