What You Should Know About Parvo in Puppies

vet holding two yellow lab puppies

Parvo in puppies is a common, and unfortunate, disease. With treatment and care, the survival rate is high. But, parvo can be potentially fatal. So, it’s important for anyone working with puppies or adopting a puppy to know what parvo is, the symptoms, how to treat it, and how to prevent it. Here’s what you should know about parvo in puppies:

What is Parvo?

Parvo refers to a disease common in dogs, especially puppies. It’s caused by the canine parvovirus, is highly contagious, and is considered a gastrointestinal disease. Parvo is spread by direct or indirect contact with an infected dog or object. For puppies, the most common transmittance is through sniffing, licking, or eating infected feces. It can also be transmitted by infected food or water bowls as well as collars and leashes and other people who have come into contact with an infected dog or contaminated object.

Puppies who are between 6 weeks and 6 months old are the most at-risk for parvo. As long as their mothers have received full and updated vaccinations, their antibodies tend to protect puppies younger than 6 weeks. After 6 months, puppies should have completed their parvo vaccination series and have adequate protection against it. Because protection from parvo isn’t granted until the entire series of vaccinations is completed, puppies who are undergoing their vaccinations can still be at-risk. Knowing the symptoms can help you identify issues and get help quickly.

Symptoms of Parvo in Puppies

The common symptoms of parvo in puppies also overlap with other serious signs of underlying health conditions, so if you see any of them, it’s a good idea to get the vet. But, since parvo is highly contagious, it’s also a good idea to call ahead and notify your vet so you can follow proper quarantine procedures.

The severity of parvo will vary, but even if the symptoms are minor, it’s still a good idea to notify and visit the vet. Specific symptoms of parvo include fever, weakness, dehydration, depression, lethargy, and more. More urgent symptoms include weight loss, anorexia, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea. Any of these symptoms alone in your puppy is a cause for concern and more than one should be particularly worrying.

How to Treat Parvo in Puppies

Unfortunately, there is no cure for parvo. You can only offer intensive, supportive care and try to manage symptoms while your dog’s body works through the virus. It usually takes about a week for the virus to run its course and for your puppy to recover, but it may take longer in more severe cases.

Your vet will use a variety of tests, including blood work, to diagnose parvo and, from there, will help you manage symptoms and make sure your puppy gets adequate nutrition. Because parvo weakens the immune system, there is a risk for secondary infections, so your vet may also add a round of antibiotics to help prevent extra complications.

Although parvo can be potentially fatal, it has a good survival rate with veterinary treatment. Dogs treated by a veterinarian generally have a 68-92% survival rate. Usually, puppies who are able to make it through the first 3-4 days of parvo tend to be out of the “danger zone” and recover.

How to Prevent Parvo in Puppies

Thankfully, parvo is a preventable disease and there are some things you can do to manage and reduce the spread of infection should one of your puppies develop it.

Vaccinate All Puppies and Dogs

The biggest thing to help prevent parvo is to make sure all puppies and adult dogs get their parvo vaccinations. Generally, puppies receive parvo vaccinations at 6, 8, and 12 weeks. This completes their vaccination series and protects them, but they are vulnerable before they have received all three.

Also, regardless of how many doses a puppy has received, all puppies should get a “booster” vaccine at 14-16 weeks to ensure they have adequate protection. Another booster is given about a year later and then the vaccination should be maintained on a 3-year schedule. Vaccination is important in puppies, but it is also important for breeding dogs as those antibodies will benefit puppies for the first few weeks of their life.

Monitor Interactions

Because your puppy is not fully protected until they complete the full series of parvo vaccinations, it’s helpful to keep them away from contact with unvaccinated dogs until they have finished the series. You don’t want this to affect the socialization of your puppy, however, so plan on using less public, safer environments with dog owners you know have vaccinated their puppies and dogs. Most boarding areas and puppy training classes require proof of vaccination for enrollment, so make sure to call ahead and verify before bringing your dog in.

Quarantine Infected Dogs

Both puppies and adult dogs tend to start shedding the parvovirus within 4-5 days of their initial exposure. Unfortunately, this does not always coincide with physical symptoms, so an infected puppy or dog can spread parvo before you even know they have it.

They will also continue to shed the virus and be contagious for up to 10 days after they recover. So, even if a puppy has recovered from parvo, they can still infect other dogs and puppies. Because of this, it’s important to quarantine infected puppies and dogs to keep them away from partially vaccinated or unvaccinated dogs.

Clean Everything and Talk to Your Vet

Parvo can spread through infected puppies and also through contaminated objects. This means items outside of your dog can contribute to spreading the parvovirus and infecting other dogs. The parvovirus can survive for about a month indoors when it is outside of a dog and can survive for several months outdoors. It can even survive for a year outside in the right conditions!

Because of this, it’s important to quarantine infected dogs and puppies, but it is also important to quarantine and thoroughly clean and sanitize everything they have come into contact with, including yourself and your clothes. It’s also a good idea to talk to your vet about the best strategies to remove parvo from your home and protect your home from it, both inside and out.

Parvo can be a scary situation. But, knowledge is power, and, in this case, it can help you protect your puppy. Plus, knowing what to look for can ensure you get help as soon as possible and give your puppy the best chance of recovery.