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5 Common Viral Infections in Puppies


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Puppies are often keen to explore their surroundings and make lots of new friends. As a result, your fur-baby may come into contact with someone or something carrying a nasty virus. These pesky infections can be transmitted through touch or the air, and they can range in severity from an upset stomach to a life-threatening ailment.

Protecting your puppy from viral infections is a high priority. As well as getting your pupper their core and non-core vaccines, you'll want to get them insured ASAP. Getting pet insurance means you're prepared for any bumps in the road during your fur-baby's puppyhood, including viral infections. Check out these 5 common viral infections in puppies.


Canine parvovirus (CPV), commonly known as parvo, is a highly contagious viral infection common among young dogs and puppies. Viral cells attack a dog's gastrointestinal tract, preventing them from absorbing nutrients. 

Parvo is especially dangerous for puppies as it can quickly weaken a young dog's immune system. Dogs under 6 months old are also at risk of secondary infections. 

Dogs under 6 weeks old are less likely to get seriously sick, as they still have a reserve of their vaccinated mother's antibodies. Certain breeds, including Labradors, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Springer Spaniels, have a higher risk of developing a serious infection.

Humans can get parvo; however, it's a different type that is not transmissible between humans and dogs. 



Puppies can contract parvo by interacting with an infected animal or object. The most common ways a dog can contract parvo are by touching or eating an infected dog's feces or interacting with an infected dog. 

Infected dogs can be contagious without showing any symptoms. Parvovirus can live indoors for approximately a month. Outbreaks of parvovirus are most common in areas with low vaccination rates. 


Your vet will begin by looking at your puppy's medical history to see if they've had the parvo vaccine. They will also run an ELISA test on your dog's feces to look for virus particles. Additional diagnostics may be necessary.


There's no drug available that will kill parvovirus. The best way to prevent your dog from getting parvo is to have them vaccinated as soon as possible. Dogs receive their parvo vaccinations in three stages at 6, 8, and 12 weeks old. Boosters are also available. 

Unfortunately, parvo is often fatal for puppies. Your vet will instead provide support to your puppy's immune system to help fight off the virus. While the survival rate is around 90% for adult dogs with parvo, puppies are far more susceptible to the virus, with survival rates as low as 10%. 

Average cost of treatment: $5,500

Kennel cough (canine infectious tracheobronchitis)

Canine infectious tracheobronchitis, or kennel cough, is one of the most common infections among dogs. Kennel cough causes inflammation in a dog's upper respiratory system, including the voice box, windpipe, and lungs. Many viruses and strains of bacteria can cause kennel cough.

Kennel cough is usually non-fatal but can cause severe discomfort. Puppies are at increased risk of severe infection, which can lead to pneumonia. The most common viral cause of kennel cough is adenovirus type 2. This type is different from adenovirus type 1, which causes canine hepatitis. 


  • Persistent "honking" cough
  • Good health apart from cough
  • Nasal discharge¬†
  • Gagging
  • Lethargy (severe cases)


There are several different causes of kennel cough. These include bacterial infections like bordetella and viral infections like adenovirus type 2 and parainfluenza virus. 

Kennel cough is airborne and can be spread by being close to an infected dog. Puppies can also contract it by touching an infected object, like a toy or a food bowl. Symptoms of kennel cough begin to show 2 to 14 days after exposure. Dogs can carry kennel cough for months without any symptoms. 


The best way to protect your dog from kennel cough is to get them vaccinated against common causes like bordetella. There's no one test to determine if a dog has kennel cough. 

Usually, if a dog has a cough characteristic of kennel cough and has been in contact with an infected dog, this is enough to confirm a diagnosis. The vet may do swab tests to check if the infection is viral or bacterial and to ensure no further treatment is needed. 


Kennel cough will usually go away by itself, especially among adult dogs. If the infection is bacterial, your vet will give your dog some antibiotics. The infection will usually go away within 6 weeks. As tracheobronchitis is more dangerous for puppies, your vet may request follow-up appointments to check their condition hasn't worsened into pneumonia. 

Average cost of treatment: $650

Viral infections in puppies can be expensive to treat.

Paying for [treatment] out of pocket can be a major financial burden. Fortunately, most pet insurance companies reimburse claims within 3 days, putting 90% of the bill back in your pocket. In the market for pet insurance? Compare leading pet insurance companies to find the right plan for your pet.

Canine distemper virus (CDV)

Canine distemper virus (CDV) is a viral infection that's often compared to rabies. Canine distemper is more common than rabies, especially in the southern states, where vaccination rates are lower. Puppies and unvaccinated dogs have the highest risk of contracting canine distemper.

Canine distemper has two stages, attacking different parts of a dog's body as it progresses. In stage one, canine distemper replicates the lymphatic tissue of the respiratory system. It then infects the rest of the respiratory system, the GI tract, nervous system, and optic nerves. 

In stage two, the virus affects a dog's neurological system. Distemper is often fatal to puppies and can cause irreversible damage to their nervous system.

Symptoms of stage one:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing
  • Eye discharge
  • Nasal discharge
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Thickened skin on nose and footpads (hyperkeratosis)

Symptoms of stage two:

  • Head tilting
  • Seizures
  • Twitching
  • Circling
  • Paralysis
  • Convulsions


A paramyxovirus causes canine distemper. Thousands of cases of distemper are reported among raccoons, foxes, and other canids. Dogs can contract distemper by interacting with wild animals. 

Dogs can also contract distemper by interacting with an infected object, like a toy or a food bowl. Distemper is airborne and spreads when an infected animal coughs or sneezes. 


Your vet will begin by asking you about your dog's symptoms, as distemper is commonly mistaken for kennel cough. Hyperkeratosis is a telltale sign of distemper.

Your vet will take blood, urine, and bone marrow tests to check for the cause of your dog's symptoms. They may ask about your dog's recent activity and whether they've been in contact with any wild animals. If you can, provide a timeline of your dog's symptoms to help your vet make an accurate diagnosis.


There's no cure for canine distemper. The best way to prevent your puppy from contracting distemper is to get them vaccinated. Distemper is considered a core vaccine in the US.

As distemper attacks several parts of a dog's body, it's difficult to treat. Your vet will give your dog fluids and possibly a course of antibiotics to fight off any secondary infection. 

Your vet may also prescribe additional medication to soothe some symptoms, like vomiting. One or several follow-ups may be necessary to ensure your puppy's condition hasn't deteriorated. 

Average cost of treatment: $1,800

Canine influenza

Canine influenza, or dog flu, is a relatively new viral infection in dogs. The first case was recorded in 2004 in the US when the equine flu virus jumped from a horse to a Greyhound. 

While canine influenza is not currently widespread among domestic dogs, it is highly contagious and has the potential to be one of the most common viral infections among dogs. Canine influenza causes a severe upper respiratory infection, which could cause pneumonia in puppies and older dogs. There are currently two strains of dog flu: H3N2 and H3N8. 


  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite


Due to a lack of immunity among the canine population, dog flu is highly contagious. The virus is airborne and can be transferred through coughing and sneezing. Dogs can also contract canine influenza by touching an infected object. Dog flu is especially transferable in enclosed spaces and spreads quickly through shelters and kennels. 


If your dog is showing symptoms of canine influenza, your vet will order a canine influenza test to ensure it's not distemper or kennel cough. 


There's no cure for canine influenza, and your vet will provide supportive care to ensure your dog survives. Your vet may give your dog fluids and prescribe some medication to help alleviate certain symptoms. They may also give your dog antibiotics to fight off a secondary infection. 

Average cost of treatment: $600

Stomach virus (gastroenteritis)

Gastroenteritis, or a stomach virus, is one of the most common viruses among humans. Dogs can also get stomach viruses, but they cannot be passed from humans to canines. 

As with humans, a stomach virus attacks your dog's gastrointestinal tract. Gastroenteritis is very rarely fatal but is unpleasant for both the dog and their people. Death resulting from a stomach virus is most common in puppies. 



There are a number of possible causes of gastroenteritis. The most common causes include poisons/toxins, viral infections, and parasites. Your dog can contract a stomach virus by eating a new food or interacting with an infected animal or object. 


Your vet will usually diagnose gastroenteritis by ruling out every other possibility. There's no test for stomach bugs in dogs, as a range of different ailments can cause them. The vet will confirm that your dog doesn't have an allergy or a different viral infection like distemper. They'll also check that your puppy's symptoms aren't caused by something more serious, like intestinal cancer or kidney disease. 


There's no cure for gastroenteritis; however, most dogs fully recover with supportive therapy. Your vet may give your dog fluids to prevent dehydration and restore any lost electrolytes. Additional medication may be necessary to resolve severe symptoms. A follow-up may be necessary to check your dog's condition. 

Average cost of treatment: $800

Paying to treat a viral infection out of pocket can be a major financial burden. Fortunately, most pet insurance companies reimburse claims within 3 days, putting 90% of the bill back in your pocket. In the market for pet insurance? Compare leading pet insurance companies to find the right plan for your pet.

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