What is Parvo?


Most pet owners have heard of Parvo, or canine parvovirus type 2, and are aware that they should vaccinate their canine companions for the fatal disease. However, owners are often unsure of the reasons why protecting their pup is so important.

Parvovirus is an extremely contagious canine virus that primarily affects puppies under the age of 16 weeks and unvaccinated dogs. Upon infection the virus lives inside of the puppy or dog for about three to seven days without symptoms. During this time the virus is replicating and invading the puppy’s white blood cells. Symptoms begin to show as the virus makes its way to the puppy’s bone marrow, where it inhibits the growth of new immune cells, lowering the body’s ability to defend itself. This occurs while the virus stops the production of new cells for the lining of the puppy’s small intestines, which prevents them from absorbing nutrients. Primary symptoms typically include sluggishness, severe diarrhea (often with blood), vomiting, loss of appetite and a high fever.

How Do We Treat It?
There is no specific drug or cure for parvovirus, which is why vaccination is so important. A veterinarian will diagnose parvovirus using a fecal sample from the affected puppy or dog. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, intense supportive treatment should begin immediately based on how far the disease has progressed. This usually consists of hospitalization, intravenous fluids, blood transfusions (if needed) and medications to control nausea and diarrhea.

The puppy or dog must be isolated during treatment, as the disease is highly transmissible. Currently, there is a 90-percent survival rate for puppies and dogs started on therapeutic care immediately after symptoms arise, but each case is unique. 

How Can I Protect My Dog?
The disease is spread through direct contact with an affected dog or contaminated feces, or by contact with a person who has handled a dog with parvovirus. The virus can survive for a long time and is resistant to extreme temperatures and most household cleaning products. It can survive on nearly any surface it comes into contact with, be it a kennel floor, wood chips in the dog park or a person’s hands or clothes.

Luckily, parvovirus has become much less a threat to dogs since the development of the vaccine. Starting at six weeks, your puppy can receive their first vaccine from the veterinarian and will continue to get the vaccine every two to four weeks until they reach approximately 16 weeks of age. A year later, they’ll come back for a yearly physical exam and get a booster vaccine.

After that, your best friend will only need to be revaccinated every three years. Studies show that the vaccine is nearly 100-percent effective in protecting puppies and adolescent and adult dogs from contracting the disease. It is essential that owners continue to vaccinate their pups to protect them and the general canine population.   

Can I Walk My Puppy Outside Before Finishing the Vaccines?
Yes! You can take your puppy outside for walks and playtime before they have finished the vaccines. However, it is important to be aware of the surroundings and not let them come into contact with feces from other dogs. It is also best to avoid highly trafficked places such as dog parks, pet stores, daycares, groomers and puppy/obedience classes until they have received all of the vaccines.


Dan Teich, DVM, is the medical director of the District Veterinary Hospital, 240 Seventh St. SE, desk@districtvet.com.