Signs of Parvo: What Every Pet Owner Needs to Know

Parvo, or canine parvovirus, is a highly infectious viral infection that affects dogs. While parvo can be quite serious, it’s often manageable through good veterinary care if caught early enough—and completely avoidable with the right course of puppy vaccinations.

Most cases of parvo occur in puppies between six weeks and six months old. The virus spreads either through direct contact with an infected dog or through contact with an infected dog’s feces—yet another good reason to always pay attention to what your dog is doing when you’re out for a walk.

Parvo comes in two varieties. The most common form is intestinal parvo which can affect your dog’s stomach and digestive tract. This is the form of the infection we’ll focus on for most of this article.

There’s also a rare cardiac strain of the disease that can damage the heart and often leads to death—either in utero or during the first weeks of the puppy’s life. But since the cardiac form of parvo typically passes only from an infected pregnant mother to a fetus, it’s often not a concern for most dog owners.

Let’s take a closer look at the warning signs of parvo you need to look out for, what breeds are more vulnerable to this disease, and the most effective ways of preventing or managing this virus.

Constant Vigilance–Spotting the Signs of Parvo

When a dog is infected with parvo, it usually takes from three days up to a week before symptoms to develop. The primary signs of parvo include:

  • lethargy, or a general lack of energy
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • diarrhea (often bloody)

Further signs to look for include decreased appetite and sudden weight loss. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances may also occur since parvo impairs the ability to absorb nutrients from food. This could also weaken your dog’s immune system and possibly lead to secondary infections, either viral or bacterial.

Parvo also compromises the lining of your dog’s intestines. This allows blood and protein to leak into the intestines, eventually leading to anemia. It also allows for endotoxins to leak out into the bloodstream which could potentially lead to a condition known as endotoxemia. By this point, your dog’s white blood cell count will drop, and they could even develop a distinctive, unpleasant odor.

Since the advanced stages of parvo could lead to shock and even death, it’s a good idea to have your dog checked out by a vet as soon as possible once the first signs of parvo arise.

Which Dogs are Most Vulnerable to Parvo?

Though parvovirus primarily affects dogs, it has been known to make the species jump to other mammals. While humans don’t have anything to worry about, there are documented cases of parvo in wolves, foxes, and skunks. The virus can also be transmitted to cats, but don’t worry, cat owners—it doesn’t lead to disease when this happens.

Also, some dog breeds seem more susceptible to parvo than others. These include:

  • Doberman Pinschers
  • English Springer Spaniels
  • German Shepards
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Pit Bulls
  • Rottweilers

Owners of these breeds should be aware of the signs of parvo and the very real benefits of having their puppies properly vaccinated (more on this below).

Diagnosing Parvo

Parvo is a relatively new virus. It was first officially recognized only in 1978. But because of its highly virulent nature, the disease managed to spread worldwide in under two years.

Most often, a simple stool sample is all we need to know your dog is infected with parvo. Save the baggie when you pick up after your dog and bring them both in if you see signs of parvo in your puppy.

Sometimes, parvo can be confused with coronavirus or other forms of small intestine inflammation (enteritis). If this is ever the case, the presence of blood in the stools, a low white blood cell count, and possible necrosis of the intestinal lining help us make the right diagnosis so we can help get your dog the right treatment as quickly as possible.

Treating Parvo

While there’s still no cure for parvo, early detection and proper medical treatment of the virus can greatly improve an infected dog’s chances of survival.

Veterinary care for parvo may require an initial hospitalization. The infection often leads to severe dehydration and could also damage your dog’s intestines and bone marrow. Around-the-clock veterinary care will be crucial. Treatment often involves intravenous fluids to offset dehydration and nutrition therapy to help your dog regain strength and vitality. Medication to help control vomiting might also be included, as well as a course of antibiotics and antivirals to deal with secondary infections. In some extreme cases, a blood plasma transfusion from a donor dog might also be required.

The survival rate of parvo treatments varies depending on how soon parvo is diagnosed, how old the dog is, and how aggressive the treatment is. Left untreated, the virus has a 91% mortality rate. However, with effective veterinary intervention, the survival rate is almost 70%. Sadly though, puppies are more susceptible to the virus because of their less developed immune systems.

Preventing Parvo–Vaccines to the Rescue

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and when it comes to parvo, that statement was never truer. Because the disease is so virulent and contagious, vaccinations are the best way to protect your dog.

At The Pet Vet, we recommend puppies get three rounds of vaccinations, which will protect your puppy from parvo and other preventable diseases. Shots are recommended at 8-10 weeks, 11-13 weeks, 14-16 weeks, and 22+ weeks. You can find a complete breakdown of our pricing for these services right here.

Although it is important to socialize your puppy with other dogs as early as possible, we recommend you avoid socializing with unfamiliar or unvaccinated dogs until two weeks after your puppy gets their last round of vaccinations—just to be on the safe side.

Your Puppy’s Best Shot at Survival

Parvo is one of the hardiest viruses known to science. While most flu viruses die outside a host body in less than 24 hours, parvo can live in feces and the surrounding soil for up to a year, regardless of the weather. The virus endures extreme temperatures, both high and low, with no problem. In the face of such a relentless foe, you need to give your puppy the best defense possible.

Giving your puppy a complete round of vaccinations—including parvo—is your best chance of beating this terrible, often deadly virus. While there are effective treatments available in case your puppy contracts parvo, there’s still the risk of death involved, no matter how well developed your dog’s immune system is. While knowing the signs of parvo can help lead to an earlier diagnosis of the disease and increase your puppy’s chances of survival, it’s much better to give your puppy the best shot possible for a long and healthy life.

Visit The Pet Vet at your nearest location if you see signs of parvo in your puppy or give us a call today!