To avoid several serious diseases, all puppies should begin their vaccination series when they are around 6 to 8 weeks old. Puppies and adult dogs in shelters and rescue facilities are most at risk for contracting parvovirus (i.e., parvo), a viral infection that can run rampant through litters and cause high mortality rates. However, any unvaccinated or young dog can contract this infectious disease. Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Richmond team wants you to understand parvovirus and why your dog should be vaccinated. Read our team’s guide to this infectious disease and how you can prevent your dog from contracting the condition.

What is parvovirus and how does the disease spread among dogs?

Parvovirus is highly contagious among dogs. This infectious disease is easily spread through shoes, clothing, objects, or fur contaminated with viral particles. Parvo is present in an infected dog’s stools but can persist in the environment even after the fecal matter has been removed. Only certain compounds, such as bleach diluted to a specific concentration and accelerated peroxide-based cleaning agents, can kill parvovirus.  

Puppies and unvaccinated adult dogs are most at risk for contracting parvo. Outbreaks are common in shelters and rescue facilities, and anywhere unvaccinated dogs are present. In addition, studies show that some dogs may be more susceptible to parvo than others, including rottweilers, German shepherd dogs, American pit bull terriers, English springer spaniels, and Doberman pinschers.

What are canine parvovirus signs?

Parvo first attacks tissue in the nose and throat, then spreads throughout the body, having the most severe impact on rapidly dividing cells in the bone marrow and gastrointestinal (GI) tissues. Dogs infected with parvo begin exhibiting disease signs three to seven days after transmission. Some dogs are asymptomatic shedders because they do not become sick, and only spread the virus to others.

Parvo signs typically include severe watery, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, anorexia, lethargy, and dehydration. Intestinal cell damage can cause bacteria to leak into the bloodstream, and bone marrow damage reduces white blood cell counts, making an affected pet unable to fight the infection. Without treatment, dogs with parvo die from dehydration or septic shock. With treatment, around 75% to 90% of infected dogs survive.

How is parvovirus diagnosed in dogs?

Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Richmond team suspects parvovirus in any dog with an uncertain vaccination history who is exhibiting illness signs. We immediately test for this disease so that we can isolate an infected dog and prevent further spread to housemates or the community at large. Our on-site parvo test provides results in only a few minutes. In addition, we can send a test to the laboratory for next-day results. We recommend blood work for all sick pets, because the result helps us confirm the diagnosis and identify abnormalities that require correction, such as electrolyte imbalances or severe dehydration.

Can a dog survive a parvovirus infection?

With proper treatment, most dogs survive a parvovirus infection. Through hospitalization with intensive care, intravenous (IV) fluids, and nutritional support, up to 90% of affected dogs survive the disease. However, treatment can cost several thousands of dollars. Rather than killing the virus, treatment supports the immune system and prevents complications while a dog’s body fights the illness. Treatments may include antinausea medications, antibiotics, a special diet or a feeding tube, fluid therapy, and sometimes blood products. Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Richmond team also offers outpatient treatment. You must bring your affected dog to our hospital daily for medication injections and provide them with under-the-skin fluid therapy at home. This protocol is less expensive, and 70% to 80% of affected dogs receiving outpatient treatment survive the illness. 

Do parvovirus vaccines protect dogs?

When administered appropriately, parvo vaccines are highly effective at protecting your dog from this disease. If your puppy’s mother is vaccinated, she confers immunity through her milk during your pooch’s first few weeks of life, but this protection quickly wanes. Therefore, your puppy must begin receiving parvo vaccinations when they are between 6 and 8 weeks of age. To ensure your young pooch remains adequately protected from parvo, they must receive vaccine boosters every three to four weeks until they are at least 4 months of age. Rarely, some dogs fail to develop immunity and remain at risk throughout their lives. Some parvo survivors develop long-term immunity, sometimes for life. However, because natural immunity is not guaranteed, all dogs should receive vaccine boosters every one to three years.

Parvovirus is extremely contagious and depending on the conditions, can survive indoors for several months and outside for months to years. Severe infections can cause death to an entire puppy litter, making parvo one of the most severe threats to young puppies and unvaccinated adult dogs. Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Richmond team encourages you to schedule a veterinary visit as soon as you bring home your young puppy, and at least once per year thereafter. Schedule your dog’s next vaccination visit and learn about our wellness services.