Parvo Disease: Signs, Treatment and Prevention

What You Should Know About Parvo Disease

If you have a puppy, you need to be aware of the potential risks of parvovirus. While older dogs are safe from this infection, parvo can be life-threatening to your new pup: Even when treated by a veterinarian, survival rates for this disease range between 68 and 92 percent—grim numbers for any puppy and their owners.

For this reason, puppy owners should fully understand parvovirus, including its symptoms, how puppies contract the disease, and how to prevent a parvovirus infection in your dog. Here’s an overview of the essential facts.

What is Parvo?

Parvo is a viral infection passed between dogs. The virus attacks the stomach and small intestines, resulting in cell damage that inhibits your dog’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. It can also create issues with bone marrow production or cardiovascular problems.

When contracted, it can start causing damage quickly—within days of an infection. The disease leads to a weakened immune system making puppies susceptible to additional illnesses and complications from a poor white blood cell count.

How Do Dogs Get Parvo?

Puppies contract parvo from direct or indirect contact with one another, including when they sniff, lick, or consume infected feces. Shared water bowls, public spaces, or even sidewalk encounters with other dogs can lead to virus transmission. Veterinary experts recommend puppies be kept away from other dogs and high-traffic public areas, until they’re reached an age when they can be vaccinated against the parvovirus.

Is Parvo Contagious?

Yes, parvo is contagious—and it’s important for owners to understand how long the contagious period lasts if their puppy is infected with the virus. A dog can start shedding the parvovirus—making them infectious to other dogs—as soon as four to five days after contracting the virus. Unfortunately, dogs can become contagious before any symptoms develop, which can lead to infections from dogs whose owners aren’t aware their dog has contracted the virus.

Parvo remains contagious for up to 10 days after symptoms have lifted. Even as your dog improves, it’s important to keep them away from other puppies and dogs that may be susceptible to the illness.

What Are the Signs of Parvo?

Owners should educate themselves on the symptoms of parvo in dogs and the stages of parvo their dog may experience. The first stage of the infection is an incubation period, during which the dog will become contagious to others. After this stage, symptoms will develop. These symptoms can include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea—often bloody
  • Dehydration that worsens due to vomiting and diarrhea
  • Fatigue

In severe cases, dogs may advance into a serious stage of the disease that includes septic shock or other complications. These stages can advance quickly, resulting in death as early as 48 to 72 hours after symptoms first develop. Signs of parvo should be taken seriously, and your pet should be taken to emergency vet services immediately.

Parvo Treatment for Dogs

Although there are no cures for parvo, a vet’s care can provide your dog with the support it needs to fight off the virus. This may include IVs to rehydrate and deliver nutrients to your dog and supportive care to alleviate the severity of certain symptoms. If your dog develops a secondary infection, such as a bacterial infection, because of parvo’s weakening of their immune system, a veterinarian may also prescribe an antibiotic to address and mitigate those complications.

While the supportive care doesn’t directly combat parvo, it does give your dog the care and resources it needs to continue that fight on its own, supporting its immune system and increasing its chances of a recovery.

How to Prevent Parvo in Dogs

The best way to prevent parvo is by getting a parvo vaccine for dogs. These vaccines aren’t obtainable until the dog is six weeks old, and dogs aren’t fully safe from parvo until they’ve also received boosters at eight and 12 weeks. Until your dog receives these three shots, the best method of prevention is keeping away from sources of contamination. Kennels, dog parks, public parks, shared water bowls, and other places of interaction with other dogs and/or dog feces should be avoided altogether.

Once your dog is fully vaccinated, they can enjoy all the activities and social interaction you’ve imagined. Just spend those first few months erring on the side of caution and keeping a watchful eye on your pup. If any alarming symptoms do develop, contact or visit your vet as soon as possible.

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