How to Keep Your Puppy Safe From Parvo

Parvo is a dangerous virus that is both highly contagious and potentially fatal, so it’s important to understand how to protect your puppy from this devastating disease. Our hope is that this article can explain what parvo is, how it is spread, how to recognize the clinical signs of an infected dog, and what prevention and treatment methods are available. Education is the best way to fight disease, so let’s spread the word and help reduce parvo infections.

Dog with parvo
The more you know about parvo and how it can affect your dog, the more prepared you are to help them if they catch the disease.

What is Parvo?

Parvo is short for canine parvovirus, and it is a disease that spreads through the infected feces from other dogs. Parvo is highly infections because the virus can survive in the feces for several weeks and it can even survive in the soil after the feces has been cleaned up. Because of this, it’s very important to get your dog vaccinated against parvovirus and look out for the symptoms. Puppies with parvo will exhibit clinical signs like vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and extreme lethargy. If you notice your dog exhibiting these signs, do not wait to see if they get better on their own, take them to the vet immediately. It could be a 24-hour bug, but if it really is parvo, then it’s imperative to get your dog treatment as quickly as possible.

Parvo virus
Parvo is a virus that can make dogs very sick, or even result in their death.

How Does Parvo Spread?

As we mentioned before, the canine parvovirus is spread through infected feces, and with dogs that can be a big problem. Dogs are well-known for sniffing each others’ butts, accidentally stepping in poop without realizing it, or even eating poop. Dogs are not the most hygienic animals. This makes it very easy for a virus to spread. If the feces containing parvovirus comes into contact with a dog’s mouth or nose, they can easily become infected.

Preventing the spread of parvovirus is difficult due to dog’s naturally unhygienic nature, but there are ways to limit its spread. Do your best to keep your yard clear of dog poop to keep your dog (or other friendly puppies) from eating it or stepping in it. When you notice your dog has stepped in poop, clean their paws and the floor thoroughly, using a strong disinfectant like bleach on the floor if possible. If you know someone whose puppies recently had parvo, do not let your dog interact with those puppies until they are officially cleared by their vet, and even after they are cleared, do not take your dog over to their house or let them explore their yard for several weeks. As we mentioned previously, the virus can survive in the ground that has come into contact with it for several months, so it can be risky to expose puppies to that soil.

These preventative measures might be inconvenient, but they are important. As we’ll discuss in the next section, parvo can be a very serious disease and it is far better to prevent the parvovirus infection than to struggle through the treatment.

Dogs can bring feces infected with parvovirus through the house by stepping in it, so it’s important to keep their paws clean.

What Are the Symptoms of Parvovirus?

In order to protect your puppies from parvo, it’s important to know how to spot it, that way you can keep your dog away from other dogs who are exhibiting symptoms, and so you can get your little puppy treatment as soon as they start showing the signs.

The most easily recognizable symptoms of parvovirus are:

  • Diarrhea (sometimes bloody)
  • Vomiting
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Fever

However, these can also be symptoms of other canine diseases. So how do you know if your puppies have parvovirus? First, you should definitely bring them to the vet if they exhibit any of these symptoms. Your vet will run proper tests to look for some of the less obvious signs of an infected dog with canine parvovirus, such as:

  • Low white blood cell count
  • Dehydration
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Low temperature (instead of fever)

Are Certain Breeds More Prone to Parvovirus Than Others?

Although veterinarians aren’t exactly sure why, they have found that parvovirus is more common in certain dog breeds than in others. If your dog is any of the following breeds, or is mixed with these breeds, you should keep a close eye out for the symptoms of this highly infectious virus.

Breeds more susceptible to parvovirus:

  • Rottweilers
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • American Staffordshire Terriers
  • English Springer Spaniels
  • German Shepherd Dogs
  • Labrador Retrievers
English Springer Spaniel
Some dogs like the English Springer Spaniel are more susceptible to being infected with parvovirus than other breeds.

How Serious is Parvovirus?

Parvovirus is a potentially deadly disease, especially if left untreated. When given proper care by a veterinarian, dogs infected with parvo have a survival rate of 68%-92%. As you can see, that is a very wide window. The likelihood of a positive outcome is largely reliant on your dog’s age and general health. As with humans, dogs that are especially young or especially old are more vulnerable to disease, and dogs with already compromised immune systems are also less likely to survive a serious illness like parvo.

The best way to ensure that your puppy is one of the lucky ones is to get them treatment as soon as possible. Studies show that dogs that survive the first three or four days are more likely to make a full recovery, and that survival is far more likely with vet intervention.

How Is Parvo Treated?

Because parvo is a virus, antibiotics cannot kill the virus and make your dog well in a matter of days. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any treatment available. Odds are, your vet will still prescribe puppies who have parvo with antibiotics, even though parvo is a virus, not a bacteria, because viral infections in dogs are often accompanied by bacterial infections, especially because the parvovirus can weaken dogs’ immune systems.

Beyond that, your vet will simply do their best to ensure that your dog is getting proper nutrition, despite all the vomiting and diarrhea. The vet’s goal is to keep your dog hydrated and prevent them from catching other illnesses that could lower their chances of survival.

Puppy with parvo
If your puppy has particularly severe dehydration due to parvo, the vet may need to give them fluids intravenously.

Can Parvovirus Be Prevented With Vaccines?

One of the best ways to prevent this virus from spreading like wildfire to all the local puppies is vaccination. Vaccines make a huge difference in the spread of all kinds of diseases in all animals, including humans and puppies. To avoid the life-threatening spread of parvovirus, dogs must be vaccinated.

If you get your puppy at a very young age, it’s vital to make sure they get all of the proper vaccinations, including the parvovirus vaccine. If you don’t have a reliable vaccination record for your puppy, then it’s better to get them vaccinated even if they may have already had their vaccines. If you are breeding dogs, it’s especially important to make sure your bitches are fully vaccinated, because their puppies will be totally reliant on their mother’s antibodies for the first several weeks of their life before they’re able to get their own vaccines.

Are There Lifestyle Changes That Can Help Prevent the Spread of Parvo?

Unfortunately, vaccines aren’t a perfect solution. Many vaccinated puppies still get parvovirus every year. So what can you do to keep your puppy safe?

First, if your puppy is younger than 16 weeks of age, they really shouldn’t go to a dog park. They could come into contact with unvaccinated dogs at the park, and that could expose them to the virus. If this seems harsh or overly isolating, don’t worry, your dog can still be socialized, as long as it’s with fully vaccinated dogs in a controlled environment. We recommend inviting familiar dogs over to your home to make friendly contact with your dog. As long as they have their vaccinations, this is a great way to ensure that your dog learns how to interact with other puppies without running the risk of coming into contact with parvovirus.

Puppies playing
A puppy play date is a great way to socialize your dog as long as the other dog is fully vaccinated.

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