Evidence Based

Parvovirus In Dogs – Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

Written by: Kristina Lalovic
Canine Parvovirus is among most fatal diseases out there for puppies and dogs. This severe infection is easily preventable with a proper vaccination, but that still won't protect your dog completely. Recognizing early symptoms of parvo might save your dog's life. So, read on!

The risk of mortality in parvovirus infection is very high. Luckily, this virus is easily preventable with proper vaccination. Do not risk your puppy’s health and make sure to follow a good puppy vaccination schedule.

But sometimes, even vaccinated dogs get infected by parvo due to the virus’ mutations. In this case, it is important to know how to provide your dog with proper treatment. You don’t want to risk your dog’s life just because you’re poorly informed, right?

Let’s dig in and discover everything you should know about this fatal virus.

Parvovirus is an infection that is potentially fatal for dogs. It emerged in the 1970’s and caused a high rate of morbidity and mortality in puppies. The virus is so dangerous because of its ability to “reinvent” itself. Its numerous mutation become resistant to former treatment and prevention strategies. (1)

Therefore, parvovirus is highly contagious and spreads mostly through contact with feces. Parvo makes the biggest threat for puppies. As dogs age, the risk of parvo infection decreases.

What is Parvovirus?

Parvovirus is a small and simple virus that cause diseases in some mammal species. Cats and other species can get infected by this virus, but this virus affects mostly dogs. A lot of people also ask themselves if humans can get parvo from dogs? Luckily, no. Dogs can’t transmit the same form of the virus to us.

The virus is known as canine parvovirus type 2 (CPV-2). It is named as type 2 because it was the second parvovirus found in dogs. This type had an outbreak in 1978 in the US and spread rapidly throughout the canine population.

But, parvo continued to mutate to CPV-2a and CPV-2b. The vaccine shots given to dogs contain antibodies developed from these mutations.

But recently, researchers and veterinarians found out that another mutation appeared, the CPV-2c. (2) Vaccines however protect dogs to a certain degree from all its mutations, but even a vaccinated dog might catch a mild infection. (3) Thus, being informed about the symptoms is crucial for each dog owner.

The simple structure of this virus is what it makes it so dangerous. Due to this feature, the virus can mutate easily and make prevention quite difficult.

What does this virus do to a dog’s organism?

Parvo damages a dog’s intestines and causes severe dehydration.

The blood vessels in the intestines break and the blood enters the intestines. This might lead to a dangerous spreading of bacteria throughout the entire body. The infection of blood is also known as septicemia and can cause death.

How Is Parvo Transmitted?

The parvovirus is transmitted by direct or indirect contact of infected animal feces. Being extremely resistant, this virus can survive on objects such as bowls, clothes, shoes, toys or floors for months.

It is very contagious and therefore a dog can get parvovirus by anything that comes in contact with infected dog’s feces.

Risk factors

But are there any factors that might indicate a higher risk of parvo infection? In fact, some patterns help us determine which dogs are potentially more susceptible.

The primary factor is a dog’s age. Puppies under 16 weeks of age are most susceptible to parvovirus infection.

Dogs that live in crowded or unsanitary conditions are also at high risk of developing parvo.

It was found that some breeds are more susceptible than others when it comes to parvo. These breeds include Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and English Springer Spaniels. (4)

Another big factor that influences the probability of parvo infection is stress. Stressed dogs are more prone to developing infections, including parvo.


Every responsible owner should be informed about parvo symptoms. Recognizing the early symptoms might cut the death risk and save your dog’s life.

It’s usually easy to tell if a dog is infected with parvovirus. The problem is that it might get confused with minor gastrointestinal issues which can be really dangerous. This sometimes occurs because some of the symptoms might appear similar.

However, some dogs might have a mild infection, while others can suffer from a severe one. In each case, getting a proper treatment is necessary to cure the infection.

Remember that vaccination does not prevent all parvovirus’ infections. So, if some of these symptoms show in your dog, it’s better if you bring him to the vet.

A dog infected with parvo will show these symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Black stool with offensive odor
  • Intestinal bleeding
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Skin tenting
  • Tacky gums
  • Sunken eyes

Puppies affected with parvo will save symptoms of severe diarrhea. The amount of water found in stool might make virus hard to detect.

The most common symptoms to look for are diarrhea, bloody stool, and dehydration.

Bloody diarrhea caused by parvo will have a strong, foul odor.

Dehydration can be easily noticed in a dog’s skin, mouth and gums. While the skin will lose elasticity, the mouth and gums will appear dry and without moist.

In some cases of blood infections caused by parvo, dogs can die before having diarrhea. That’s what makes this virus so unpredictable and fatal.


puppy breathing fast while sleeping

If you’re suspicious that your dog might have parvo, you have to act immediately. Bring your pet to the vet and get prepared to pay for different tests.

The diagnosis of parvo is determined by physical symptoms, stool, and blood tests.

As you can probably guess, the stool tests are performed by examining your dog’s stool samples.

The blood test that detects the presence of parvo is called Parvo Antibody Titer. (5) What it does is detecting dog’s antibodies that are fighting the parvo infection. Titer stands for the level of antibodies in the blood.

Until recently, these tests were able to detect only the CPV-2a and CPV-2b mutations. But luckily, modern tests can show all types of parvo with high accuracy.

Mortality rates

The mortality rates in dogs infected with Parvo are very high, especially when left untreated. In the absence of proper treatment, the mortality rate is reportedly as high as 91%. (6)

On the other hand, when parvo is detected promptly and treated with in-hospital supportive therapy, survival rates can go up to 80-95%.


What happens when a dog is diagnosed with parvo?

All dogs affected with parvovirus have to receive immediate veterinary care, as the first 48 hours from when first symptoms show are critical. Your vet will probably send you and your dog to the hospital.

Unfortunately, there is no medicine that guarantees the cure of this virus. However, some researchers have found that anti-endotoxin immunotherapy reduced the mortality rates compared to traditional way of treating parvo.(7) But we will still have to wait until this new alternative becomes medically approved.

Anyway, what common treatment for parvo actually does is gradually regenerate what parvo damaged. It is designed to reinforce your dog’s immune system by treating different issues at the same time.

The treatment plan will include antibiotics, probiotics, and nutritional support. There are several things that have to be taken care of in case of parvo infection. First of all, dangerous dehydration has to be reversed.

In order to cure dehydration, vets might implement fluid therapy. This therapy will recover circulating blood volume and regenerate the levels of electrolytes. These immunity and strength boosters are preferably given with intravenous administration. (8)

Sometimes, an intraosseous administration can be used when a dog needs an immediate amount of fluid.

Antibiotics are used in order to prevent the bacteria from spreading (septicemia).

The intestinal flora needs a way to regenerate. This is achieved by adding probiotics to the therapy.

How Long Does It Take A Puppy To Get Over Parvo?

If a puppy survives the first three to four days of parvo infection, then it is likely that he would completely recover in about a week.

After the vomiting (know the difference between regular vomiting and vomiting blood) doesn’t recur for more than 24 hours, light food that is easy to digest is slowly added to a dog’s diet. Remember that your love and affection will make the recovery process much easier, as dogs are less stressed when their owners are around.

How Long Should A Dog With Parvo Be Isolated?

When your dog recovers from parvo it will create an immunity to the fatal disease. He won’t be able to catch another parvo again. But, other dogs that get in contact with an infected dog can become contaminated.

Your dog should be in complete isolation from other dogs for up to 6 weeks at least.

Also, keep in mind that you should make sure to clean and disinfect areas in which your pup spent time while being sick. This virus is extremely difficult to kill and is resistant to most common cleaners. So you will have to get creative in order to remove any residual virus of the surfaces your pet had contact with.

Owners should take extreme care in washing their hands and cleaning the soles of shoes before leaving the area after petting their dog or cleaning up contaminated areas.

Can I Treat My Dog’s Parvo At Home?

When parvovirus strikes, you don’t have a lot of time to react. The problem with this is that this disease might catch you off guard. How?

Imagine running to the vet’s with your sick pup, and discovering that you don’t have enough money to pay for the proper treatment.

The parvo treatment includes hospitalization and different medication important for recovering your dog’s health, and as a result, it might end up costing you thousands of dollars.

Some dog owners claim they saved their pups by treating them at home. They used accessible meds and prepared a nutritive beverage they fed to their dogs several times a day. Apparently, in some cases, this approach worked and saved the poor dog’s life without an expensive trip to the vet.

However, treating parvovirus is unpredictable even in optimal, clinic conditions, so deciding to cure your dog by your own might come with additional risks too.

The best thing to do is to prevent parvo by all means. Not only by vaccination, but also by paying enough attention to your pup’s health and daily routines.


rabies vaccine dogs

So far, we realized that parvovirus is a severe infection that can often lead to death. That’s why making sure you do everything to prevent this exhausting and fatal virus is the wisest thing to do.

But what can you do so that parvovirus doesn’t stand a chance when in contact with your dog? Well, there are plenty of things you can do. You can start doing some of them right now!

How Can I Prevent My Dog From Getting Parvo?


With regular and planned vaccination, your dog will build resistance to dangerous diseases. The DHVP vaccine that is repeated several times during a dog’s life is the one that makes sure your dog doesn’t react to parvo infection with such severe symptoms.

Although vaccination does come at a certain cost, it is still a much more effective and cheaper way to provide your dog with a healthy life, rather than giving parvo a chance to infect your dog. Remember that the proper vet treatment for parvovirus can cost up to several thousands of dollars.

Controlling The Level of Parvo Antibodies

Once your dog develops parvovirus antibodies after the vaccination, it would be wise to test the levels of these antibodies from time to time.

The antibody level called titer indicates to which grade your dog is protected from this disease. Some dog daycare centers will require titer tests as a proof your dog is well protected.

Maintaining Good Intestinal Bacteria

As parvovirus is a disease that attacks pet’s intestines, promoting good intestinal bacteria is a wise way to prevent this type of infection. Not only will this help in protecting your dog from parvo, but he will also feel multiple benefits from it.

Good intestinal bacteria make intestines healthier, which makes the absorption of food nutrients more efficient. Find good probiotics that can you can add to your dog’s nutrition.


Deworming is very important as dogs with intestinal worms are more prone to have a weaker immune system. In addition, these worms attack the intestines and as a consequence, these dogs are at a higher risk of getting parvovirus.

Consult your vet on how often you should give your dog heart dewormers.


If your pup is not vaccinated properly, dog parks, pet stores or daycare facilities may be health threatening areas for him. Parvovirus is very resistant and can survive months on different surfaces. (9) That means that bringing your puppy to a place where an infected dog might have defecated can put him at high risk of getting this fatal disease.

When it comes to parvo, anything that was in contact with the infected area might be a source of contamination.

De-stressing Your Dog

Physical or mental stress affects your dog’s health. This is due to the higher levers of cortisol that are produced in stressful situations. As a result, a stressed dog, just like a stressed person, can get more prone to a lot of diseases.

Cortisol decreases the speed of white blood cells and slows down the blood flow. This affects intestines which leads to poorer health with time. (10) When a dog is stressed, parvovirus attacks more efficiently.