Parvovirus in dogs

  • Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious disease that can be fatal to dogs. Puppies aged six weeks to six months are most at risk.
  • Parvo attacks a dog’s cells in their intestine, meaning they become dehydrated and weak
  • There is no cure, but vaccinating a dog or puppy against parvo will protect them

What is parvovirus?

Parvovirus is a highly infectious disease that can be fatal.  Many dogs who are diagnosed with parvo will die.

The virus attacks cells in a dog’s intestines and stops them from being able to absorb vital nutrients. This means that a dog or puppy will become very weak and dehydrated.

It is also known as canine parvovirus, or CPV.

How do you know if your dog has parvovirus?

Symptoms of parvo include foul-smelling diarrhoea with blood in it, vomiting, loss of appetite, collapse, depression, fever and sudden death.

Who is at risk?

Young puppies and unvaccinated dogs, including those who have not had their booster injections, are most at risk from becoming victims of parvo.

Puppies go downhill very quickly because the symptoms caused by parvovirus make them very weak, and mean their immune systems have to work very hard to fight the disease. Youngsters between six weeks and six months old are also more susceptible to secondary infections, or they may die from dehydration.

Parvo outbreaks are most commonly seen in towns and cities with a large population of unvaccinated dogs.

Is parvovirus contagious to other dogs?

Yes. Parvo is highly contagious to other dogs and spreads very easily around dogs and puppies that aren’t up to date with their vaccinations.

It takes up to seven days for a dog to show signs of having parvovirus after they have caught it.

Parvovirus spreads through body fluids, including in a dog’s poo and vomit. It is extremely hardy and can survive in the environment outside the body – for example in the grass at a park – for at least six months, and possibly much longer. Your dog can even contract parvo by sniffing another dog’s poo and it’s not uncommon for dogs to catch parvo when out for a walk.

If your dog has come into contact with bedding, food and water bowls, carpet, or a kennel that a dog with parvovirus has touched, they can catch the virus. Parvo can also be spread on shoes, clothing and human hands.

It is really important to protect your dog against this horrible disease by vaccinating them.

How can I prevent my dog catching this disease?

Dogs and puppies can be vaccinated against parvovirus from the age of six weeks.

A puppy should have their first vaccine at six to eight weeks old. They will then need a second vaccine two weeks later. After that, they will need a booster vaccine at one year old.

After this, dogs need a booster vaccination yearly or less often, as advised by your vet. This is all that is needed to prevent your dog catching this fatal disease.

Vaccination for parvovirus is routine and is one of the three main diseases that dogs are normally vaccinated against. Your dog should be given a vaccination card with the date of the jab and the date the next shot is due. This will be signed by your vet or registered veterinary nurse (RVN).

Boosters are important for dogs to keep up to date with, but the time between these varies so check with your vet to see how often your dog should be vaccinated.

Parvo and puppies

If you are getting a puppy from a breeder or rescue centre, do not take them home without making sure they have had at least their first vaccination against parvo first. Ask for proof (a vaccination card signed by a vet or vet nurse) that they have been vaccinated and confirmation of when the next jab is due.

We also recommend phoning the vet who has vaccinated them to make sure it has been done as, sadly, at Blue Cross we are treating increasing numbers of puppies that have been bought from sellers who have stated the pup has been vaccinated when they clearly have not been. Devastatingly for the owners and our vets and nurses, some of these puppies have not survived, despite round the clock care.

What should I do if I suspect my dog has parvo?

If you recognise the symptoms above in your own dog, call your veterinary practice immediately for advice. Make sure to tell them what symptoms your dog or puppy has, and whether or not they’ve come into contact with a dog with confirmed parvovirus.

Most deaths from parvo happen within 48 to 72 hours after the symptoms begin. The quicker you seek help, the greater your pet’s chances of survival.

Keep your dog away from other dogs as it spreads easily. Tell your vet if you also have other dogs in your household as they can give advice on how to stop it spreading around all your pets.

Don’t forget that any cases of severe gastroenteritis should be taken seriously; even if parvovirus is not the cause, contact your vet if your dog has diarrhoea or any of the other symptoms listed above.

My dog has parvovirus. What treatment is available?

There are no drugs in existence that can kill the virus.

Instead, treatment for parvo is designed to support a dog’s immune system and help their body become strong enough to fight off the disease.

Dogs and puppies with parvovirus need to be treated at a vet’s and are likely to need hospitalisation. They will be put on a drip and given intravenous fluids to stop them from becoming dehydrated. They may also be given drugs to help control vomiting, which also helps to prevent dehydration.

If a dog with parvo has caught a secondary infection as a result of a weakened immune system, they may be given antibiotics.

Dogs and puppies with parvo must be put in isolation and kept well away from other animals. Vets and nurses will wear special clothes and shoes when treating them which can be removed and sanitised to prevent the disease spreading to other patients at the veterinary surgery or hospital.

The average hospital stay for a dog recovering from parvo is five to seven days. Unfortunately, puppies are often not strong enough to survive the toll the disease takes on their young bodies and many will die.

Treatment for parvo is also very expensive because your dog will need several days’ stay in intensive care. Costs for round the clock nursing and veterinary care, medicines and fluids tot up. Bills can easily run into the hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds. Vaccination prices are much, much cheaper (around £30 to £70 at a private vet practice) not to mention the emotional costs of having an extremely sick dog who is likely to die.

Can humans catch parvovirus from dogs?

Humans cannot get parvovirus from their dogs, however they can pass parvo from one dog to another on their clothes, shoes or hands.

Humans can contract a human version of parvovirus, but this is a different strain from the one that affects dogs. Humans cannot pass the human type of parvo to a dog either.

— Page last updated 22/09/2016