Parvovirus (Parvo) In Dogs

What is parvovirus?

Parvovirus (parvo) is a disease that affects dogs and presents itself intestinally or cardiovascularly. The more common form is the intestinal form. Symptoms include severe vomiting, blood in the stools, and loss of weight and appetite. The cardiac form is less common and attacks the heart muscles of very young puppies.

How do dogs contract parvovirus?

Parvovirus is highly contagious and can survive for long periods in the environment. The virus can withstand cleaning and weather changes, meaning the spread of the virus is hard to control. It can be easily transferred on the paws and shoes of dogs and humans or other items contaminated with the virus, like bedding. It is passed in the faeces of infected animals.

This virus is typically seen in young unvaccinated puppies, but older dogs can become infected too. Symptoms progress rapidly, and the disease can be fatal. Targetted treatments are risky, expensive, and have a low success rate. Vaccinating your pet against parvovirus is your best bet to protect them from the disease.

What are the symptoms of parvovirus?

The main symptoms of parvovirus are sudden, severe vomiting, and bloody diarrhoea. Other symptoms include weight loss, lack of energy, and abdominal sensitivity.

The virus attacks the lining of the intestines and the bone marrow. The damaged bone marrow can no longer produce sufficient numbers of white blood cells needed to fight off infections.

How is parvovirus diagnosed?

Parvovirus typically attacks young, unvaccinated puppies. Vomiting or diarrhoea (particularly bloody) in dogs less than six months of age will be suspected to have the disease.

A test is available that can detect the presence of the virus in faeces.

How is parvovirus treated?

No drug is available that can kill the virus inside the body. Therefore, treatment mainly involves giving supportive care until the virus is passed from the body. Aggressive treatment is usually required to save most dogs. This includes an intravenous drip to prevent dehydration, drugs to control vomiting, and antibiotics to kill bacteria that may pass from the intestines into the bloodstream. Some dogs may need a blood or plasma transfusion.

Death rates in infected dogs are unfortunately high, with younger dogs being more susceptible.

How do I prevent my dog from catching parvovirus?

A highly effective vaccination is available to protect your dog against parvovirus. Puppies should receive this vaccine to the following schedule:

  • 6 to 8 weeks of age
  • again at 10 to 12 weeks old
  • again at 14 to 16 weeks old
  • a booster vaccination yearly for the rest of their life

Remember, your puppy will not have full immunity against the virus until two weeks after their final vaccine.

An ongoing vaccination program will be determined by your veterinarian in consultation with you to ensure continued immunity. If your dog presents with any of the symptoms of parvovirus, it is vital you contact your local vet.