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What are Canine Parvovirus?

Canine parvovirus is a viral disease considered extremely contagious which has the potential to cause life-threatening complications for the host. The attack of the parvovirus, also referred to as “parvo”, is rapid and can be devastating for the pup who is afflicted with it. The parvovirus can attack many cells in the body, including the white blood cells.  The host canine, regardless of age, can suffer damage to heart tissue which can result in cardiac problems which can plague him for the rest of his life.  While young dogs and puppies are the most susceptible, parvo can afflict any dog who has not been vaccinated against it, regardless of age or gender.

Canine parvovirus will present with intensive gastrointestinal distress; it is is highly contagious and unfortunately, common cause of acute, infectious illness in young dogs.

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Symptoms of Canine Parvovirus in Dogs

The symptoms in this very contagious and potentially life-threatening virus in canines are these:

  • Lethargy
  • Severe vomiting
  • Bloody, foul smelling diarrhea - may also contain mucus
  • Loss of appetite of fairly short duration (a few days)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Fever or low body temperature

These symptoms, especially the vomiting and diarrhea, can lead to dehydration which will need to be addressed by your vet.  The virus can attack each and every cell into which it comes into contact and can cause permanent damage to the cardiac system of the canine.


There are two types of canine parvovirus in dogs and they are caused by the canine parvovirus type 1 and canine parvovirus type 2 (CPV-1 and CPV-2)) virus.  These are two distinct variations of the parvovirus.  If your unvaccinated canine family member, regardless of age or gender, begins to display any of the above symptoms, it is vital that you consider this as an emergency and seek veterinary medical care because:

  • Canine parvovirus is very contagious, putting all of your dogs and cats at risk
  • This disease most often attacks puppies aged 6 weeks to about 20 weeks, after their antibody protection from the mother is no longer available
  • Virus treatment will require veterinary care with possible hospitalization 
  • Older dogs are also at risk if not vaccinated
  • Virus can potentially be fatal to the host

Causes of Canine Parvovirus in Dogs

The cause of canine parvovirus in dogs lies in the CPV-1 and CPV-2 parvovirus.  

  • While the exact origin of the virus is not known, it is believed to be a mutation of the feline panleukopenia virus, or perhaps a related parvovirus of non-domestic animals 
  • The CPV-1 and CPV-2 viruses are distinct variations of the parvovirus, with type 1 being found in puppies with diarrhea as well as in normal dogs
  • It is not felt that CPV-1 is a direct cause for development of CPV-2, the more severe of the two variations

The virus sheds in the feces of the diseased host.  The potency of the virus is maintained in the feces for long periods (weeks, months and years) in certain environments, making the potential for the virus to spread at an alarming rate.  Here are some ways it can be spread to other susceptible animals:

  • Eating feces of infected animals
  • Any direct external contact with the feces of infected animals, walking through an infected area, eating and drinking from bowls previously infected by the virus, playing with toys contaminated with the virus, dog bedding which has been contaminated
  • Any direct contact with previously contaminated items - this is contact by either the canine or the handler
  • Improper handling and cleaning of the living and defecating areas being utilized by the canines - this includes appropriate and thorough hand washing or using protective gloves

Diagnosis of Canine Parvovirus in Dogs

If any of your canine family members display any of the above symptoms, it is vital that you get veterinary medical treatment emergently, regardless of the age or gender of the canine.  This disease can kill your family pet very quickly, especially the younger the animal is when it is infected.  The vomiting, diarrhea and fever can put your pet in an emergency situation fairly quickly in terms of dehydration.  Your veterinary professional will need some important input from you in terms of history of the symptoms (duration, severity), the history of vaccinations and potentially even dietary regimens.  

The symptoms noted above are some of those which are known to be displayed in a variety of diseases or health conditions in canines, some of which relate to dietary regimens.  Your veterinary professional will do a physical examination and will likely also require some blood samples, urine and fecal samples for laboratory evaluation.  Depending on the condition of your pet and the vet’s suspected diagnosis, don’t be surprised if your beloved canine family member gets to stay in the hospital while these tests are completed and emergency treatments begun.

Treatment of Canine Parvovirus in Dogs

There is no medication to treat canine parvovirus in dogs.  Your vet will be focused on providing the immediate emergency care (if needed) to stabilize your pet with treatments to improve the patient’s condition coming next.  There may be metabolic abnormalities which will need to be treated and there are various solutions and medications which can be administered intravenously for those imbalances.  Antibiotic medications may also be administered, some intravenously and some may be given orally, to protect against cross infection and secondary infections as the gastrointestinal system heals from the damage caused by the virus attack.  

Medications will be given to assuage any vomiting and diarrhea in an attempt to stave off the continued dehydration after effects.   Once the vomiting and diarrhea are brought under control, nutrition will be re-introduced, having been discontinued while the vomiting and diarrhea was uncontrolled.  The average recuperation time for puppies infected with the parvovirus is about one week (plus or minus).  Your vet will thoroughly review his treatment plan and the reasons why the various options are needed, giving you a general idea of about how long it will take to get your pup back on his ever so energetic feet.

Recovery of Canine Parvovirus in Dogs

Recovery statistics for the pup who survives past the first 3 to 4 days are very good, with most deaths associated with canine parvovirus occurring within the first 48 to 72 hours of onset of clinical signs.  The survival rate of those canines who are treated by a veterinarian in a timely manner is about 68 to 92 percent overall.  It is important to note here that the infected puppy could begin to shed the virus in his feces within 3 or 4 days, oftentimes even before you even know he is sick.  This fact adds to the increased risks of infection in other canine (this includes other members of the dog family like wolves, foxes, coyotes) and feline family members.  

It would be prudent for pet owners of canines not to allow puppies to come into contact with other animal family members until they have completed their vaccinations against parvo.  The mother will secrete antibodies which will protect the pups for a couple of weeks after birth, but as that protection decreases, so increases the opportunity for the infection with the parvovirus.  Vaccination and boosting of all of your canine and feline family members is the best prevention step you can take for all concerned.  Your vet will go over appropriate cleaning and disinfection measures which can be taken to sanitize the environment to protect those doggy and kitty family members from harm.

Canine Parvovirus Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Golden Retriever
11 Weeks
Fair condition
1 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms


We just lost a litter of 10 Goldendoodle pups to Parvo on July 6. They were 5 weeks old. On August 20, we want to bring a new puppy home who will be 11 weeks old and have had 3 Parvo boosters. In order to prepare for her, in this order, we will bleach our yard where the litter was, disinfect and paint the garage and laundry room floors in the house where the litter was. Is it safe to bring the pup home at that point or should we wait until she is 16 weeks old?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Parvovirus may live for a long time in the environment (up to two years) since it is resistant to temperature, sunlight and many cleaning products; I would recommend you read the links below regarding disinfecting the environment. The maternal antibodies should cover Jazzy until the vaccine kicks in, but I wouldn’t risk it if there was an infection in your home previously. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Thanks, Dr. Turner, the links you sent gave us the best, most comprehensive information we've been able to get, even from talking with veterinarians. We appreciate your help more than you know.

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German Shepherd
2 Months
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms


Medication Used


My puppy oso has been with parvo for about 3 days and nothing seems to be happening vet gave him iv fluids and vaccines for vomiting and diarrhea but he hasn't eaten at all .. And it's been 3 days what should I do

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations

There is no direct cure for Parvo or magic pill which will treat it, treatment consists of supportive and symptomatic care along with antibiotics to help against secondary infection. Supportive care involves fluid therapy which is the mainstay of treatment. Three days is still early in the treatment process and all that can be done is to correct dehydration, electrolyte levels and give the body as much support as possible so that the immune system will overcome the infection. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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