A Guide to Recognizing & Preventing Canine Parvovirus

 Wednesday May 25,2022
By  Lancaster Puppies

Canine parvovirus, also referred to as parvo, is a highly contagious and life-threatening virus that affects the gastrointestinal systems of dogs. If you spend a lot of time around dogs and puppies, chances are you’ve heard about this devastating virus. While there’s currently no cure for dogs who contract parvo, there are treatment methods that can help. Staying informed and taking preventive measures to keep your pups healthy and safe from parvo is one of the best decisions you can make for your dogs.

1. Understand the Virus

Parvovirus targets dogs’ stomachs and small intestines. This virus impairs the immune system, leads to dehydration, and causes white blood cell loss. With the dog’s immune defense lowered, infections caused by the virus can wreak havoc. Parvo can leave a dog impoverished by interacting with the absorption of nutrients, damaging the gut barrier, and harming cells. This virus is extremely serious in puppies as it can harm their hearts, bones, and lymphopoietic tissue.

Symptoms of canine parvovirus include:

  • Diarrhea / Bloody Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

  • Fever

  • Low Body Temperature

  • Weakness

  • Dehydration

  • Lethargy

  • Weight Loss

  • Loss of Appetite

  • Bloating

  • Stomach Pain

Parvo is passed on through contact with dogs that have the virus, as well as infected items such as toys, water bowls, food bowls, feces, and vomit. Humans can also pass parvovirus to dogs if they’ve been around a dog with parvo.

Canine Parvovirus Vaccine Timeline2. Fully Vaccinate Dogs Against Parvo

Puppies between 6 weeks to 6 months old, as well as dogs that have not been vaccinated against parvo, are at a higher risk of getting the virus. Similarly, dogs who are vaccinated but have other medical conditions and a weakened immune system are also at risk. If the dam used in breeding has all her vaccinations up-to-date, puppies in her litter under 6 weeks old will receive antibodies from her. However, these antibodies are not enough to fully protect puppies.

It’s a necessity that puppies receive all 3 parvo shots and a booster to protect them from the virus. Puppies should get their first shot around 6 weeks old, the second around 8 weeks, the third around 12 weeks, and the booster around 16 to 20 weeks. When your puppy is 1 year old, they should receive a second booster, and from then on receive a booster around every 3 years.

3. Avoid Public Places Until Fully Vaccinated

Parvo is a nasty virus that is very difficult to get rid of. This virus is able to survive and spread despite hot or cold temperatures, even surviving outside during the winter months. Surprisingly, parvovirus can last a long time on its own in both indoor and outdoor environments. Even without a host, parvo can last a minimum of 1 month indoors and anywhere from multiple months to over a year outdoors.

Puppies should be kept away from dogs that are not fully vaccinated against parvo. Until your dog has all its parvo vaccinations, dog parks and doggy daycare should be avoided. You can safely socialize your puppy by having playdates at your house or other less-crowded locations with a few dogs that you know are fully vaccinated.

Until your puppy has its parvo vaccinations, it’s best to carry and hold them in public places (including vet visits) instead of letting them walk around. Because parvo can remain in the grass, bushes, trees, and various surfaces for months, carrying your puppy where other dogs may have played or used the bathroom will help prevent your puppy from contracting parvovirus.

4. Isolate Dogs Sick with Parvo

Dogs and puppies with parvo should be isolated from other dogs, especially those that have not had all their parvovirus vaccinations. Owners and breeders should take preventive measures to keep their dogs and puppies safe. If a dog becomes sick, you must quarantine and isolate them from other dogs to prevent the virus from spreading.

A dog quarantined with parvo should remain isolated and away from other dogs until they test negative for the virus and are given the okay from your vet. You should quarantine the sick dog in a room that is comfortable and calm.

5. Keep Areas Clean and Disinfected

Yellow Labrador Retriever sleeping on a blue dog bedThorough cleaning and disinfecting should be done after items and surfaces have been exposed to prevent the virus from continuing to spread. This includes cleaning any areas containing feces, sanitizing contaminated items, and disinfecting kennels. While many household disinfecting products don’t work on parvo, you can use a diluted mixture of 1 part bleach and 30 parts water as well as other parvo-fighting cleaners. When cleaning infected areas, use disposable cleaning products and avoid using mops, which will just hold the virus and continue to spread it. Wearing disposable gloves and shoe covers are also highly recommended when coming in contact with items, areas, and dogs that are suspected of or confirmed to have parvo.

Whether a contaminated item is worth cleaning, such as bedding, towels, and clothing, depends on how soiled the item is. If the item is only lightly affected, like clothing you wore while holding a sick puppy or an unsoiled dog bed, wash the item in a washing machine with hot water and strong detergent. Next, run the items through a dryer machine as hanging items to dry is not recommended where parvo is concerned. If an item is heavily soiled, it may be best to throw it away.

6. Contact Vet at Any Signs of Sickness

Dogs with parvovirus won’t always show every symptom. In fact, a dog can be infected and only have 1 symptom. Contacting your vet when your puppy or dog shows any sign of sickness can be vital if parvo treatment is needed. This is a fast-acting virus that can kill dogs within 48 to 72 hours after the first sign of symptoms so it's better to err on the side of caution.

Parvovirus is diagnosed through a fecal test, and while there is no drug for parvo, vets are able to help the dog survive through other methods. Treatment for canine parvovirus usually involves overnight stays at the vet to keep the dog on a consistent intake of nutrients, fluids, and/or antibiotics through IVs and injections. Because parvo can affect a dog’s bone marrow and white cell count, blood transfusions may also be needed. Having a vet treat your dog’s dehydration caused by parvo is a necessity as excessive diarrhea and vomiting can make a dog go into septic shock.

Finding out one of your dogs has parvovirus can be scary; however, treatment and help are available. The ASPCA has put together a helpful parvo response plan that is used by shelters but works just as well for kennels and breeders. When in doubt, never hesitate to contact your veterinarian with concerns and questions. Remember that active prevention and reducing the risk of sickness are the best ways to keep a dog parvo-free.

For more information on caring for your pups, check out our blog.