Parvo in Dogs: A Viral Disease That Can Be Treated

Parvo virus in dogs
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Canine parvovirus is a contagious and infectious disease, also known as hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. In fact, it manifests in 2 different forms, but the latter is the most met. Parvo in dogs was first diagnosed in 1970, when military dogs started to get sick, but recovered thanks to the large number of antibodies present in their organisms. Thus, the specialists concluded that it is spread among most dogs and that older dogs might have it without showing any signs of illness.

In 1977, this virus was described in Texas and since then it has become known across the globe. When it was discovered, it was affecting puppies younger than 5 months old that died in less than 4 days after contamination. Subsequently, the development of a vaccine against it led to an effective control of this affection, which is still considered the most threatening infection among puppies.

What is the parvovirus?

The parvovirus is a very serious disease, often fatal, produced by one of the smallest viruses belonging to the Parvoviridae family. Discovered only in 1977, it comprises a capsid protein and a DNA fragment. It is resistant, able to survive in an environment at extremely low temperatures for up to 6 months. Supposedly, it was related to the feline parvovirus, more specifically, it suffered a mutation that made it able to infect canine species as well. A year later, this virus mutated again and became more virulent.

At that time, there was a vaccine against parvovirus for felines, which was also administered to dogs. The present form is a new transformation of this mutation, called CPV-2b, for which there is no vaccine. The canine parvovirus is not dangerous to humans and cats because each of these species is affected by distinct forms of the same virus.

What are the symptoms of parvovirus?

The parvovirus symptoms in dogs are different, depending on each form. There are 2 types of canine parvovirus, namely intestinal and cardiac, which are also referred to as enteritis and myocarditis. The first one is more common and easier to deal with, while the second one is very dangerous and affects mainly puppies, leading to their death in most cases.

As it follows, you will learn more about the symptoms of each form and when they can occur. Puppies are more predisposed to this virus and those with the lowest life expectancy in case of contamination and lack of immediate treatment.

Parvovirus Flyer

Enteritis is also known as hemorrhagic gastroenteritis and it can occur in all dogs, regardless of their breed or their age. The main symptoms appear only after 1 to 2 weeks since contamination and are:

  • At first the dog vomits food and its gastric contents
  • After a day, it begins to have watery diarrhea with specific smell that is pungent and repulsive
  • In more serious cases, the pup’s feces contain blood
  • Because it vomits a lot, the sick pooch cannot eat or drink, but it suffers from excessive thirst
  • Its rectal temperature may be normal or elevated to 102 Fahrenheit degrees
  • Female dogs might have a temperature of up to 105 Fahrenheit degrees
  • After 3 to 5 days since contamination, the dog’s red blood cells number begins to decrease, which means that leukopenia installs
  • Because of diarrhea and vomiting, the pup’s blood acidity increases, fact which represents a complication in case of enteritis

If you do notice your dog is experiencing diarrhea and you’re not sure if it could be parvo, then you should read our article on diarrhea in dogs to help you determine the difference.

Myocarditis is a rare form of parvo that occurs mainly in very young dogs that are just a few weeks old. Puppies usually die after 1 to 2 months since the installation of this virus because the symptoms are not clear enough to be treated. For larger dogs that are older than 2 months, the symptoms are more obvious, as it follows:

  • Breathlessness, weakness and apathy
  • Weak pulse and tachycardia accompanied by arrhythmia
  • Pale mucous membranes and cold extremities
  • Increased liver size and fluid accumulation in the peritoneal cavity in severe cases

What causes the occurrence of parvo?

Since it is such a dangerous virus, you might wonder how do dogs get parvo? There are several risk factors that increase susceptibility to this disease, but the parvovirus is mainly transmitted through direct contact with another infected dog. The virus is also transmitted in indirect ways, orally or through fecal matter. Once in the body of a dog, this virus attacks its lymph nodes, bone marrow, destroying its white blood cells, and then, through blood, reaching its small intestine.

There, it destroys the intestinal lining cells, so that bacteria that normally develop in the gut can pass in the bloodstream. Normal intestinal absorption processes are no longer produced and thereby a dog reaches severe dehydration. Therefore, the parvovirus attacks in 2 ways, through the toxins released in the bloodstream and through dehydration, diarrhea with traces of blood in the stool and vomit. Puppies aged between 2 to 6 months are most predisposed to this disease due to the insufficient development of their immune system.

Puppies receive antibodies through colostrum, which means breast milk, but these antibodies are sometimes not enough to fight against possible infections.

Parvovirus in dog blood

This virus can be brought in a house through footwear that has come into contact with infected areas. Moreover, the parvovirus can remain on the ground even for one year and it is resistant to most cleaning products. The only disinfectant that can remove it is chlorine, so it is recommended for you to use it with confidence in order to clean every surface from your house.

In addition, other diseases and treatments that suppress a dog’s normal immune response can cause an infection with the parvovirus. There is a close relation between multiple factors when it comes to contamination.

All breeds of dogs can be infected with this virus, but it seems that the Rottweiler and Doberman Pinscher are more sensitive and have fewer chances of recovery if they get infected. Canine parvovirus affects only dogs and it cannot be transmitted to humans or other species. However, other dogs can get sick because of man, if he or she carries it on clothes or shoes.

Infected dogs only have around 50% chances of survival. If a pup survives the first 4 days, it will recover quickly and it will become immune to this virus for the rest of its life. Statistically, without proper treatment, most dogs die.

What is needed for a certain diagnose?

The parvovirus is diagnosed after a physical examination and using urine tests, X-rays and abdominal ultrasounds. Low levels of white blood cells also indicate the parvovirus infection, especially if associated with bloody stools. A urinalysis may indicate increased liver enzyme levels and electrolyte disorders. Abdominal radiographs show intestinal obstructions, while ultrasounds may reveal enlarged lymph and bowel segments filled with liquid. In addition, some veterinarians use rapid tests to diagnose canine parvovirus.

The test is performed on feces and it can be interpreted in 15 minutes. However, it is not 100% sensitive or specific and it can be influenced by the vaccination status of the dog. This means that a positive result can be false if the pooch was vaccinated in the past 2 weeks. For this reason, the veterinarian may recommend additional tests.

What is the treatment for parvo?

Because this disease is a viral infection, it cannot be healed. The treatment focuses on relieving the symptoms and preventing other adjacent bacterial infections from occurring. Intensive therapies, the administration of intravenous fluids and a proper diet are crucial in order to keep a pup alive after severe episodes of diarrhea and dehydration. Also, the level of protein and electrolytes from the body of a sick dog should be monitored regularly.

Among the drugs that are used for the treatment of parvovirus include those for the reduction of nausea and against parasites. Good results are given by antibiotics as well.

The hydration of a sick canine specimen is done just by administering fluids subcutaneously, 2 to 3 times a day, and in severe cases, the administration of fluids is done intravenous. There is no other way of hydrating a dog because its stomach is so irritated, that it would immediately vomit all the water it drinks. This does not mean that you should hide your pup’s water bowl. You could make chamomile and mint tea for it because chamomile is calming and antiseptic, while mint combats diarrhea. Even if it throws everything up, traces of these benefic plants remain in its body.

Parvo treatment_Chart

Calming and healing the gastrointestinal lining is done by using suppositories that are recommended by a veterinarian. They must be administered every 6 to 8 hours and in certain, very small doses. 30 minutes after the administration of a suppository, other meds can also be administered. In order to make this an easier experience for your pooch, you can dissolve the meds in tea sweetened with saccharin.

Be careful not to use other natural sweeteners because some of them cause diarrhea. If you do not have saccharin, then it is preferable to not sweeten the mix at all. Do not add something that is potentially dangerous.

In order to stop vomiting and diarrhea, your dog must take vitamin A since the beginning of the treatment because it has an anti-infective role and helps restore the gastrointestinal mucosa. As for preventing cardiac complications, your dog should ingest caffeine and vitamin C. Your dog’s immune system will be strengthened if it swallows vitamin A, B, C and glucose. Any other secondary infections should be treated by antibiotics.

Furthermore, the gastrointestinal bleeding can be stopped with the help if vitamin K and the administration of subcutaneous injections. A specialist will probably prescribe a vitamin supplement that contains all the needed ingredients.

During the recovery period, you can resume your dog’s normal diet gradually. Resume to small portions and do this only after the symptoms of parvovirus are completely gone. While your beloved pet is in convalescence, it should eat only easily digestible foods, such as rice, vegetables, teas and raw meat. Do not feed it milk or other dairy products until it gets better. In this case, the vet will have specific recommendations. In case you are not sure what to feed your pooch, then do not hesitate to ask the specialist when he or she examines your lovely canine friend.

How to prevent contamination?

Vaccination is extremely important when it comes to prevention. Puppies can get ill very quickly because the natural immunity provided by their mother’s milk may diminish until their own immune system develops enough to fight diseases. To learn more about when you should get your dogs vaccinated, check out this article on vaccination schedules for dogs.

Puppy shot

Sometimes, the immunity that comes from a pup’s mom may interfere with the vaccine, so even vaccinated pups can get contaminated occasionally. As a dog owner, you should be careful where you take your dog before it gets all the needed vaccines. Avoid places like parks, canine training classes and even veterinary clinics. Contact with infected dogs or the places where they live should be avoided under any circumstances. As a precaution, when you go out walking with your dog, never let it come into contact with the feces of other dogs.

What can be concluded?

The parvovirus is extremely dangerous and it can lead to the death of many pups. Vaccines against it are definitely the first prevention method that must be taken, but in case they are not effective, then you should take your pup to the vet as soon as possible. The first 4 days after the beginning of the illness signs are critical. If your dog survives those, it will definitely recover.

Vaccine vs parvo

Even after your dog has recovered after such a serious infection, it will still have a weakened immune system and will still be very susceptible to disease. Also, for two months after recovery, your dog still represents a source of contamination, so you should keep it away from other dogs or public places. Your family members should not come in contact with other dogs for 2 months as well because their clothes or shoes might still carry the parvovirus on them.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.