Parvovirus in dogs


What is parvovirus and how is it spread?

The canine parvovirus is a highly infectious illness that is characterised by weakness and severe bloody vomiting and diarrhoea. In puppies under the age of eight weeks the virus can also damage the heart muscle.

Parvovirus is spread through direct contact with a dog or by contact with contaminated objects. Young puppies are particularly susceptible to the disease as they are more likely to lick or sniff infected objects and also have no immunity prior to their vaccination course.


What are the symptoms of parvovirus?

The major symptoms of parvovirus include severe, blood diarrhoea with a very distinctive smell, lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, vomiting and severe weight loss. Affected dogs will quickly become dehydrated due to fluid loss and sometimes blood loss.

Can all dogs catch parvovirus?

While any dog without sufficient immunity is able to contract parvovirus, some breeds seem to be genetically more susceptible. Breeds such as Rottweilers, Labradors, German shepherds, English springer spaniels, Doberman and Alaskan sled breeds seem to be most at risk and your Vet may suggest an additional vaccination at four months of age for these pets.


How do we test for parvovirus?

Parvo virus can be diagnosed based on a special test that can be run on the dog’s faeces. There may, however, be other signs that your Vet may notice that will point towards a diagnosis of parvovirus, such as signs of dehydration, increases in liver markers and electrolyte imbalance.

What is the canine parvovirus survival rate?

The survival rate in dogs and puppies who receive early and aggressive treatment can be as high as 85-90%, while those who are not treated have a less than 10% chance of survival.

Is parvovirus treatable?

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of effective antiviral treatments available and treatment is focussed on alleviating the symptoms while the patient’s own immune system fights the virus.

Supportive treatment is likely to include intravenous fluid therapy to treat dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, painkillers, anti-sickness medication, plasma or blood transfusions to replace lost cells, antibiotics if there is secondary infection and feeding tubes if the patient is not wanting to eat. There has been some research into the use of a drug called interferon and its antiviral properties, and this may be recommended in more severe cases.


Can parvovirus be prevented?

Vaccination is the most effective way of protecting your dog against parvovirus. Puppies can be extremely susceptible before the completion of their primary vaccine course and older dog’s immunity can also lapse if their vaccination course is not kept up to date. Unfortunately, viral mutation can lead to infection with new strains of the virus not covered by the vaccine.

For this reason, good hygiene is essential for preventing spread. The virus is extremely resilient and can survive for up to two months at room temperature or over a year in ideal conditions. If you suspect contamination with parvovirus in your home, then any affected areas should be washed thoroughly in bleach (ensuring no pets or children come into contact with chemicals) and soiled bedding or fabrics should be appropriately cleaned.

Any dogs that are known to be affected should be isolated from all other dogs until they have fully recovered.

Dog Health Information

Find out more

To assist owners in understanding more about a health conditions that are specific to dogs we have put together a range of information sheets to talk you through some of the more common health concerns seen and treated by our General Practice Vets.