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Parvovirus In Dogs

If you’re thinking about getting a dog, it’s important to do your research on common diseases that might affect your pup in order to ensure that your pet lives the longest and healthiest life possible. These beloved furry friends bring our families so much joy, but unfortunately, there are many diseases that can be seriously detrimental to the health of dogs, particularly if they are unvaccinated. In your research to be more knowledgeable on the potential health risks for dogs, you might have come across the term “parvovirus”. Also known as CPV or parvo, it’s a common and fatal disease that can affect dogs.

Image via Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

What is Parvo

The first recorded instance of parvo occurred in 1978, making the disease relatively novel. In essence, parvo is a highly contagious virus that targets a dog’s gastrointestinal tract, bone marrow, and lymphopoietic tissues and in some cases, the pathogen can also impact the heart. This disease is very serious and is potentially life-threatening. As it’s extremely contagious and very durable, it’s also a very common disease. Parvo mostly affects unvaccinated dogs and puppies younger than four months old as they have weaker immune systems compared to older, vaccinated dogs.

The faeces of infected dogs is how parvo mainly spreads. The virus begins to shed in the faeces just before clinical signs develop, and shedding continues for about fourteen days after clinical signs resolve. This disease spreads through direct dog-to-dog contact, contaminated faeces, or objects such as kennel surfaces, food bowls, collars, and leashes. The virus can also contaminate the hands and clothing, such as shoes, of people who handle infected dogs. 

The primary reason why this disease is so easily transmitted is because the virus exhibits a remarkable resistance, demonstrating prolonged viability within its surroundings. It is shed abundantly by infected dogs, displaying a high level of contagiousness, and in the absence of suitable treatment, frequently culminates in fatality. Not only that, parvovirus is also resistant to heat, cold, humidity, and drying. Dogs can even be infected through trace amounts of contaminated faeces. This is why the parvo vaccine is considered a core vaccine for puppies and dogs.

Why do Puppies Get Parvo?

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Although parvovirus can affect dogs of any age, puppies aged 6 weeks to 6 months are the most susceptible to parvo. This is because puppies at this age have weaker immune systems. 

Puppies tend to start weaning off their mother’s milk at around 6 to 7 weeks old, at which time they can begin to receive their vaccinations. Puppies younger than six weeks old still retain antibodies from drinking their mother’s milk, with the assumption that she has received her full series of parvo vaccinations. 

Additionally, the process of weaning can lead to more serious cases of parvo in puppies, as stress weakens the immune system. The disease can also be further exacerbated by a secondary infection or a parasite.

There are certain breeds of dogs who are generally more susceptible to contracting parvo, such as:

  • Rottweilers
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • American Staffordshire Terriers
  • English Springer Spaniels
  • German Shepherd Dogs
  • Labrador Retrievers

Adult dogs and vaccinated dogs are still susceptible to parvovirus, although the risk is significantly reduced by proper vaccination. It is also important to note that cats also have a type of parvovirus, known as feline panleukopenia. Although dogs cannot be infected by feline parvovirus, cats can become infected with canine parvovirus.

Can Humans Get Parvo?

No, humans cannot get canine parvo; they can only transmit it through skin or clothing contact. However, humans can get human parvovirus B19. Canines can only get canine parvovirus and humans can only get human parvovirus B19.

How Long are Puppies with Parvo Contagious?

The first shedding of the virus begins within 4 to 5 days of exposure through the faeces of the dog. However, symptoms may not appear until 3 or 4 days after they become infected as there is an incubation period. This means that dogs can be contagious before owners even realise that they are sick, thus other dogs, objects, and environments that they may have come into contact with may already have been contaminated. 

Infected puppies continue to shed the virus for up to 10 days after clinical recovery, so it’s important to isolate puppies recovering from parvo away from unvaccinated and partially vaccinated dogs.

Beyond affecting your dog, the virus is able to survive indoors for at least one month, and many months up to even a year under the right conditions outdoors. Although canine parvovirus is stable in the environment and is resistant to heat, detergents, alcohol, and many disinfectants, you can use specific cleaners that have been proven to kill parvovirus to decontaminate your home.

Symptoms of Parvo in Puppies

Parvo is a very serious canine disease. It is extremely important to inform your vet as soon as you notice the symptoms of parvo before heading to the clinic so that they can take appropriate measures to contain the disease. Please take note that there are no home remedies for parvo. 

Symptoms of canine parvovirus can include:

  • Bloody diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Dehydration
  • Depression

Treating Parvo in Puppies

Unfortunately, a cure has not been found for parvo, and although it is possible for your pet to survive the disease, the disease can still be fatal. The survival rate is approximately 75% – 80% if the puppy is hospitalised, given lots of supportive care, and monitored closely. It also depends on age, size and how sick the dog is when owners first seek care. If the puppy survives the first three to four days, it is likely that they’ll make a complete recovery. It usually takes approximately one week for puppies to recover from parvo, although the puppy will continue to shed the virus for up to 10 days post-recovery, which is why it is important to continue to isolate them.

Serious viruses such as canine parvo will weaken a puppy’s immune system and lower their white blood cell count. Subsequently, this results in the reduction of their ability to fight off secondary bacterial infections. Secondary bacterial infections are likely to occur because of the damage the virus does to a dog’s intestinal wall. Antibiotic medication will likely be given to combat these bacterial infections, and close  monitoring is required in case of additional complications.

Preventing Parvo in Puppies

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As they say, prevention is better than cure, and the best way to prevent parvovirus in puppies is by vaccinating both the puppy and its mother. As puppies will depend on the mother’s antibodies for the first few weeks of life, it’s extremely important that the mother has received her parvo vaccines, as the antibodies will be shared with the puppy through her milk.

Puppies can begin their cycle of vaccination at approximately 6 weeks, followed up by 2 more vaccinations at 8 and 12 weeks of age. Puppies are extremely vulnerable to the disease until they have received all three shots in their parvo vaccination series, which means owners need to take extra precaution during this time to prevent their puppies from contracting the virus.

Apart from that, puppies should also receive subsequent doses of the parvo vaccine between 14 and 16 weeks of age to develop adequate protection. This is regardless of how many doses they’ve received before. 

It’s also important to not allow your puppy to come into contact with unvaccinated dogs until they have received the full dosage of all their vaccines. When socialising your puppy, take precautions to make sure that they only mingle with vaccinated dogs, such as at the dog park or at doggy daycare.


Canine parvovirus is an extremely contagious disease that can be easily prevented with vaccines. Not only should you vaccinate your puppies, but you should also make sure that they receive their annual booster vaccinations in order to maintain their health and protection against diseases.

The symptoms of parvo will only appear after 3 to 4 days after they have become infected, and shedding of the virus will begin within 4 to 5 days of exposure. It is entirely possible that they become infected before showing symptoms, so be sure to take your dog to the vet immediately after learning that your dog has come into close contact with the disease.

Parvovirus is easily transmitted through any surface area if it comes into contact with an infected dog’s faeces, such as through shoes, collars, as well as direct dog-to-dog contact. Puppies are especially susceptible to parvo, so take extra steps to ensure that your puppy does not come into contact with any infected dog or environment as they have a weak immune system.

This disease is also potentially fatal, so it’s important to vaccinate your canine companions against parvovirus and other diseases.

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