Parvo in Dogs & Puppies: Signs, Treatment, & More [Vet-Approved]

A close-up of a dog that appears lethargic to represent one of many parvo symptoms in dogs

Parvovirus in a dog can produce a range of symptoms that mainly affect the dog’s digestive system. These symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, a sudden fever, lack of appetite and lethargy. These symptoms alone are not conclusive of parvo in dogs but they are clues that a dog may have contracted this contagious (and potentially lethal) disease — especially if coinciding with the lack of canine parvovirus vaccination

Upon observing parvo symptoms in dogs, pet parents are recommended to seek veterinary attention — especially for puppies, adolescent dogs, senior pets, and immunocompromised pets.  

This complete guide talks about canine parvovirus, parvo symptoms, how to prevent parvo in dogs, and more. 

What’s in This Guide?

What is Parvovirus in a Dog?

Parvovirus in a dog (often shortened as ‘parvo in dogs’) is a highly contagious viral infection that affects multiple bodily systems in dogs but is most commonly detected because of symptoms involving the gastrointestinal tract. Parvo in dogs can be fatal, especially for puppies, young dogs, senior dogs, and dogs with a weakened immune system. 

Prompt medical attention and hospitalization increase the chances of survival for dogs that contract canine parvovirus; hence, pet parents are advised to reach out to a veterinarian as soon as they observe parvo symptoms. 

Cause of Parvo in Dogs 

Parvovirus in a dog is caused by the virus known as Canine Parvovirus Type 2, which is often shortened as CPV or CPV-2. After a dog is infected, canine parvovirus goes through the tonsils, lymph nodes, bloodstream, and bone marrow. CPV eventually reaches the digestive tract — and for very young dogs, CPV can also infect the heart. Parvovirus in a dog does its worst (and potentially most fatal damage) to the digestive tract and heart, damaging the intestinal lining and causing inflammation of the heart muscle.

Parvo in dogs can be contracted by dogs and puppies via:

  • Direct contact with infected dogs; 
  • Direct contact with Infected feces which can be from other dogs or wild animals that can carry CPV; and
  • Direct contact with contaminated objects, surfaces, and environments.

Note: Canine parvovirus can remain alive and infectious in contaminated surfaces and environments for 6 months to a year

Parvovirus Symptoms in Dogs

The most common parvo symptoms in dogs include the following: 

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy (lack of energy)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (often bloody)
  • A bloated abdomen
  • Signs of abdominal pain
  • Sudden fever or the opposite, low body temperature 

Note: It is highly recommended to seek urgent veterinary care upon observing the above symptoms because parvovirus can cause shock or dehydration. In some cases, this can lead to death within 48 hours after the symptoms were first observed. 

Diagnosing Canine Parvovirus

Promptly diagnosing and treating canine parvovirus is critical. Although the disease can be fatal for puppies and dogs, veterinary intervention greatly increases their chance of survival. 

To screen for parvovirus, veterinarians will start with a physical examination of the puppy or dog. They may also review the dog’s vaccination records to see if they have an up-to-date canine parvovirus vaccination. In addition, veterinarians may request bloodwork in order to look for markers that correlate with canine parvovirus. 

To confirm the presence of parvovirus in a dog, veterinarians will use the dog’s fecal sample to conduct a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test or ELISA (enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent assay). Though the results of all laboratory tests can take minutes or hours, results are relatively more quickly obtained in veterinary clinics that have an in-house laboratory. Furthermore, the patient will be stabilized while the results of the laboratory tests are still pending.  

In specific cases, imaging tests (e.g. x-rays, ultrasound) may be recommended by the veterinarian to rule out other gastrointestinal problems or to inspect potential complications. 

Note: Only licensed veterinarians can conclusively diagnose parvovirus in a dog because parvo symptoms, by themselves, can be easily mistaken for other gastrointestinal issues.

Closeup of a dog getting blood extracted for bloodwork needed for screening parvo in dogs with the syringe needle blurred

How to Treat Parvovirus in a Dog

Once canine parvovirus is diagnosed, veterinarians will instruct pet parents on the next steps to take; this usually involves hospitalization. 

While a puppy or dog with parvovirus is hospitalized, they will be given:

  • IV fluids to correct and manage dehydration;
  • Antibiotics to prevent or control sepsis; 
  • Anti-emetics to help with nausea;
  • Medication for managing pain; and
  • Other required supportive care, depending on the individual case.

While dogs are hospitalized for parvovirus, pet parents may be instructed to disinfect the home areas where the dog or puppy frequented — because as mentioned earlier, the virus can be viable for months on contaminated surfaces. 

How to Prevent Parvo in Dogs: 

The best way to prevent parvo in dogs is to make sure your pup is up-to-date on their vaccinations. This section covers more about parvovirus vaccination and other preventive tips.

1. Boost Your Dog’s Immunity: The DHPP Combo Vaccine

The surest way to prevent parvovirus in a dog or puppy is to maintain an up-to-date parvovirus vaccination. The parvovirus vaccine is typically administered as part of a combo dog vaccine known as the DHPP vaccine.

The DHPP vaccine, which is given to puppies that are at least 6 weeks old, protects against canine parvovirus, distemper, canine hepatitis, & canine parainfluenza. During initial vaccination, puppies below 16 weeks of age receive a series of DHPP booster shots, every 3-4 weeks, until they reach 16 weeks of age. There are different guidelines for administering booster shots, during initial vaccination, to dogs above 16 weeks of age. 

Learn more about dog vaccine schedules - TUPP’s Guide to Dog Vaccines

Note: After the initial vaccination is completed, revaccination is done every 1-3 years, depending on the type of DHPP vaccine used. Regular revaccination ensures that dogs have an active immunity against the transmissible diseases targeted by the vaccine. 

2. Watch Out for Common ‘Parvovirus Reservoirs’

‘Parvovirus reservoirs’ include feces from infected animals and contaminated objects. More to that point, a number of animals, aside from dogs, can be infected with canine parvovirus. These include wildlife such as raccoons and foxes.  

Hence, ‘parvovirus reservoirs’ can be on hiking trails, the dog park, a dog boarding facility, or one’s own yard. Because parvovirus can be anywhere, this emphasizes the necessity for vaccination. In addition, to lessen the chances of parvovirus exposure, dogs need to be trained to not steal the toys of other dogs and to refrain from ingesting feces.  

3. Protect Unvaccinated Puppies & Dogs

For pet parents of unvaccinated puppies and dogs (including ones that are due for DHPP revaccination), protect your pup by limiting their exposure to strange dogs and wildlife

Sploot’s Associate Veterinarian Dr. Molly Wozniak recommends: “Puppies should not be exposed to public places until they've gotten the entire vaccine series, [which is] generally finished at around 16 weeks.”

4. Practice Regular Disinfection

Practicing good hygiene helps in eliminating potential parvovirus reservoirs at home. It is recommended that pet parents regularly clean their backyard, living spaces, dog bowls, dog toys, and other items your dog regularly uses. Thorough handwashing after touching a strange dog is also helpful. 

5. Schedule Regular Wellness Exams 

Scheduling regular wellness exams with your veterinarian does two important things: (1) you will get to conveniently update your dog’s vaccinations and (2) you will get personalized guidance on making sure your fur baby is as healthy as can be. 

Why is optimum health still important even after vaccination? This is because getting a parvovirus vaccine does not eliminate any and all chances of contracting the disease. In fact, no vaccine can guarantee 100% protection against its target disease

But where the vaccine’s protection ends, overall great health takes over. All things equal, a dog that has great health has a better chance of resisting parvovirus infection than one that isn’t in their best health.

A dog getting a revaccination of DHPP and wellness exam at Sploot Veterinary Care Denver to prevent parvo in dogs

Does Parvovirus in a Dog Need Urgent Veterinary Care?

Yes. Pet parents who suspect parvovirus infection in their pups need to reach out to an urgent care vet or an emergency vet. 

Are There Seasons When Parvo in Dogs is More Common?

Canine parvovirus can be contracted by pups during any season. However, a peak in outbreaks has been observed during May and June (i.e. late spring to summer). This might be due, in part, to the increase in outdoor activities and socialization among pet dogs during this time of the year.  

Do Dogs Need to be Revaccinated for Canine Parvovirus?

Yes. Dogs generally need to be revaccinated for canine parvovirus every 1- 3 years, depending on the type of DHPP vaccine used. 

Final Thoughts About Parvovirus in a Dog

We hope you found this guide helpful. As a final note, we’d like to remind pet parents to be aware of their pups’ revaccination schedules. Each dog vaccine follows a schedule for revaccination to give the dog active immunity against the vaccine’s target disease.

Learn more about dog vaccination schedules - TUPP's Guide to Dog Vaccines

Looking to update your dog’s DHPP vaccine? Sploot Veterinary Care is here to help! Schedule an appointment conveniently online — whether it’s weeks, or days in advance. We also accept walk-ins across our multiple locations, open daily from 10 am to 10 pm

In addition, if you have questions about parvovirus in a dog or parvo symptoms, please feel free to reach out. Till next time, we’re with your every pounce of the way!