What Causes Parvovirus in Dogs and What Treatment is Available?

dog on the couch

Canine parvovirus, also known as CPV or Parvo, is a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus that attacks the cells in a dog’s intestines and prevents them from being able to absorb nutrients that are vital for her health and survival. Fortunately, the rapidly evolution of veterinary medicine means that that the mortality rate associated with a parvo infection is just 5-20% if it is treated aggressively. There is also preventative medication available, meaning that you can protect your canine best friend entirely from this dangerous illness.

What causes parvovirus, how is it spread?

Parvovirus is highly contagious, meaning that it spreads very quickly amongst animals who are not vaccinated against it. The virus itself is contracted by coming into direct contact with an infected canine, or indirectly, such as by sniffing an infected dogs feces. In some instances, the virus may also be transferred into the home environment via the soles of someone’s shoes.

One of the biggest challenges of parvo is that it is extremely resilient. Not only is there evidence that suggests it can live in ground soil for as long as 12 months, but it is also highly resistant to most cleaning solutions. Household bleach is pretty much the only disinfectant that can eraicate the virus.

Since it is extremely contagious, most boarding kennels and dog shelters insist that an animal is fully vaccinated against parvovirus and free from the disease before they can be admitted.

How quickly can you tell if your dog has parvovirus?

Dogs that contract parvovirus will typically begin to show symptoms of the infection within 3-10 days of being exposed. However, most deaths from parvo happen within 72 hours of the symptoms beginning and so it is essential that you seek treatment immediately if you believe that your dog may have been infected.

Symptoms of parvovirus

Parvovirus manifests in two different ways.

Intestinal Parvovirus - This is the most common form of parvovirus as it is passed through oral contact with the virus, as described above.

Cardiac Parvovirus - Much rarer, cardiac parvo is found in puppies under 8 weeks old who have been infected in-utero from their mother who carries the virus. Unfortunately, this type of parvo has a much higher mortality rate and puppies born with parvo rarely survive.

Symptoms of intestinal CPV include:

- Bloody diarrhea

- Coughing

- Fever

- Weight loss

- Lethargy

- Rapid heart beat

- Dehydration

- Painful abdomen

- Vomiting

- Inflammation of the wet tissue in the eyes and mouth

However, it is important to be aware that the majority of adult dogs show minimal or no symptoms of parvovirus. This is one of the reasons why preventive medication is so important.

Are there any dogs that are particularly at risk of contracting parvovirus?

Puppies are the group of canines most vulnerable to parvovirus, particularly when the breeding female has not been vaccinated against the disease. For unknown reasons, some breeds are also more susceptible to the condition, including:

- German Shepherds

- Labrador Retrievers

- Pit Bulls

- English Springer Spaniels

- Alaskan Sled Dogs

- Pinschers

- Dobermans

- Rottweilers

However, any dog which has not been given the right dose and schedule of preventive treatment, or who has a compromised immune system, is potentially at risk of contracting parvovirus.

Can canine parvovirus be treated?

Unfortunately, we are yet to find a cure for the actual virus. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything that your vet can do to help. Instead, treatment usually takes the form of medications and therapies designed to boost your dog’s immune system so that he has the strength to fight off the virus himself. This may involve:

- Intravenous fluids to counteract dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities

- Pain relief medications

- Antibiotics, which although won’t combat the virus itself, will help to counteract or prevent secondary infections

- Anti-sickness medications

- Blood transfusions to replace proteins and cells

- Tube-feeding if necessary

While aggressive treatment can save the life of many adult dogs with CPV, we highly advocate the use of preventive vaccines which will help keep your dog, and those around her, safe from this deadly virus.

If you would like further information about canine parvovirus, please do not hesitate to contact our friendly, knowledgeable staff.


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Parkland Animal Clinic & Big Bear Pet Lodge​​​​​​​
8017 N. University Dr
Parkland, FL 33067

Fax: 954-757-3990
EMAIL US: Parklandanimalclinic@gmail.com