Parvovirus: What It Is and How To Prevent It


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Canine parvovirus, commonly referred to as parvo or CPV, is a very contagious and often fatal disease that causes severe illness in puppies and unvaccinated dogs. 

While the mention of parvo may rattle many pet parents, it’s a new term to some who don’t yet understand the seriousness of it. We wanted to shed light on this to ensure you have all the information you need to be the best pet parent you can be in taking care of pup’s health. 

So what exactly is parvo, and how can you tell if your doggo might have it?

What is Parvovirus?

Parvovirus attacks the lining of the small intestine, which causes vomiting and diarrhoea. This can then lead to dehydration. As if this wasn’t enough, the virus also attacks the bone marrow. The damaged bone marrow is no longer able to produce enough white blood cells needed to fight off infections. 

In some cases the virus can also affect the heart, resulting in inflammation. This is usually fatal.

Parvo is typically thought of as a puppy illness because puppies aged between six weeks to six months old (especially those unvaccinated) are most susceptible. This is why the CPV vaccine is one of the core vaccines for dogs. It should be part of your pet vaccination schedule.

Parvo can be transmitted through infected dog’s vomit or faeces. It survives in faeces for around two weeks, but can survive for months on floors, cages, clothes, and more.

So, if you touch an object, ground surface or something else contaminated with the parvovirus, your hands or shoes could carry the virus for a long time thereafter. The same goes for your furball. We know how our dogs like to sniff, lick and rub themselves up on anything and everything when taken on their walkies.

What are parvovirus symptoms to look out for?

A doggo who has contracted CPV will usually display symptoms somewhere between a few days and a couple of weeks after exposure. One of the very first signs is lethargy and a lack of appetite. Fever is commonly (but not always) seen in the early stages too.

What to look out for:

  • Diarrhoea (sometimes bloody)
  • Bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Dehydration

In very severe cases, the dog or puppy might collapse. They sometimes also display a very high heart rate and hypothermia, due to severe dehydration and sepsis.


If you see any symptoms, what’s the first step?

If your dog or puppy displays any of these symptoms, you need to act quickly.

Visit a vet as soon as possible. It’s a good idea to let them know that you suspect it may be the parvovirus. This will enable them to treat your dog quickly plus put preventative measures in place to keep the spread contained. 

It may seem scary, but your vet will most likely want to hospitalise your furkid. This allows them to use IV fluids to help nurse them back to health. Although this is expensive, it allows for 24/7 monitoring. It also helps with the dogs struggling to keep oral medications down; a drip can help to hydrate them again.

You’ll have to thoroughly clean your home environment if your dog is diagnosed with parvo. It’s recommended to use bleach on any surface that can withstand it, such as floors, crates, and counters. Then steam clean surfaces like fabric and upholstery.

Remember, in shaded areas the virus can survive for more than six months. Sunny areas may be safe within a month or so.

We can’t emphasise enough just how contagious this virus is, so take careful measures to clean properly.


How to prevent parvo

The parvovirus vaccine is one of the core vaccines for dogs and significantly reduces the risk of contagion.

While vaccinating your doggo is not a guarantee, it’s definitely the best countermeasure in place. Fully vaccinated adult dogs are likely to have better immune systems than young dogs and puppies, so their chances of survival are better if they are unlucky enough to catch it.

However, due to how contagious the virus is and how long it can survive and cling to surfaces, even if your pup has no direct contact with other dogs, it can be picked up through indirect contact. 

So remember, if your pup looks subdued, is vomiting or has diarrhoea you should call your vet immediately. They should make time for you and if they’re too busy to help, call another. There are many success stories about dogs surviving the parvovirus, especially if treated early.

Be the best pet parent with pet insurance!

Symptoms aside, one of the most devastating realities of parvo is that treatment – while thankfully available – is often expensive. The bill for a dog with parvo often runs between a couple of thousand through to several thousand dollars.

As a result, some dog owners make the heartbreaking decision to euthanise due to the expense.

This is where pet insurance is invaluable, allowing you to get the lifesaving treatment your dog or puppy needs in an emergency. And parvo certainly isn’t the only reason to get pet insurance – find out why so many pet parents love their pet insurance in our Why is Pet Insurance Important article

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