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Canine parvovirus is a contagious virus that can infect any dog at any age but is usually found in puppies less than six months old.
A dog infected with parvo is contagious for about a month after you first notice signs. The dog will pass a large amount of the virus in its stool during the first two weeks after infection. The virus can survive for a long time in almost any environment.
Parvo is a viral infection. It is transmitted through:
- Contact with feces from an infected dog
- Contact with everyday objects that are infected: clothing, shoes, equipment, etc.
- Infected rodents and insects
Parvo is common in places with overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions.
There are two forms of parvovirus. If your dog has one form, it will not necessarily have the other form.
- Vomiting liquid
- Dry mouth
- Lack of appetite
- Bloody diarrhea with a horrible odor
- Low body temperature or fever over 103 degrees
Cardiac form (usually occurs in puppies less than 16 weeks old):
- Crying or can't seem to breathe normally (gasping for air)
- Weakness and inability to play
- Puppy doesn't want to nurse
- An irregular heartbeat
Not all infected dogs have every symptom, and other diseases can often cause these signs.
If you notice any of the above symptoms, go to your veterinarian immediately. Parvo can be fatal if left untreated.
The most effective way to test for parvo is an ELISA test. Your veterinarian will perform a rectal swab and test it for parvovirus antigens in your dog's feces.
Your veterinarian may also complete the following to confirm the diagnosis of parvo:
- Urine and blood tests
- Tests for intestinal parasites
- Abdominal x-rays and ultrasounds: checks for blockages in the intestines
Your veterinarian will recommend the best treatment for your dog based on its medical history, age, condition, etc., and may include:
- IV Fluid therapy: for rehydration and nourishment
- Medication: to prevent secondary infection and control vomiting and diarrhea Hospitalization (2-4 days): to monitor white blood cell count and fluid levels
To help your dog recover, you will need to provide the following:
- Rest: your dog may try to play once it feels better; don't encourage that
- Isolation: avoid the outdoors and other animals until fully recovered
- Medication: give the prescription in full; let your veterinarian know if your dog refuses any of their medication
- Special diet: small portions of bland food when your dog can eat solid food again
Your dog is recovering from intestinal tract damage and may have a loose stool or no stool at all for the first few days.
The best prevention for parvovirus is to follow the vaccine schedule that your veterinarian recommends. The standard plan includes a series of parvovirus vaccines. Keep your newly vaccinated puppy away from other dogs for 2 weeks after the last shot.
Left untreated, parvo can be fatal. (It is rarely fatal by itself. Death is usually the result of shedding intestines, blood and nutrition loss, secondary infections, or dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea.)
Caught early enough and properly treated, many dogs will recover completely and return to normal within a month, with no permanent effects.
Medically Reviewed by Sara Ochoa, DVM