Parvovirus in dogs

Parvovirus in dogs is a nasty and life-threatening infectious disease. It’s particularly dangerous for puppies and unvaccinated dogs. 80% of unprotected dogs will not survive without intensive veterinary care. 10-30% will still not survive despite treatment. Vet-approved vaccines are the only safe and effective way to protect your dog against parvovirus.

Parvovirus is spread via the poo of infected dogs. The virus is extremely hard to kill and hangs around in the environment for years. You can even carry it into the house on your own feet or hands. Symptoms begin when the virus attacks your dog’s intestine and immune system. The main symptom is severe and bloody diarrhoea. The condition gets worse very quickly. Early identification and intensive treatment offer the best chance of survival.



What is parvovirus in dogs?

Parvovirus is an infectious disease that spreads aggressively between dogs. The disease was first recognised in the 1970’s. Despite widespread availability of effective vaccines, it’s still present in the UK today. And it’s a dangerous threat to unvaccinated dogs.

  • Parvovirus is shed in the poo and vomit of infected dogs. It’s hard to kill and lives on the ground for years.
  • Dogs get parvovirus infection by eating or licking something contaminated with the virus.
  • Foodbowls, collars, crates, kennels and human hands can all harbour the virus and spread infection.
  • The virus targets your dog’s intestine, blood cells and immune defences.
  • Parvovirus spreads very quickly between unvaccinated dogs.
  • Without treatment, most dogs will not survive the illness. Death results within days from dehydration,  blood poisoning or heart failure.
  • Vaccination protects against parvovirus. Vaccinations must be given at the correct time of your pup’s development to be fully effective.



What are the symptoms of parvovirus in dogs?

Symptoms of parvovirus in dogs develop when the virus attacks the intestine. This happens 2-7 days after the virus gets into the body. Symptoms are:


Other symptoms:

  • Sudden death: young puppies 3-8 weeks old, this happens if the virus attacks their heart.
  • Hot, and painful joints: immune arthritis triggered by parvovirus.

Not all infected dogs develop the full symptoms:

  • 10% of dogs have milder symptoms
  • Usually young adult dogs, who are otherwise healthy
  • These dogs can still spread infection


Complications of parvovirus infection

Puppies and dogs who survive parvovirus infection may be prone to longer-term tummy upsets.

  • Chronic (long-term) diarrhoea.
  • Recurrent diarrhoea that comes and goes.

If your dog has these symptoms, they may need vitamin injections and a special diet to control them and thrive.



Which dogs are most at risk of parvovirus infection?

A number of factors can make some dogs more likely to catch parvovirus:

  • Age: parvovirus is most common and most serious in puppies and young dogs under a year old
  • Being unvaccinated
  • Belonging to certain breeds: Rottweilers, Dobermann Pinschers, German Shepherd dogs, Labradors, Bull Terriers
  • Living in poorly-cleaned, unhygienic or overcrowded conditions
  • Living among lots of other unvaccinated dogs
  • Having other illnesses makes it harder to fight off infection.


Are my family and other pets at risk?

  • Humans can’t get parvovirus from dogs. But humans can spread the virus between dogs through poor hand and shoe hygiene.
  • Parvovirus spreads very rapidly between all the unprotected dogs in a household and beyond.
  • Cats and other pets don’t catch the dog form of parvovirus.



How do vets diagnose parvovirus in dogs?

The symptoms in a puppy or young dog are often enough to diagnose parvovirus infection.

Vet ‘in-house’ test on a faecal (poo) sample:

  • ‘SNAP’ Parvo Test. Carried out at the practice by your vet. Results within 10 minutes.

Special laboratory tests

  • Blood tests – looking for parvovirus antibodies. Seeing if your dog’s immune system is fighting the virus.
  • Finding the actual virus or traces of it in a poo sample.

To help the vet judge the severity of the illness and treatment needed, they need to run:

  • General blood tests, including electrolytes (salts), glucose levels and blood cell counts.


Vet treatment

How do vets treat parvovirus in dogs?

As soon as a vet suspects parvovirus infection, the priorities will be:

  • Starting emergency supportive treatment
  • Preventing the virus from spreading to other dogs


  • Fluids to treat dehydration and shock, given directly into a vein in your dog’s leg
  • Anti-sickness medicine
  • Antibiotics won’t kill parvovirus, but they’re essential. They kill bacteria that pour into the blood through the damaged intestine.
  • Gut protectants to minimise intestinal damage
  • Pain relief
  • Special feeding: sometimes through a special tube for dogs who are very sick
  • Interferon (Virbagen Omega): an injection that helps your dog’s immune system fight the virus

Dogs who suffer longer-term tummy problems after having parvovirus may need vitamin injections and a special diet.

Preventing spread in practice:

  • Isolation: keeping an infected dog completely separate in an isolation ward or kennel
  • Barrier nursing: vets and nurses use protective clothing to treat a sick dog
  • Strict hygiene: cleaning hands, equipment and surfaces with a special disinfectant that kills parvovirus.


Home treatment

How to look after a dog with parvovirus at home

There are no home remedies for parvovirus. Survival depends on prompt intensive treatment from a vet. Milder symptoms and recovering dogs can continue supportive treatment at home:

  • Keep your dog clean and warm.
  • Offer them small frequent drinks to treat and prevent dehydration.
  • Small, frequent feeds will be best. Don’t overload their tummy. A special prescription diet is ideal. For example, Hills Prescription Diet i/d.
  • Give medicine your vet prescribes at the correct time and dose.
  • Isolate them from other dogs. Even when they start to recover, they’ll still be infectious for another 2-4 weeks afterwards.


At home decontamination

Most standard household cleaners are not effective against parvovirus.

  • Dilute 1 part of household bleach to 30 parts of water. Use this bleach solution to clean all surfaces and fabrics in contact with your dog. Make sure you get rid of as much of the vomit or diarrhoea as you can first.
  • Soak surfaces, feeding bowls and bedding for at least 10 minutes. This gives the solution time to kill the virus.
  • Rinse and wash all bedding, blankets and towels in a hot wash cycle.
  • Safely dispose of heavily contaminated bedding. Dispose of bowls or utensils with pitted, porous surfaces that can’t be cleaned properly.



How to prevent parvovirus in dogs

Vaccination is a safe and effective way to protect your dog against parvovirus.

  • Vaccinate pregnant bitches to protect them and their young puppies.


  • Some vaccine manufacturers advise 2 doses of vaccination at 8 and 10 weeks old
  • The expert ‘World Small Animal Veterinary Association’ advises 3 doses of parvovirus vaccination. All puppies should have a parvovirus vaccination every 3-4 weeks from 8 or 9 weeks to 16 weeks of age.
  • The 16 week vaccination helps reduce the risk of poor vaccine response. Puppies vaccinated too early may still have antibodies to parvovirus from their mum’s milk.
  • Vaccination should be repeated at 1 year old and at least every 3 years after that.

Always talk to a vet if you have any questions about vaccinating your dog or puppy.


Can vaccinated dogs still get parvovirus?

Very occasionally, vaccinated dogs do get parvovirus.

Reasons and circumstances include:

  • Mum’s protective antibodies interfering with the vaccine. This is why the 16 week vaccination is important.
  • Puppies getting the virus before their primary vaccination course is complete at a year old.
  • Vaccination when the puppy already has the disease.
  • Dogs suffering from an illness that prevents their immune system from responding to vaccination.
  • Dogs receiving medicine that interferes with their immune system’s response to vaccination.


When to worry

When to worry about parvovirus in dogs

Find your nearest vet practice if your puppy or young dog:

  • Develops sudden and worsening bloody diarrhoea.
  • Can’t keep anything down, including water.
  • Is collapsed or unresponsive.

Call a vet as soon as possible if your dog:

  • Is vomiting repeatedly or still being sick after 24 hours
  • Is lethargic or weak
  • Has been in contact with parvovirus infection.

Joii can help with:

  • Recognising the symptoms of parvovirus.
  • Home care for recovering dogs and puppies.
  • Diets during illness and recovery.
  • Vaccinating puppies and dogs against parvovirus and other illnesses.
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