Parvovirus: A Deadly Canine Killer

Your new puppy suddenly gets a foul smelling bloody diarrhea and starts throwing up, and is definitely not his usual playful self. It’s time to get him to the veterinarian as soon as possible, as he could have the deadly disease parvovirus.

What is Parvovirus?

Parvovirus is an extremely contagious viral illness that is spread from dog to dog by both direct and indirect contact with infected feces, as well as germs on surfaces like clothing, food dishes, floors, etc for up to five months. It’s also thought that rodents and insects carry it from place to place. It is a very serious and potentially deadly disease and in some circumstances, dogs can die in as little as two days with or without treatment.

Two Types of Parvovirus

It has two varieties: one that attacks the heart and one that attacks the intestinal system. The first is more common and the second causes respiratory or heart failure in young pups. The heart harming version is rare and much more serious. It causes severe inflammation and destruction of the heart muscle, as well as breathing difficulties and death. If a dog survives this type, it will have permanent scarring of the heart muscles.

The average incubation period is from one to two weeks before the exposed dog actually shows symptoms of parvovirus. Plus, the virus that causes it can be found in an affected dog’s feces several days before you even can tell he has it, and stay there for a week or two after the dog gets the illness.

Factors in Catching Parvovirus

Four factors play a part in how bad the disease can manifest in dogs : age, strength of the virus, maternal antibodies (in puppies) and the breed of dog. Puppies can get the maternal antibodies from their mother’s milk in the form of colostrums in the first days of life.

Certain breeds of dogs are more inclined to catch parvovirus including Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and Labrador Retrievers. And certain breeds are less susceptible, including Cockers and Poodles.

Symptoms of Parvovirus

Symptoms of parvovirus can range from almost no symptoms (usually in an older dog) or very serious symptoms, which usually appear in puppies that are less than three months old.  Symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Severe smelly diarrhea
  • Bloody feces
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Lowered white blood cell counts

Treatment of Parvovirus

Treatment for parvovirus is mostly supportive, as it is a virus and no anti-viral has been found to be effective against it. Dogs are kept hydrated, and their electrolyte balances watched to see that they stay as close to normal as possible, as well as prevent any secondary bacterial or other infections. The replacement of fluids the dogs have lost due to the vomiting and diarrhea is the most vital part of the treatment, and sometimes dogs must be hospitalized and given intravenous fluids to ensure this is accomplished. For severe cases, blood or plasma transfusions may be necessary to replace lost proteins, and help prevent anemia.

Antibiotic therapy is given for any secondary bacterial infections that pop up during the course of treatment, and corticosteroids can be administered if the animal is in shock. A dog can also be treated with drugs to stop the vomiting if it is very severe.

Without immediate veterinary care, up to 80 percent of dogs with this horrible disease will die, but with proper treatment, that same amount can be expected to survive.


Parvovirus can be prevented with proper vaccination against this disease. Puppies are usually vaccinated at about three months of age, as it doesn’t always work before that timeframe. A booster is given later on at about 20 weeks of age and annually after that.

Disinfecting the Home

If your dog gets parvovirus, you will have to disinfect all the surfaces with a solution of chlorine bleach diluted one ounce of bleach to a quart of water. This effectively kills the virus.

However, it is almost impossible to kill the virus in yard, so if you have a dog that has recovered from parvovirus, it’s best to not to add another dog to the household for at least six to nine months until the virus that has been shed in the yard dies off. There is not a disinfectant product available to clean yards against parvovirus that is approved for us.  Exposure to sunlight helps the process go faster.

Conclusion for Parvovirus: A Deadly Canine Killer

The bottom line with parvovirus is that prevention is the best policy. If your dog contracts parvovirus there is a good chance he could die or even if not, could end up with a severely compromised heart or other problems later in life. Get your puppy vaccinated as soon as he is old enough and prior to that, be extremely careful as to where you let him walk or play.

Your furry friend depends on you to keep him healthy and happy, so talk to your veterinarian today about how to prevent parvovirus.


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