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Canine Parvovirus: Symptoms and Prevention

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Canine Parvovirus _ Symptoms and Prevention

Canine parvovirus is a viral infection commonly associated with puppies. Puppies who contract parvovirus need immediate medical intervention to help them survive.

What is Canine Parvovirus?

Canine parvovirus, also called parvo, is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by a highly contagious virus. Parvovirus can impact the heart or the small intestines.

Parvovirus in the Heart

Cardiac parvovirus is a rare form that impacts the heart muscle. It is most often seen in puppies less than 8-weeks-old who contract it in utero or immediately after birth from their mother. It is not seen often these days since most mother dogs are given the parvovirus vaccine before pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the hearts of infected young puppies are usually not strong enough to combat the infection. It is almost always fatal, and death can happen suddenly and without warning or after some difficulty breathing. Puppies who manage to survive the virus can have complications later in life.

Parvovirus in the Intestines

The more common form of parvovirus affects the small intestines. This infection can impair the dog's ability to absorb fluids and nutrients, which can lead to dehydration. It can also destroy tissue and cause bacteria from the intestines to leak into the bloodstream. This situation can quickly lead to sepsis and death.

Puppies between 6-weeks and 6-months-old are most susceptible to contracting parvovirus since their immune systems are still developing. Additionally, young puppies would not have received the full series of parvovirus vaccine for protection.

golden retriever puppy

Breeds at Risk

Any dog can contract intestinal parvovirus, but it is more prevalent in certain breeds, including:

It is important to know the signs and what to do if they occur, especially if you're considering adopting one of these breeds.


Symptoms of parvovirus usually appear between five to 10 days after contracting the virus. They can include:

  • Lethargy
  • Excessive and often foul smelling bloody diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tender abdomen

Parvovirus can come on rapidly and cause death in a matter of days without treatment. You should seek veterinary care immediately if you notice any of the symptoms.

small puppy with green eyes


Your veterinarian will ask about your dog's history and current symptoms. They will also conduct a physical exam and perform blood work, which can help them ascertain your dog's overall health and identify or eliminate other conditions. In addition, your veterinarian may test a stool sample to confirm the presence of the virus.


Unlike bacterial infections, viral infections can't be cleared up through antibiotics. Instead, treatments are focused on stabilizing the dog and supporting their immune system so it can fight off the virus. They can include:

  • Fluid therapy to combat dehydration
  • Medications to control vomiting and diarrhea
  • Antibiotics to prevent secondary infections

Hospitalization may also be needed as the dog is treated and begins to recover.

bulldog puppy

How Parvovirus Spreads

Parvovirus is very contagious. It can also be tricky since dogs are contagious before they show any symptoms. Your dog can contract it through contact with an infected dog or their stool, which contains high concentrations of the virus. This is an important reason (in addition to the ick factor) that you should not let your dog sniff another dog's poo.

The other tricky thing about parvovirus is that it can survive for long periods of time in soil and on surfaces, such as food and water bowls, collars, leashes, and clothing. It is also resistant to environmental elements like heat, cold, and humidity.

In addition, it can't be killed by typical household cleaning products. If you need to clean a surface contaminated with the virus, you should use a solution of around 1 part bleach to 30 parts water. The bleach needs to be in contact with the virus for at least 10 minutes to be effective. You should wear gloves to protect your hands from contamination.

Humans and Parvovirus

Humans are not affected by the virus, so you don't have to worry about catching it. However, you can pass the virus to your dog. Take precautions like wearing gloves and an old shirt you can throw away if you need to handle an infected dog or clean a contaminated surface.

Remember, the virus is also present in the feces of an infected dog. If you step in dog poo, be sure to keep your dog away from your dirty shoes and clean them carefully.

French bulldog and Labrador puppies


The best way to prevent parvovirus is by making sure your dog is fully vaccinated. Puppies typically receive parvovirus vaccines every 3 to 4 weeks between the ages of 6 and 16 weeks with the last vaccination at 16 weeks of age. In areas with high environmental parvovirus or high-risk breeds, it is recommended that a final parvovirus vaccination be administered at 20 weeks of age.

The parvovirus vaccine is given to puppies through an injection under the skin. Most puppies barely feel it or experience just a small pinch. Side effects of the parvovirus vaccine are relatively uncommon, but they can include a low fever and temporary loss of appetite. Protecting your puppy from a life-threatening virus is well worth any quick discomfort or minor side effects.

Keep in mind that puppies are still at risk for a couple of weeks after the third vaccine. You should keep your puppy away from other dogs who could be infected during that time. For instance, avoid dog parks, pet stores, grooming facilities, and other places where your puppy could come into contact with an infected dog, contaminated surface, or dog poo containing the virus.

You may also want to carry your puppy when you visit the veterinarian. This way your curious furball won't run around on their own and possibly come into contact with an infected dog or contaminated surface.

Parvovirus Pet Insurance Claims

Treatment for parvovirus can be expensive, especially if it involves hospitalization. For instance, customers with ASPCA Pet Health Insurance have submitted claims for over $1,500, $2,200, and $3,700 to treat their dogs for parvovirus. And those are just a few examples.

If you’re concerned about the costs of your dog’s veterinary care, you might want to consider pet insurance. You can start by getting a personalized quote to see the prices and coverage options for your pooch.


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