What Is Parvo In Dogs?

Everything you need to know about parvo 🦠

parvo in dogs

You might’ve heard that parvo (aka parvovirus) in dogs is a serious disease that’s super contagious — so what would it mean if your dog got infected?

Parvo can be fatal if your pup isn’t treated at a hospital, but it’s also super preventable thanks to the parvovirus vaccine.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Cristina Bustamante, an associate veterinarian with Caring Hands Animal Hospital in Florida and founder of Dr. B Vet, to find out everything you need to know about parvo in dogs.

What is parvo?

Parvo is a highly contagious, often fatal virus that commonly infects unvaccinated puppies.

“Puppies are most susceptible to parvovirus, but older unvaccinated dogs can also become very ill from this virus,” Dr. Bustamante told The Dodo.

Once a dog’s infected, the virus targets areas in the body where the cells divide rapidly so it can spread as quickly as possible.

“It’s a virus that affects a dog's bone marrow and intestines and causes severe illness and often death,” Dr. Bustamante said. ”Parvo is very dangerous since their intestinal lining is destroyed by the virus and their bone marrow can’t produce immune defenses to fight infections.”

How do dogs get parvo?

Dogs get parvo by coming into contact with infected poop directly or from being in an environment where there’s been contaminated poop.

“Parvovirus is transmitted via the fecal-oral route,” Dr. Bustamante said. “The virus is transmitted by dog-to-dog contact and contact with objects contaminated with infected fecal material.”

Since parvo is so easily transmitted, dogs can often get parvo in places like:

  • Obedience classes
  • Dog parks
  • Grooming salons
  • Boarding facilities

“Avoid taking your puppy to these places until your veterinarian confirms that your puppy is fully vaccinated,” Dr. Bustamante said.

What are the symptoms of parvo in dogs?

The symptoms of parvo in dogs include:

  • Stomach upset
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased energy
  • Fever
  • Death

“There is an incubation period of three to seven days between when the puppy is infected and when it starts showing signs,” Dr. Bustamante said.

Not all dogs with parvo will show signs of infection, though.

“Some puppies will have no symptoms and shed the virus, and others will have sudden death,” Dr. Bustamante said. “Each parvo puppy is different, and some will show less symptoms than others.”

That’s why it’s so important to get your dog the parvovirus vaccine.

Is there treatment for parvo?

Treatment for parvo involves bringing your dog to an animal hospital so he can get the proper care he needs to survive such a serious virus.

“Puppies with vomiting or diarrhea should be seen by a veterinarian since they can easily become dehydrated and have low blood sugar levels,” Dr. Bustamante said. “Your puppy should be hospitalized, given intravenous fluids for hydration, antibiotics, special feeding, pain medication and intensive veterinary care.”

You might be wondering if there’s an at-home remedy for parvo, but hospitalization is crucial for a successful recovery.

“Most puppies that do not receive hospitalization do not survive,” Dr. Bustamante said. “After discharge from the hospital, your veterinarian will likely prescribe at-home medication and [a] prescription diet until your puppy feels completely better.”

You still need to disinfect your home before your pup gets back from the hospital, since it’s so easy for parvo to spread and you don’t want your dog to get reinfected.

“If you’ve had an infected dog in your home, then make sure to clean your home appropriately with diluted bleach (one part bleach with 30 parts water) since this virus is very strong and can live in the environment for many months,” Dr. Bustamante said. “Do not bleach your backyard — rain will eventually dilute the amount of viral particles in your yard.”

You should also wait a while before having other pups over for a playdate, especially if they’re unvaccinated.

“If you recently had an infected dog, make sure to wait many months prior to bringing another not-fully vaccinated young puppy home,” Dr. Bustamante said. “Parvovirus can live up to a year in soil.”

How to prevent parvo in dogs

Getting your dog the parvo vaccine is the most effective way to prevent him from getting the virus.

Just know that it’s super important to make sure your dog is fully vaccinated and up to date on his boosters, because if he hasn’t had all his shots, he can still get parvo.

Your dog can get the parvo vaccine — which is part of a combination vaccine called the DA2P vaccine that also protects against distemper and adenovirus — as early as 6 weeks old.

After that, he should get that same combo vaccine every two to four weeks until he’s 16 weeks old.

Once those rounds of shots are over, your pup will need a DA2P booster a year later. He’ll need to continue getting boosters every three years after that for the rest of his life.

So, while parvo in dogs is super serious, it’s possible to treat. But the best way to protect your dog from parvo is to get him vaccinated and keep him up to date on each dose and booster.

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