Parvo In Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention & More

Dog with surgical mask on (text in image: Parvo in dogs)Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that’s particularly prevalent in puppies. Parvo can cause severe symptoms that often lead to death if left untreated. Read on to learn more about this disease, symptoms, how to treat it and prevent it from spreading to others.

Article Overview

What Is Canine Parvo?

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Canine parvovirus is an extremely contagious viral illness that manifests itself in two different forms: cardiac and intestinal. Less common is the cardiac form, which attacks the heart muscles of very young puppies under 8 weeks old, often leading to death. Much more common is the intestinal form, which affects puppies between the ages of 6 weeks and 6 months in a vast majority of cases.

Puppies can be exposed by direct contact with infected dogs or by sniffing, licking or consuming infected feces. It can also spread through indirect transmission in several ways: when a person who has recently handled an infected dog touches your puppy or when a puppy encounters a contaminated object, such as food and water bowls, collars and leashes or bedding and toys.

Higher-Risk Breeds

Doberman Pinscher Some breeds are more prone to complications from parvovirus, including:


Dog sick on bed under pink blanket (text in image: how to diagnose & treat Dog Diarrhea)Dogs that develop intestinal parvo will show symptoms 3-10 days after being exposed, but a majority of adult dogs don’t ever exhibit signs. The most common symptoms in puppies include:

  • Diarrhea (usually bloody)
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration


If you notice these symptoms, it’s important to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible because the mortality rate of untreated cases is a sobering 90%.

Intestinal parvo can damage the lining of the intestines, causing protein and blood to leak. This can lead to several medical concerns such as sepsis, anemia, the escape of endotoxins into the bloodstream and a severe drop in white blood cells.


Your vet will diagnose parvo through symptoms, a physical examination and blood tests to look for low white blood cell levels, which are common with parvo. They may also run a fecal CPV ELISA test to determine if virus antigens are in your dog’s feces.

If your dog is severely ill, your vet may also run additional tests to determine the extent of the illness. A urine analysis can reveal elevated liver enzymes and electrolyte imbalances. An abdominal x-ray can show intestinal damage, obstructions and fluid-filled intestinal segments.


There is no cure for parvo, so your vet will treat the symptoms your dog is suffering from during the illness. Parvo often causes puppies to get dehydrated from excessive diarrhea and vomiting. And dogs with parvo are also at a high risk of developing infections because the virus weakens the immune system.

To combat dehydration, your vet will make sure your pup is replenishing the loss of electrolytes, proteins and fluids. Severe cases can even require IV fluids. Your vet may also administer an antidiarrheal medication.

Parvo also lowers a dog’s white blood cell count, seriously weakening the immune system and leaving dogs susceptible to secondary bacterial infections. This is of particular concern with parvo because the virus can damage a dog’s intestinal walls, increasing the chance of infection. So your vet may also put your pup on an antibiotic to combat infections.

Many cases of parvo require hospitalization for several days. Recovery times vary based on the severity of each case, but it typically takes about 7-10 days for puppies to recover from parvo. The survival rate of dogs that get vet treatment is 68% to 92%.


Vet wearing gloves pinching dog skin and giving injection The first step in preventing parvo is vaccination, so make sure you’re getting all of the recommended puppy vaccinations from your vet. Puppies under 6 weeks of age retain immunity from their vaccinated mother. Then, they receive courses of vaccinations against parvo at approximately 6, 8 and 12 weeks of age.

To develop ideal protection, puppies should also get a dose of the parvo vaccine between 14 and 16 weeks of age, regardless of how many doses they received earlier.

Puppies who have not yet received all 3 parvo shots are still very vulnerable to contracting the virus. Use extreme caution when socializing your puppy until he’s fully vaccinated. Avoid dog parks and other public areas. You can safely socialize your puppy with fully vaccinated adult dogs in a safe place like your home.

Preventing The Spread

Dogs with parvo can be contagious for up to 6 weeks after the initial sign of symptoms, so isolating an infected dog is crucial. Once recovered, dogs are immune to reinfection, but you should consider disinfecting certain areas to help prevent the spread to other dogs.

Parvo is extremely hardy and can survive on areas infected with feces indoors for at least a month and outdoors for up to a year under the right conditions. If you’re concerned about another dog being exposed in your home or yard, use a water/bleach solution (15:1 ratio) to wash all bedding and clean bowls, toys, crates, collars, leashes, etc. You can also use this solution in any dog elimination area outdoors.

Help With Treatment Costs

Many cases of canine parvovirus treatment require hospitalization, which means a sizable vet bill. Treatment for one puppy typically starts at $1,200 and can be as high as $5,000. Even without the need for hospitalization, the vet exam, testing, electrolyte treatment and antibiotics can easily run into the hundreds.

You never want to be faced with the situation that your dog is suffering or could die because you can’t afford treatment. So, you may want to consider getting pet insurance as soon as possible to protect your pup from unexpected illnesses and accidents. Read our pet insurance reviews to learn more.

Is your dog showing signs of parvo or has your dog been treated for parvo?

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