What causes parvovirus in dogs?

Parvovirus enteritis (PVE) is a highly contagious disease, caused by the canine parvovirus. It’s very tough and can survive at room temperature for up to two months and potentially years in a moist environment without sunlight.

Parvo, as it’s known, is typically spread through direct contact with an infected dog or indirect contact with something contaminated. Large concentrations of the virus are found in an infected dog’s faeces, so if your dog sniffs these, even if the bulk has been responsibly cleared up, they may become infected. The virus particles can also be spread by hands, shoes and clothing.

Parvovirus dogs symptoms

The virus attacks the gastrointestinal tract and immune system of puppies and dogs. It can also damage the heart muscle in young and unborn puppies.

Clinical signs of parvovirus generally develop within five to seven days of infection, although this period has been known to range from two to 14 days. Early symptoms of parvovirus typically include lack of appetite, extreme tiredness and fever, followed by sickness and diarrhoea 24 to 48 hours later.

Dogs with parvo quickly become dehydrated and weak. You may notice your dog’s gums become darker (dark pink/red) than normal. In severe cases, dogs are also likely to have a weak pulse, a racing heart rate and show signs of hypothermia. If your puppy or dog shows any of these signs contact your vet straight away.

Image of vets treating a dog with canine parvovirus
With proper treatment, canine parvovirus survival rates can approach 90%

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Dogs most at risk from canine parvovirus

Puppies aged between six weeks and six months old, along with unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated dogs, are most likely to catch canine parvovirus. Meanwhile, certain breeds, including American Pit Bull Terriers, Doberman Pinschers, English Springer Spaniels, German Shepherds and Rottweilers, are at increased risk. Among dogs older than six months, intact males are more likely than intact females to develop parvo. In very rare cases, dogs who are up to date with their vaccinations may develop canine parvovirus.

What is the canine parvovirus survival rate?

The survival rate in dogs and puppies who receive early, aggressive treatment is around 80-95%. But for those who are not treated, their chances of survival are less than 10%. These statistics highlight the importance of contacting your vet or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now as soon as you suspect your dog or puppy may be showing symptoms of parvovirus.

Treatment for canine parvovirus

There’s no specific drug to treat parvovirus in dogs but those affected by the disease have a far greater chance of survival if they receive early, aggressive treatment and intensive nursing care.

Treatment may include:

  • Intravenous fluids (a drip) to treat shock and correct dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities
  • Anti-sickness medication
  • Painkillers
  • Plasma transfusions and/or blood transfusions to replace proteins and cells
  • Antibiotics to treat or prevent secondary infections as a result of the effects of parvovirus infection
  • Tube feeding

How to prevent parvo in dogs?

Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent your dog contracting parvovirus. Your dog’s annual vaccination will include a component against canine parvovirus and it’s important to maintain up-to-date vaccinations as your dog gets older. Puppies can be vaccinated from six weeks.

Good hygiene is also vital to preventing parvovirus from spreading. If you suspect you have come into contact with faeces infected by parvovirus, you should wash the affected area with household bleach. Soiled bedding should be discarded and all kennels, collars, bowls and leads appropriately cleaned and sterilised.

Infected dogs should be kept away from other dogs until they have recovered fully.