Canine ParvoVirus | Parvo in Puppies

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What is parvo?

I learned that parvo started as a mutation of a cat virus in the 70s that was killed dogs rapidly.  Today, parvo is prevalent in some parts of the country and it seems like a rarity in others (like Western Washington).  We learned that just because we don’t hear about the canine parvovirus in our area doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist nor does this suggest that it’s been eradicated in an area.  Vaccinations can’t always keep puppies safe, but they’re a great first step to helping puppies survive the virus.

The canine parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that attacks a puppy’s body, causing secondary infections.  The veterinarian compared it to the flu to help me understand.  There is no cure for the flu or cold; we take medication to provide comfort while the virus works through our body.  In puppies and dogs, the canine parvovirus severely affects the intestinal track and the white blood cells.  Riley’s count was near zero when she passed away.  The virus can also damage the heart muscles, leading to cardiac arrest or lifetime issues.

Source: ASPCA

“Nearly all mammal species have their own parvovirus, but each is specific for the animal species it can infect.  The canine parvovirus is capable of affecting dogs, wolves, coyotes, foxes and more members of the dog family.  There are two types of parvovirus affecting dogs: CPV 1 and CPV 2 which was originally identified as canine specific and has now been further divided into CPV-2a, 2b and 2c based on host range and incubation periods.  The most common form is CPV-2b, most adult dogs have been exposed which means they have some immunity no matter vaccination status.  The more recently discovered CPV-2c discovered in 2000 was found to be more virulent but is covered in current vaccines. ” ~ Dr. Cathy, Hoof Stock Vet

Symptoms of parvo in puppies

Riley’s symptoms were vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy/depression.

Riley came to our home a happy, healthy dog.  Our vet believes that she was in the incubation period.  Four days after she came to our home, she started showing symptoms of parvo in puppies, but we didn’t know.  Because vomiting and diarrhea aren’t common in puppies and because I still hadn’t received Riley’s vaccination records, I took her to the vet and then emergency vet when she didn’t improve.

Riley’s diarrhea became very runny, like water, and the smell was different than what we’re used to with dog feces.  When I was researching canine parvovirus, I kept reading that the smell was awful, but I’d prefer to say that it’s very different.

“If you notice your dog experiencing severe vomiting, loss of appetite, depression or bloody diarrhea, contact your veterinarian immediately.” ~ ASPCA

What are some other health issues with these same symptoms?

“A puppy with a bloody diarrhea could have a parasite problem, a virus other than parvovirus, a stress colitis, or may have eaten something that disagreed with him or injured and blocked his digestive tract. It’s crucial that you see your vet for an accurate diagnosis.” ~ ASPCA

“There are also bacteria that cause the same clinical signs of vomiting and bloody diarrhea. Some of these bacteria include Clostridial sp. It isn’t the bacteria that causes the bloody diarrhea, it’s the toxin produced by the bacteria – therefore, antibiotics don’t help, and the risk of death is still the same from the dehydration.”  ~ Dr. Cathy, Hoof Stock Vet

How is parvovirus diagnosed?

Riley was diagnosed through a fecal test.  We learned that the test for the canine parvovirus has an expiration date (makes sense), so if the parvovirus isn’t common in an area,  not all veterinarians will have the test on hand.  The emergency vet that we were referred to (by our vet) did have the test on hand.   “The ELISA test kit is used to detect parvovirus in a dog’s stools, and is performed in the vet’s office in about 15 minutes. Because this test is not 100% sensitive or specific, your veterinarian may recommend additional tests and blood work. “ ~ ASPCA

“In fact, the fecal test only detects about 80% of parvoviral infected dogs. This is another reason why the bloody diarrhea and vomiting need to be taken very seriously and still treated as if it is parvo.” ~ Dr. Cathy, Hoof Stock Vet

How can parvovirus be treated?

Although there are no drugs available that can kill the virus yet, treatment is generally straightforward and consists of aggressive supportive care to control the symptoms and boost your dog’s immune system to help him win the battle against this dangerous disease. Dogs infected with parvovirus need intensive treatment in a veterinary hospital, where they receive antibiotics, drugs to control the vomiting, intravenous fluids and other supportive therapies. Should your dog undergo this treatment, be prepared for considerable expense—the average hospital stay is about 5-7 days.

Please note that treatment is not always successful—so it’s especially important to make sure your dog is vaccinated. However, it is usually puppies who are affected by parvo, therefore their vaccines will not be complete and protection will not be complete. These pups can still die.

Source: ASPCA

How is canine parvovirus transmitted?

Canine parvovirus is transmitted by any person, animal or objects that come into contact with dog feces.

I don’t want to scare people, but the canine parvovirus is a scary scary thing.  It is everywhere.  It can be tracked into the home on our feet.  When our vet told us not to take our pets anywhere, not to the dog park, pet store, or even to a friend’s house – we thought he was being too cautious.  He was telling us the truth.

We purchased a lot of used equipment (kennels, beds, blankets) from Craigslist.  We cleaned everything, but were we do to it over, we’d clean the kennels with bleach.  Although bleach works, diluted bleach works better.  “Dilute bleach works better. 1 cup of bleach in a gallon of water. And, all the poop has to be removed first, because “organic matter” inactivates bleach. So, basically, clean, clean, then clean again.” ~ Dr. Cathy, Hoof Stock Vet

How do we protect our puppies from canine parvovirus?

Dr. Lander of the ASPCA shared that we can’t wrap our puppies in bubble wrap and shield them from the world until they’re safe.  The tragedy about canine parvovirus is that it impacts our puppies’ lives at a time when socialization is so very important.  But socializing our dogs isn’t just about playing with other dogs.  At the ASPCA in New York City, Dr. Lander’s team walks the dogs in an enclosed stroller so that they can see, smell and hear the city.

The below is from the ASPCA

You can protect your dog from this potential killer by making sure he’s up-to-date on his vaccinations. Parvovirus should be considered a core vaccine for all puppies and adult dogs. It is usually recommended that puppies be vaccinated with combination vaccines that take into account the risk factors for exposure to various diseases. One common vaccine, called a “5-in-1,” protects the puppy from distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus and parainfluenza.

Generally, the first vaccine is given at 6-8 weeks of age and a booster is given at four-week intervals until the puppy is 16-20 weeks of age, and then again at one year of age. A puppy’s vaccination program is not complete before four months of age. Older dogs who have not received full puppy vaccination series may be susceptible to parvovirus and should also receive at least one immunization. Consult with your veterinarian about how often your dog will need to be revaccinated.

The below is from Dr. Cathy, Hoof Stock Vet

Things to think about – the parvo vaccine needs to be boostered about every 4 weeks. Boostering every 2 weeks does not improve protection and can lead to more chance of overvaccination problems. The goal with puppy vaccines is not to vaccinate4 times, the goal is to vaccinate every 4 weeks until the pup is older than 16 weeks at its final vaccination. The good antibodies we hope the puppy got from momma’s milk can last for 16 weeks – that is why the last booster is at 17 weeks. So, if you get a 13 week old puppy who has never had vaccinations before, 2 shots, a month apart will be sufficient. Other things to think about – some vets find the 5 in 1 vaccine to be tough on a pup’s system, some vets split up the shots. Talk to your vet and decide what is best for your four-legged family.

The below is from Dr. Becker, Mercola Healthy Pets

Make sure your puppy receives the core vaccines.

My vaccine protocol at Natural Pet is to give one parvo vaccine at around 9 weeks (but before 11 weeks), and a booster at around 14 weeks. Then 2 to 4 weeks after the booster, I do a titer to confirm the puppy has been immunized against the disease.

Titering will also tell me if the puppy is a (rare) non-responder to the parvo vaccine, meaning he’ll never develop immunity to the disease and will be susceptible for a lifetime. This information is vital to the dog’s owner, who will need to take measures for the balance of the pet’s life to keep him safe from exposure to the virus.

If a puppy’s parvo titer shows he’s immunized and protected 2 to 4 weeks after the second vaccine, in my professional opinion he’s immune for life. The majority of pets develop lifelong immunity to viruses they are immunized against as babies. Bacterial infections are a different matter, however, and carry a risk of re-infection.

If a client needs additional reassurance of protection, I recommend annual titers for the core vaccines rather than automatic re-vaccination.

Is there a home remedy for Canine Parvovirus?

Yes and no.  There are sites that offer a holistic treatment that is affordable and can be done at home.  I haven’t found a vet or fur family who can confirm the claims.  At this time, I understand that the parvo vaccination offers the only protection from the virus.  The protection may not be 100%, but it does allow our dogs a better chance at survival.

“Home treatment only works when the infection is mild – these animals have partial immunity and can fight their way through infection. The key is nothing by mouth until there is 24 hours without vomiting. If the vomiting continues, the dog will become dehydrated and may die – it needs to be hospitalized for best chances as vets can give fluids without putting anything in the intestinal tract.” ~ Dr. Cathy, Hoof Stock Vet

“Because parvovirus is such a serious disease, it is not recommended to attempt home treatment. Even with the best veterinary care, this disease is often fatal.” ~ ASPCA

Aren’t vaccinations harmful to our dogs?

I’ve communicated with people who believe that vaccinations are slowly poisoning and killing our dogs.  I’ve met people who believe that vaccinations are a scam that provides veterinarian professionals a steady revenue stream.  There are people who have opted to no longer have their pets vaccinated.

There are instances when a pet may not need vaccinations.  There’s a test the veterinarian can give a dog or cat to test the antibody levels in their body to see if boosters are necessary.  Because our dogs frequent dog parks and are in constant contact of other dogs and wildlife, we find that it’s best that they are up to date on their vaccinations and we’re confident that we have a vet who will provide our dogs and cats with the best care.

Our cats are indoor only kitties, which gives them a little more leeway when it comes to vaccinations, but we still listen to our vet’s advice.

“There are definitely pros and cons to vaccines. Vaccines, and overvaccination, can cause a lot of harm. However, parvo is a life-threatening disease and can easily be prevented by vaccination. Because the parvovirus sticks around in the environment, no dog that goes outside is totally safe from parvovirus unless it has had some kind of exposure – either natural or vaccination. Once the dog has good immunity to parvo, protection is long-lived.”  ~ Dr. Cathy, Hoof Stock Vet

How long can the parvovirus live? 

Someone shared that the parvovirus will die in extreme cold; this is not the case.  Extreme heat and cold (freezing temperatures) doesn’t appear to have an ill effect on the parvovirus.  Heavy rains (or using a garden hose) can help to disburse the virus, but it won’t rid our property of the virus.  Therefore, we would not invite anyone to bring their unvaccinated puppy to our property.  And we will no longer adopt unvaccinated puppies.  This is a choice we’ve made based on the information we’ve learned from veterinarians and families who have experienced parvovirus.

“Drying kills the virus. And dilute bleach. Bright sunlight and dryness will kill parvo. It’s the deeper layers that still harbor the virus. The thing is – it’s everywhere.” ~ Dr. Cathy, Hoof Stock Vet

The below is from the ASPCA

Because parvovirus can live in an environment for months, you will want to take extra care if there has been an infected dog in your house or yard. Some things are easier to clean and disinfect than others—and even with excellent cleaning, parvovirus can be difficult to eradicate.

Parvo is resistant to many typical disinfectants. A solution of one part bleach to 32 parts water can be used where organic material is not present. The infected dog’s toys, food dish and water bowl should be properly cleaned and then disinfected with this solution for 10 minutes. If not disinfected, these articles should be discarded. You can also use the solution on the soles of your shoes if you think you’ve walked through an infected area. Areas that are harder to clean (grassy areas, carpeting and wood, for example) may need to be sprayed with disinfectant, or even resurfaced.

Are there dogs and dog breeds that are more prone to parvovirus?

Yes!  “Puppies, adolescent dogs and canines who are not vaccinated are most susceptible to the virus. The canine parvovirus affects most members of the dog family (wolves, coyotes, foxes, etc.). Breeds at a higher risk are Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, Labrador retrievers, American Staffordshire terriers and German shepherds. “ ~ ASPCA

Riley was part German shepherd, she was 4 months old, and she hadn’t been vaccinated.  That last part is based on the education and experience of our vets who don’t believe that she would have gone downhill so quickly had she had some protection.  We were told by the rescue group who worked with the shelter that “Riley was vaccinated (DA2PP & Bordetella) when she arrived at the shelter on 4/19/12.”

I’ve since heard from many people who adopted a puppy who the shelter or rescue group thought had been vaccinated, but somehow the puppy slipped through the cracks.  This is testament of how overcrowded and under staffed our Nation’s shelters are today.  I hope that Riley’s story and the story of many other puppies, dogs and their families encourages change and inspires more people to help.


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