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5 Vet-Reviewed Warning Signs of Parvo in Puppies

5 Vet-Reviewed Warning Signs of Parvo in Puppies
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Reviewed by: Paula Simons, DVM

Bringing a new puppy home is very exciting! The first thing you want to do is introduce him or her to your friends and family. Who doesn’t want to hold and play with a puppy?

There’s nothing wrong with showing off the new addition to your family. However, until your puppy has had the parvo vaccine, there are a few things you should do to protect him or her.

Canine Parvovirus (CPV) infection is no joke. This contagious virus has a high mortality rate and can easily be contracted through the feces of an infected dog.

Young puppies can also contract parvovirus through indirect contact via contaminated soil.

Parvo can survive in soil for more than a year and on inside surfaces for up to a month.

You can let people hold and cuddle your new puppy, but be sure to keep your dog away from other animals until he or she has been vaccinated.

In this post, we’ll talk about whether dogs can get parvo twice, signs and symptoms to be aware of, and the best way to protect your dogs from this deadly virus.

Everything You Need to Know About Parvo in Puppies

Puppies are at a higher risk of contracting parvovirus because of their immature immune systems. This highly contagious virus can manifest two ways:

Cardiac

This is a less common form of parvovirus. In this case, the virus attacks the heart muscles of neonatal puppies under eight weeks of age. It often leads to death.

Intestinal

The intestinal form of parvo is more common in puppies between the ages of six weeks and six months.

Direct contact with an infected dog or indirect contact with a contaminated object are both effective ways to spread this virus.

Immune System

Puppies haven’t had a chance to develop antibodies to diseases like parvovirus. This is why they are so vulnerable.

How to Avoid Parvovirus

Puppies can be easily infected with the virus through direct contact with an infected dog or through direct contact with an infected dog’s feces.

Every time your puppy sniffs, licks, or eats infected feces, he is at risk of contracting parvovirus. Parvo is a hearty virus that can contaminate things like:

  • your lawn
  • kennel carrier
  • dog bed
  • dog bath
  • collars
  • leashes
  • hands of people who handle infected dogs
  • infected dogs, etc.

In some cases, parvo can be passed from the mother to her puppies if she is infected.

What Happens When Your Dog Gets Parvo?

Once the virus enters the body, it goes on a mission to invade disease-fighting lymphocytes. These are found in the lymph nodes. It takes three to seven days (incubation period) before the onset of symptoms.

As illustrated in the infographic below, the virus heads straight for the lymph nodes around the puppy’s throat. Once there, they hi-jack the healthy lymphocytes and begin to circulate around the bloodstream.

Soon, the invaded lymphocytes die, leaving the virus in charge. As it circulates through the bloodstream, it looks for rapidly dividing cells to damage. These are found in the white blood cells of bone marrow.

The bone marrow becomes so damaged that it can’t produce enough white blood cells to maintain a healthy immune system. This is where the trouble really begins.

Puppies become extremely vulnerable to serious infections.

How parvo makes a dog sick infographicPin

Parvo Attacks the Small Intestine

The small intestines are lined with epithelial cells (called the epithelium). Normally, this protective layer provides a shield to keep out bad bacteria. It protects against excess fluid loss and helps the body absorb nutrients.

When damaged by the parvovirus, it can lead to severe diarrhea, dehydration, and infection. In severe cases, the parvovirus can lead to a condition where bacteria finds its way out of the intestines and into the bloodstream.

This is known as sepsis and is a medical emergency.

Can an Older Dog Get Parvo?

Parvo symptoms are the same no matter what the age of the dog. Unvaccinated dogs are at a very high risk of contracting the disease at any age.

Due to the lowered immune systems in young dogs, parvovirus is more likely to infect a young puppy. Even so, the parvovirus can still infect older dogs.

Even senior dogs who have been vaccinated may be at risk of contracting parvo, especially if they have compromised immune systems. This could be caused by an underlying disease, cancer treatments including certain medications, etc.

Can a Puppy Get Parvo Twice?

Theoretically, a puppy could get parvo twice. However, it’s unlikely. There is a small percentage of dogs unable to produce an effective immune response against parvo. If the puppy survived the first bout of disease, technically he or she could contract it again.

A dog that can’t produce an immune response would likely die during the initial infection. It’s unlikely a dog will contract parvo a second time.

Do Dogs Who Survive Parvo Have Lifelong Immunity?

Most dogs who make it through a parvo infection come away with a long-lasting natural immunity to the virus.

Routine vaccinations are still advised once the puppy has recovered.

5 Early Warning Signs of Parvo in Puppies

The parvovirus has many clinical signs. However, your dog may not have all of them at once. The degree of exposure and/or whether your dog has some tolerance from prior immunity may dictate how many symptoms (and the severity of the symptoms) your dog has.

Schnauzer puppy with early signs of parvo disease imagePin

If you suspect your dog is sick for any reason, bring him or her to a veterinarian for assessment as quickly as possible.

The virus starts to be shed in the stool shortly before early signs of parvo in puppies or dogs develop, and shedding lasts for around ten days.

Clinical signs and symptoms of parvo in dogs can include the following:

Mild Fever

The first symptom of parvovirus in dogs is usually a mild fever. Unfortunately, dog owners may not detect the subtle symptom.

Diarrhea

Dogs get diarrhea for a variety of reasons. Parasites, food intolerance, and medication side-effects are all possible reasons for diarrhea in dogs.

Never ignore diarrhea in a puppy, no matter what the reason may be. Diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration and death.

Vomiting

Vomiting in adult dogs is a common occurrence and not always a cause for concern. It’s possible that your dog ate too quickly and regurgitated the food, ingested something unpleasant, or swallowed too much grass.

That said, puppy vomiting should always be taken seriously.

Puppies begin to lose the immunity their mothers gave them after six weeks. Young puppies are at a higher risk of contracting serious diseases like parvovirus or parasites because they are only recently starting to receive vaccinations.

Acute vomiting can quickly lead to dehydration and death. Contact your veterinarian right away.

Weakness

Naturally, your puppy will feel weak and fatigued if he or she has been suffering with diarrhea and vomiting.

It’s not normal for a puppy to be weak. If you notice anything unusual about your puppy’s behavior, contact a veterinarian for advice.

Inappetence (Won’t Eat)

It’s possible your new puppy just doesn’t like the food you’re offering. In most cases, however, a puppy will eat what you give him.

If you notice that your puppy doesn’t seem well and refuses to eat, seek the advice of a licensed veterinarian. Puppies need nourishment and can quickly become dehydrated.

Diagnosing Parvovirus in Puppies: How It’s Done

With a fecal test, veterinarians can easily and quickly diagnose parvo in puppies.

The Fecal ELISA Test

The fecal ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test is by far the most popular and practical way to check for the presence of CPV.

The technology used is similar to that used in at-home pregnancy tests.

It works by immobilizing parvovirus antibodies on the surface of a testing chamber. In the chamber, a fecal sample is added. Antibodies bind to any parvovirus proteins that may be present.

From there, a chemical that changes color is added to the chamber. If the parvovirus has attached to the antibodies, the chemical will change color and signal a “positive” result.

The Pros of the ELIZA Test:

The ELISA test can usually be completed in under 15 minutes.

The Cons of the ELIZA Test:

Even though the ELISA test is generally accurate, it occasionally yields false positive or false negative results, necessitating additional testing to be sure of a diagnosis.

PCR-Polymerase Chain Reaction

In order to diagnose CPV from fecal samples, veterinarians may also rely on a test that employs a method called polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

The test finds small fragments of CPV-specific viral DNA in the stool of an infected dog. This test is very accurate (more accurate than the CPV fecal ELISA), but it generally takes longer because the fecal sample has to be sent to a lab specializing in performing PCR testing.

Blood Test

Tests for white blood cell count are frequently the deciding factor in CPV diagnosis.

A low white blood cell count may indicate a CPV infection because the bone marrow is one of the first tissues the parvovirus infects.

*See the infographic above.

Parvo Prevention-What You Should Know

Healthy puppies around six and eight weeks of age should be given parvo vaccines, with booster shots at 12 and 16 weeks. Depending on the dog’s diet and exposure to risks, parvo vaccines can then be given regularly or every three years.

When exposed to parvo, vaccinated dogs are better on the avoidance side than those unvaccinated.

It’s important to avoid places where your unvaccinated pup might come into contact with infected dogs or feces.

Avoid public places (dog parks, groomers, visits to friends or family, etc.) until your puppy has received the 3rd round of vaccinations.

Eliminating the Parvovirus

Unfortunately, the parvovirus cannot be killed with most household cleaners. This means that products like Spic & Span, Clorox, or Lysol will not work.

Clorox bleach kills parvovirus on surfaces.

Disinfecting Products

The following products were chosen from Amazon and are considered affiliate links. This means that if you click on a link, I may earn a small commission. This does not cost extra for you.

Please note: the following products have not been independently tested by Your Dog’s Health Matters. Please read and follow all instructions carefully.

Check with your veterinarian for the best products.

Parvosol II RTU

This product can be mopped or sprayed onto floors and is used in veterinary clinics, homes, and farms.

Please read the instructions before using

Virkon-S Paul for Pets

Virkon-S is a broad-spectrum veterinary disinfectant that kills 31 different strains and 58 different viruses.

Virex – CBD540557

Virex is an all-purpose disinfectant cleaner for use on hard, nonporous surfaces.

Avoid bringing the virus inside by removing the urine & feces of other pets in your neighborhood. Start disinfecting your shoes and wash your other dog’s paws if you take them to the dog park.

More on How to Get Rid of Parvo in Your Environment.

Protect your dog’s health by sanitizing your yard, the dog’s bed, and other areas where your dog may come into direct contact with.

There’s a lot to think about here, and it is all covered at this link: How to Get Rid of Parvo in Yard – Canine Parvovirus.

Treatment Options for Parvovirus in Puppies

If you suspect that your dog has parvo, it’s vital that you get your puppy to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

If your puppy needs to be hospitalized, the survival rate is around 90%. This is because they can be closely watched and provided supportive care. Survival is less likely if your dog is not treated by a veterinarian as soon as clinical symptoms are noticed.

Fluid Therapy

A severely ill parvo-infected puppy will require intensive IV fluid therapy, round-the-clock observation, and on-site laboratory services.

Diet

Dogs with parvovirus should be fed a bland, easily absorbed diet. This gives the dog’s gastrointestinal tract a chance to make a full recovery.

Prescription diets are available through companies like Hill’s, Purina, and Royal Canin. These diets are designed to be gentle on the GI tract and are nutritionally balanced.

Hospital Stay

Depending on the severity of the symptoms, hospital stays typically last three to seven days. After you notice parvo symptoms in dogs, there is a 24- to 72-hour window when the risk of death is at its highest.

Parvo cannot be treated at home.

Outpatient Treatment

Occasionally, outpatient treatment may be attempted with veterinary assistance. This might take place if the dog is not critically ill or if the cost of treatment is too much for pet owners.

Outpatient parvo treatments for dogs could include:

  • fluids given under the skin for hydration
  • easily absorbed diet
  • antiemetics to stop vomiting

Hospitalization is safer and more likely to provide the best outcome.

There is no known treatment for parvovirus.

Since there is no known treatment for parvovirus, the focus of care is on helping the puppy’s body resist the virus.

How Long Do Puppies Live with Parvo?

Parvo is a potentially fatal disease that can kill a dog within a few days.

The survival rate of dogs treated by a veterinarian is 68 to 92 percent. Most puppies that survive the first three to four days completely recover.

Conclusion

Parvovirus is a serious and contagious disease. Unvaccinated puppies are most at risk due to their immature immune systems.

The best way to avoid infection by parvovirus is to keep your puppy away from public places (dog parks, kennels, etc.) until he or she has been vaccinated.

If your puppy experiences vomiting and diarrhea, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian. Vomiting and diarrhea can quickly cause life-threatening dehydration in dogs, no matter the cause.

Thank you for reading this post. If you were able to learn something about Parvo in puppies, please take a second to educate others and share.

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Works Cited

Burke, Anna. American Kennel Club. www.akc.org, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/what-every-puppy-owner-needs-to-know-about-parvo-in-puppies/. Accessed 26 July 2022.

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. www.vet.cornell.edu, 5 Dec. 2017, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/baker-institute/our-research/canine-parvovirus.

LaRock, Amber. Emergency Vets USA. emergencyvetsusa.com, 24 Nov. 2021, https://emergencyvetsusa.com/can-a-dog-get-parvo-twice/.

Canine Parvovirus. canineparvovirus.org, https://canineparvovirus.org/parvo-symptoms/. Accessed 26 July 2022.

Burke, Anna. American Kennel Club. www.akc.org, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dog-vomiting-causes-diagnosis-and-treatment/. Accessed 26 July 2022.

Lichtenberg, VMD, Dr. Debora. Petful. www.petful.com, 5 Mar. 2019, https://www.petful.com/pet-health/treatment-parvo-puppies/.

Parvo in Dogs and Puppies: Causes and Treatment for Canine Parvovirus | PetMD. www.petmd.com, 29 Oct. 2020, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/infectious-parasitic/c_dg_canine_parvovirus_infection.

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