Pet Care
May 3, 2023

What is Parvo in Dogs?

Parvo is a highly contagious, deadly gastrointestinal virus. It is among the most common causes of severe illness and death for puppies, young dogs, and unvaccinated dogs. Learn the signs and how to keep your puppy safe!

Puppy hospitalized with parvo

Parvo and Puppies

Parvo is a highly contagious, deadly gastrointestinal virus. It is among the most common causes of severe illness and death for puppies, young dogs, and unvaccinated dogs. Parvo is spread through contact with contaminated feces. Unfortunately, the virus is very hardy and can survive for weeks, months, or even years. This means dogs can also catch parvo from contact with areas that were previously exposed to feces from dogs with parvo. This is why it can be such a huge problem in shelters, hospitals, or multi-pet households.


Signs of Parvo

The parvo virus attacks rapidly diving cells in the gastrointestinal system resulting in severe vomiting and diarrhea. Puppies are most at risk because they can become very dehydrated and malnourished very quickly due to the severity of the GI signs.

Signs to Look For With Parvo

  • Vomiting: Usually unable to hold food/water down.
  • Diarrhea: Usually extremely watery, bloody, and/or explosive. These signs can lead to rapid dehydration.
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite/desire to drink water
  • Lethargy
  • Low energy or unresponsiveness

These symptoms are very common, but a dog with Parvovirus doesn’t have to show all of them. Once a dog is infected, it can take 3-7 days for symptoms to appear. The highest risk of death is usually within the first 24-72 hours after symptoms present. Therefore, taking immediate action is necessary for the best chances of survival.

Parvo Prevention

Sticking to a strict vaccination schedule is the best way to keep your dog healthy. Don’t take your puppy in public/around other dogs until they’re fully vaccinated. The parvo vaccine is usually a combination that includes protection against distemper, hepatitis, and parainfluenza.

Puppies will start getting vaccinated around 6-8 weeks of age with boosters every 3-4 weeks until they reach 16-18 weeks. That vaccine will be effective for 1 year. When the dog is 1 year old, they will receive another booster that is effective for 2 years. When the dog is 2 years old, they will receive another booster that is effective for 3 years. Then, the vaccine will be given every 3 years for the rest of the dog’s life.


Diagnosing Parvo

A veterinary hospital will likely perform a fecal ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test. The test takes about 10 minutes and requires a fecal matter swab. This test is accurate for positive results, but a negative result doesn’t necessarily rule out Parvovirus, especially in a symptomatic dog.

A blood sample may be collected to run a CBC (complete blood count). Parvovirus attacks the bone marrow, so a CBC would show a lower than normal white blood cell count.


Parvo Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no specific cure for Parvo. Treatment involves supportive care such as:

  • Hospitalization with IV fluids
  • Medications to stop vomiting and antidiarrheals
  • A feeding tube to ensure proper nutrients
  • Possible antibiotic therapy to deal with secondary infections

Hospitalizing an infected dog will give them the best chance at survival.


Recovery from Parvo

A dog’s chances for recovery usually depend on the severity of symptoms when they arrive at the hospital. Dogs with milder signs and treated quickly are more likely to recover.

Dogs recovering from parvo are usually fed a bland and easily digestible diet. Your vet will likely recommend taking home a good prescription diet designed for the recovering GI tract.


Treatment Costs

Hospitalization and supportive care can cost a few thousand dollars on average. This is why we highly encourage you to vaccinate your pet. The vaccine is much cheaper than treatment!


If you think your dog might have parvo, call their vet immediately. Not all clinics are equipped to handle these cases, as strict quarantine is needed. They may recommend you proceed to your nearest emergency hospital. It is recommended that you call before/when you get there so that proper precautionary measures can be taken to prevent contamination in the hospital.