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Parvo In Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment Options

Learn what parvo is, what causes the disease, the symptoms, how to treat it, and much more:

What is Parvovirus?

Dog at vet

Canine parvovirus (or parvo) is a viral disease in dogs. It attacks cells in the dog’s body resulting in a host of unpleasant symptoms, and it can be life-threatening.

The virus also attacks the intestinal tract, and the mortality rate can reach 91% in untreated cases.

Parvo is widely thought to have originated in cats.

Is Parvo Contagious?

Parvovirus is highly contagious.

The virus is typically transmitted between dogs through contact with an infected dog’s feces, but it can also be transmitted to other mammals, such as cats, wolves, guinea pigs, and humans.

The virus can also live on surfaces for an extended period of time. It can survive on plants, food containers, floors, carpeting, clothing, and more – sometimes for months at a time.

What Causes Parvo in Dogs?

Parvo is caused through contact with the infection itself, usually through an infected animal’s stool. Parvo is most common in stray unvaccinated dogs, especially those living in unsanitary urban areas.

What Are The Symptoms?

Once the infection enters the body, it typically takes between three days and a week for symptoms to arise. The infection moves quickly, attacking the intestinal tract and cells throughout the body.

Here are some of the main symptoms of parvovirus:

  • Lethargy (this is typically the first symptom to arise)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea (potentially containing blood)
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Weakened immune system through white blood cell deterioration
  • Foul odor

As a result, parvo can lead to:

  • Dehydration from excessive diarrhea and vomiting. This can become life-threatening.
  • The intestinal lining deteriorates. This causes blood and protein to leak into the intestines, leading to anemia and protein loss. Endotoxemia may also occur as a result of endotoxins entering the bloodstream.
  • Shock and potentially death.

Types of Parvovirus

Parvo comes in two forms:

  • Intestinal
  • Cardiac

The intestinal form is most common. After exposure, the virus enters the lymphoid tissue within the throat and begins to multiply. It moves into the bloodstream and attacks cells in the lymph nodes, intestinal crypts, and bone marrow.

The cardiac form affects puppies. They either get infected while in the uterus or soon after being born. The virus attacks the heart, often killing the puppy suddenly. Thankfully, this form is much less common, as vaccination use is widespread in breeding dogs.

How Do You Diagnose Parvo?

Parvo can be tough to diagnose. The symptoms are similar to many other diseases and illnesses, at least in the early stages of the infection.

Diagnosis is typically made using an Enzyme Linked ImmunoSorbant Assay test, or ELISA. The test only takes about 15 minutes, and is conducted by a veterinarian testing for the virus in the dog’s feces. However, the test is not always definitive. It typically needs a relatively large amount of virus in the feces to detect it, so additional testing may be needed.

A hemagglutination test or electron microscopy may also be used to diagnose the virus.

Bottom line, the virus can only be definitively diagnosed by a veterinarian, so if you believe your pup has parvo, take him or her there immediately.

Which Dog Breeds Are At a Higher Risk?

Certain dogs are at a higher risk of contracting parvovirus.

Any young dogs, especially puppies, that aren’t vaccinated are at a greater risk of transmission. Older dogs usually have stronger immune systems to handle exposure, and they are usually vaccinated against the virus.

Domestic breeds more prone to contracting parvo include:

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • American Staffordshire Terriers
  • German Shepherds
  • Pit bull Terriers
  • Rottweilers

Parvo can infect wild breeds as well, including coyotes and wolves.

How to Treat Parvovirus

Dog getting treated

Parvo must be treated in a veterinary hospital. The symptoms are so severe, and the risk of death is so high, that hospitalization is required – usually for five to seven days.

There is no drug on the market that can kill the virus outright (yet), so treatment involves supporting the immune system as much as possible and treating symptoms to give the dog’s body the best chance possible to fight the infection. This is done in a number of ways:

  • Intravenous (IV) treatment is used to replenish fluids and combat dehydration
  • Anti-nausea injections
  • Antibiotics
  • Drugs to help control vomiting
  • Electrolytes
  • Vitamins
  • Analgesic medications to help with intestinal discomfort

Blood plasma transfusions with a dog that has survived parvo can also help the treatment process and potentially make the dog immune.

The earlier the disease is diagnosed, the more likely treatment will be successful.

Are There Home Treatments?

Parvo should not be treated at home. The symptoms are too severe and life-threatening.

How to Prevent Parvo


The best way to prevent your dog from getting parvo is by vaccination and periodically making sure their vaccinations are up to date.

It is typically recommended that puppies be vaccinated in the first six to eight weeks after being born. Vaccination should include the parvovirus vaccine, along with vaccines for distemper, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, and hepatitis (sometimes called a 5-in-1).

Booster shots are also given every four weeks until the dog is at least 16 weeks old.

For older dogs, they should receive at least one immunization shot, if they haven’t already, to help protect them.

Secondly, since parvo can live on surfaces for an extended period of time, if a dog in your home has been diagnosed with parvo it’s important to take preventative measures there as well.

Many disinfectants have no affect on killing parvo. A solution of one part bleach to 32 parts water is usually recommended. Use this solution to disinfect any non-food and non-organic surfaces your dog may have come into contact with. If you choose not to disinfect something, throw it away. Be careful not to come into direct contact with the object yourself.

Finally, if you’re worried your pup might not be immune, have an immunity test conducted to make sure.

How to Tell Parvo Apart from Other Ailments

The only way to really tell parvo apart from similar ailments (like parasitic issues) is to get a formal lab test from your veterinarian.

This will help you determine exactly what the cause of their symptoms is and the best route to treat it.

To Wrap It Up

Parvovirus is a nasty disease that can be life-threatening to your dog. If your pup is experiencing similar symptoms and you believe he or she might have parvo, take them to the vet immediately.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to comment below!

Further Reading:

4 replies
    • EntirelyPets
      EntirelyPets says:

      According to our research, it’s unknown. Unfortunately, those breeds just seem to be more susceptible.

      However, any breed can contract the virus. So vaccinations are highly recommended for any dog.

  1. Judy zindell
    Judy zindell says:

    Is it possible for puppies to get parvo if they r from an in home “breeder” or may shehave obtained puppies from some puppy broker & lied??

    • EntirelyPets
      EntirelyPets says:

      Hi Judy,

      It is possible for your puppy to have parvo. All dogs start their first set of vaccines within 6-8 weeks of being born. Even if you don’t have any past shot information, a vet can perform a series of tests in order to check what shots they’re missing. I recommend setting up an appointment with your vet as soon as possible in order to ensure your puppy is as healthy as can be.


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