What Are the Signs of Parvo & What You Need to Do

While proper vaccination has significantly decreased the incidence of canine parvovirus (CPV), it is still one of the most common causes of death in puppies and young dogs. It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of parvo in order to take the necessary measures to help your pup.

What Are the Signs of Parvo

What is Parvo (Parvovirus)?

There are two types of canine parvovirus, with the most common being the intestinal variety. This form of the disease severely limits the animal’s ability to absorb nutrients and water through the intestinal wall and often leaves the dog’s body in a state of extreme malnutrition and dehydration. There is also a cardiac variety of parvovirus which attacks the dog’s heart muscle and often results in sudden death.

Young puppies have an underdeveloped immune system which makes them more susceptible to contracting either variety and also means they will have a harder time fighting off the disease. Young dogs and puppies who contract parvo are often sent into a state of shock and die suddenly.

We cannot over-emphasize the severity of this disease and the importance of seeking medical attention immediately if you suspect your dog may have contracted the virus. If your dog shows signs of parvo, you should not hesitate to take them to your veterinarian. It may mean the difference between life and death.

What are the Signs of Parvo?

Dogs infected with intestinal parvo typical suffer from:

  • vomiting
  • lethargy
  • bloody diarrhea
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss

Cardiac parvovirus is far less common and puppies may die suddenly without warning or after a short span of difficulty breathing.

Parvo Diagnosis

Parvo is diagnosed through physical examination and the animal’s history, and any combination of the following:

  • biochemical tests
  • blood test
  • parvo antigen test

Typically, a blood profile and complete blood cell count and CBC will be used to determine infection. A dog’s bloody diarrhea typically points to CPV infection with low white blood cell counts, which is consistent with a viral infection. Urine analysis and biochemical tests usually display electrolyte imbalances and elevated liver enzymes.

Additionally, ultrasounds can show enlarged lymph nodes and fluid-filled intestinal segments, while a radiograph may show an intestinal blockage.

It’s important that you provide a proper history for the vet, including your pet’s activities, health, and symptoms. A stool or vomit sample will provide them with an additional way to detect the virus microscopically.

How is Canine Parvovirus Transmitted?

One of the best ways to help your dog avoid contracting parvo is to understand how the virus is transmitted. The most common way for a dog to contract parvo is by coming into contact with an infected dog or their feces. In the latter scenario the dog typically inhales the virus after sniffing the droppings of an infected animal. This can occur even if the droppings are very old, as evidence suggests that the virus may live in ground soil for several years.

How to Prevent Canine Parvovirus

It’s important to understand how to avoid exposure and prevent contraction of parvo in your pup.


The single best way to help your dog remain free of parvo is through early and regular vaccination. Puppies should be vaccinated against parvo at 6, 9, 12,16 and 20 weeks of age. There is a vaccination schedule puppies should stick to, for more information on vaccinations read dog vaccinations: everything you need to know.

It should be noted that when your puppy is visiting the vet, you should carry them in and keep them in your arms or lap at all times to prevent exposure to parvo and other harmful germs that may be found on the floor. (For more information on CCSPCA’s low cost vaccinations, click here.)

Limit Puppies Outdoors

Puppies don’t have the immune system of older dogs and tend to pick up parvo more easily. Avoid dog parks and other areas with high dog traffic until your puppy has reached 5 months of age or at least 2 weeks after their final puppy parvo immunization at 20 weeks. If your breed is at higher risk for contracting parvo (Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Pit Bulls, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, English Springer Spaniels, and Alaskan sled dogs), you may want to wait up to even longer to expose your dog to these environments.

Avoid Cross Contamination

Parvo is commonly transmitted on the bottom of shoes after stepping in a contaminated environment. If you suspect you have come into contact with the virus, wash the affected area with household bleach.

Parvo Treatment

Canine parvovirus is fast acting and extremely debilitating to the dog’s natural defense systems. Treatment must begin early in the infection process and immediately upon the presentation of symptoms.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for canine parvovirus. Your vet will work to treat the symptoms and avoid contracting secondary bacterial infections. They will typically treat your dog in the hospital with a focus on supporting the systems that have been attacked by the virus. They will be given intravenous fluid and nutrition therapy to keep protein, electrolyte, and other important factors closer to normal levels. This allows the dog’s body to fight off the virus more effectively on its own and provides more time for it to do so.

Antibiotic medications will be used to help the dog’s body fight off secondary infections. Other medications may be used to counter nausea and vomiting, as well as any parasites they may have contracted.

Approximately 70 percent of dogs survive a parvo infection. Those that die are usually victim to severe dehydration, a secondary bacterial infection, or even an intestinal hemorrhage. The survival rate for young puppies is lower, again due to their underdeveloped immune system and the shock the virus places on their body.

Post-Parvo Infection and Management

CPV will have taken a toll on any dog and recovery can be a lengthy process. Their immune system will remain weakened, which will make them more susceptible to contracting other diseases. Discuss ways to boost your dog’s immune system with your vet in order to provide them with the quickest recovery possible.

They will also be at risk of infecting other dogs for 2 months or more after they have recovered. You will want to keep them from making contact with other dogs and discuss the importance of vaccinating for parvo with any neighbors and other dog owners nearby. Wash all items your dog comes into contact with using a non-toxic cleaner as well (such as a 1:10 dilution of bleach).

Bedding, soft toys, and blankets should be cleaned in a washing machine with both soap and bleach, using a hot dryer to complete the process and remove any remnants of the virus. You should also bathe your dog thoroughly after recovery to remove any lingering virus that may be on its coat. After they have made a full recovery your dog will have developed a strong immunity to CPV but there is no guarantee that they won’t contract the virus in the future.

Parvo is one of the most serious diseases to be aware of in your dog. This is especially true if you have a new puppy. As always, pay attention and if you notice any signs of parvo you should not hesitate to see your vet.