Parvo in Dogs – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment



Parvo, officially known as the Parvovirus, has one of the highest mortality rates for diseases that affect dogs. There is less than a ten percent chance that a dog with untreated symptoms will survive. While this rate is alarming, quick treatment can prevent a dog from becoming part of that statistic.

What Symptoms Are Common?

Diarrhea is the number one symptom of Parvo. What makes this sign different than that of other similar illnesses is that the diarrhea is also accompanied by blood. This may be seen in small or large amounts, depending on how old the dog is, the length of time the dog has had the disease, and the frequency of stools.

Many dogs also experience nausea and vomiting. These signs may be seen first before bathroom issues develop.

Are There Uncommon Symptoms?

Signs of mucus may also be present in an infected dog’s stool. This can cause a foul odor to emerge.

Some dogs will have little to no appetite and stop eating as regularly as they once did. Others become lethargic and will feel depressed, unable to move and play.  Fever may also develop.

What Causes Parvo in Dogs

Feces are the main cause of Parvo. Excrement left behind from dogs who are infected will harm others who come in contact with it. It is also possible for dogs to get the virus simply for coming in contact for infected soil, the area where the feces was present.

The Parvovirus is said to be a mutation of another type, known as Feline Panleukopenia. The two are nearly identical, except that one affects cats while the other is directed at dogs.

Symptoms usually begin to show within only four to ten days of being exposed to to the virus.

Parvo excels in nearly any environment, making it difficult to eradicate. It is a resilient virus that is not impacted by common household sprays.

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Is Parvo Contagious?

Parvo is a highly contagious disease. It is spread through contact with feces, which means dogs in close proximity of each other can pass the illness along. It is extremely common in kennels and shelters where a large number of dogs are present.

Puppies are most likely to develop Parvo, and also the most likely to meet their end from it.

Dogs who simply walk through the grass and get excrement on their paws can pass the illness along to other dogs. It is that contagious.

What is the Diagnosis?

Both stool and blood are required for a diagnostic test. The test will examine both to determine if virus antigens are present. A white blood cell count is also needed, as this can be a clear sign of Leukopenia.

ELISA is one of the most common tests for PARVO. This study uses parvovirus antibodies. Stool is placed in the testing chamber, with the antibodies already present. These antibodies will cling to the stool if there are parvovirus proteins found. Veterinarians then add a chemical to the mix. If the chemical changes color, it means the virus has taken hold. No color change indicates that the parvovirus is not present in the canine’s body.

What is the Prognosis?

Untreated animals have a very low likelihood of surviving Parvo. The illness especially affects puppies who already have weak systems and are unable to handle the effects of the disease.

Animals that receive treatment, on the other hand, have a much higher likelihood of living. With reversive treatments to combat symptoms, most dogs should go onto lead a full life.

How is Parvo Treated?

There is no actual treatment for Parvo. Once a dog has the disease, he will always be a carrier. The dog may shed some of the virus into their stool at any point in time.

The method of treatment used is for the affected areas within the dog’s body. Parvo attacks the white blood cell count, lowering the immune system. It causes damage to lymph nodes, bone marrow, the intestines, and even the heart.

Treatments used will help to lessen the effects of Parvo on these important body systems. They work to reverse some of the effects and return the system to normal.

The use of IV fluids, antibiotics, and anti-nausea meds help to treat the symptoms and impacted systems. A blood transfusion may also be required to help improve blood cell counts that are dangerously low.

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Living with Parvo

Dogs living with Parvo will always be carriers of the virus. They can spread it at any time. This means these dogs should be lone animals within a home, so they have no chance of contaminating other dogs in the future.

A stay at a veterinary clinic is often required. This is so a professional can properly examine and treat the dog as needed. It can take a while before symptoms decrease and dogs return to normal behavior and feeling. During this stay, fluids will be administered to make up for what has been lost during bouts of vomiting and diarrhea.

Prevention Suggestions

The only true way to prevent Parvo is by receiving the vaccination for the virus. Even then, it is still possible for dogs to get it. This is especially true for puppies who have a weak immune system and will struggle to fight off the disease.

Three doses of the vaccine are required before it is fully effective. These doses are typically administered within three to four weeks.

Decontaminating areas where infected dogs have been is another way to prevent the disease from spreading. This includes properly disposing of all feces within the yard and spraying down the grass with water. This, paired with sunlight, can help to eliminate the effects of the virus in the yard within a few weeks. Keeping dogs out of the area until then is best.

Using a small amount of bleach mixed with a large amount of water can work to clean toys, personal grooming items, and bedding of the dog. It may also be wise to simply get rid of any used items and trade them for new, if bleach will discolor or alter them too significantly. Bleach is the only known household product that can kill the virus.