Parvovirus poses a significant risk to puppies and unvaccinated dogs, and this highly contagious disease is often fatal if not treated appropriately. Our Livingston Veterinary Hospital team knows how devastating parvovirus can be, and we offer information about this condition and explain how you can decrease your dog’s risk.

Canine parvovirus basics

Canine parvovirus-1 (CPV-1) emerged in the United States in 1967, mainly causing health problems for newborn puppies. In 1978, the CPV-2 variant appeared, which is a likely feline distemper (i.e., feline parvovirus) mutation. The virus is now considered ubiquitous, and virtually all dogs have been exposed to the pathogen to some degree, which means that most adult dogs, regardless of their vaccination status, have at least some parvovirus immunity. Puppies are especially vulnerable because their immunity lapses between the time when their maternal antibodies wane and their immune system responds to vaccinations. Puppies are at their highest risk for contracting parvovirus when they are between 6 weeks and 6 months of age. 

Dogs can contract parvovirus by sniffing, licking, or consuming infected feces and by encountering contaminated objects such as food, water bowls, and fur. Once transmission occurs, the virus migrates to the throat’s rapidly dividing lymph node cells, replicating in large numbers. During the next several days, the virus also targets the bone marrow and intestinal cells. By killing the bone marrow’s young immune cells, the virus prevents the body from defending itself against the infection. In the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the virus destroys cells responsible for nutrient absorption, leading to severe, sometimes bloody diarrhea and vomiting, which cause extreme fluid loss and dehydration. In addition, losing the intestinal barrier can allow GI bacteria to invade the bloodstream, causing sepsis. In young puppies, parvovirus can also attack the heart, causing inflammation, poor cardiac function, and arrhythmias.

Canine parvovirus diagnosis

Our Livingston Veterinary Hospital team immediately suspects parvovirus in any puppy experiencing vomiting or diarrhea. Other signs include lethargy, fever, inappetence, and dehydration. To confirm a parvovirus diagnosis, we perform a fecal viral antigen test, but these tests can produce false results:

  • False negative — Viral shedding starts within four to five days after exposure, and if testing occurs before shedding begins, a false negative can result. 
  • False positive — The parvovirus vaccine contains a modified-live virus, and dogs vaccinated within 10 days can potentially have a false-positive result.

Canine parvovirus treatment

No parvovirus cure exists, and treatment focuses on supportive care to help a dog fight the infection. Treatment typically involves:

  • Fluid therapy — Severe vomiting and diarrhea lead to dehydration, and intravenous (IV) fluid therapy is necessary to replace losses.
  • Electrolyte imbalance correction — Vomiting and diarrhea cause significant electrolyte imbalances that must be corrected.
  • Antiemetics — Our team may prescribe antiemetics to help control your dog’s nausea and vomiting.
  • Nutritional support — Infected dogs need nutritional support but often can’t or won’t eat. We place a feeding tube if necessary to ensure your dog receives adequate nutrition.
  • Antibiotics — Our team may prescribe antibiotics to protect against sepsis, especially if your dog has a high fever or low white blood cell count.

When parvovirus is addressed early and treated appropriately, about 80% of dogs survive, and typically, those who survive the first three to four days make a complete recovery. Most dogs take about a week to recover fully from parvovirus.

Canine parvovirus at-home care

Once your dog is discharged from the veterinary hospital, they are still recovering from parvovirus. Our Livingston Veterinary Hospital team may recommend the following at-home care:

  • Medications — Ensure you administer all medications our team has prescribed for your dog.
  • Diet — We will recommend an easily digestible, bland diet for your dog as they recover. Feed small, frequent meals so as not to overwhelm their GI tract and avoid feeding table scraps. Your dog’s stool may be a little loose initially, but should gradually firm up during the first three to five days they are home. 
  • Other dogs — Your dog should be considered contagious for about a month after infection, so you should restrict their contact with puppies and unvaccinated dogs. 
  • Bathing — Bathing your dog helps remove the virus from their fur, reducing disease spread.
  • Vaccinations — Resume your dog’s vaccination schedule as recommended by our veterinary team.

Canine parvovirus prevention

Parvovirus is a preventable disease. To help your dog avoid contracting parvovirus, follow these tips:

  • Ensure your puppy is vaccinated at 8 to 10 weeks of age, 11 to 13 weeks of age, 14 to 16 weeks of age, 17 to 20 weeks of age, and then every one to three years.
  • Safely socialize your puppy by ensuring they only interact with fully vaccinated dogs in a safe environment such as your home.
  • Until your puppy is fully vaccinated, avoid dog parks and other areas where your young pooch may encounter an unvaccinated dog. 
  • Never let your puppy come in contact with another animal’s fecal matter.

Parvovirus is a serious, potentially life-threatening disease, but by vaccinating your dog appropriately and ensuring they avoid contact with unvaccinated dogs, you can safeguard your four-legged friend. If your puppy is due for their parvovirus vaccine, schedule an appointment with our Livingston Veterinary Hospital team, so we can ensure your furry pal is protected from this deadly virus.