Parvovirus 101

by Nancy Boland

What is Parvovirus?

Canine parvovirus is an acute, highly contagious disease of dogs with the  tendency to attack rapidly reproducing cells, such as those lining the gastrointestinal tract.

The virus is shed in large amounts in the stools of acutely infected dogs for up to several weeks following infection. The disease is transmitted by oral contact with infected feces. Parvo can be carried on the dog’s hair and feet, as well as on contaminated crates, shoes, and other objects.

Following an incubation period that averages four to five days, the acute illness begins with depression, vomiting, and diarrhoea. Some dog have no fever, while others have high fever.

Heart muscle involvement in neonatal puppies used to be common, but is now quite rare. This is because routine vaccination of brood bitches two to four weeks before breeding boosts maternal antibody levels and provides better protection for puppies.

Suspect parvo in all pups with the abrupt onset of vomiting and diarrhoea. The most efficient way to diagnose parvo is to identify either the virus or virus antigens in stools.

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Dogs with the parvovirus require intensive veterinary management. In all but the mildest cases, hospitalisation is essential to correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Intravenous fluids and medications to control vomiting and diarrhoea are often required.

Puppies and dogs should not eat or drink until the vomiting has stopped but require fluid support during that time. Antibiotics are then prescribed to prevent septicaemia and other bacterial complications which are usually the cause of fatality with this illness. Most puppies and dogs who receive good veterinary care recover without complications.


Vaccinations at 8 weeks of age will prevent the majority of all infections. Puppies become susceptible to infection after the first weeks of their life because maternal antibodies begin to decline.

Once the infection has gotten hold, thoroughly clean and disinfect the infected areas.  Parvo is an extremely stubborn virus that resists most household cleaners and survives on the premises for months. It is also important to isolate young puppies as much as possible from other dogs and from potential sources of infection until they complete the parvo vaccination series at 16 weeks of age.

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