Parvovirus: This single word can strike fear in the heart of a new puppy owner, and the veterinary care team. While you may know parvovirus, or parvo, is a potentially deadly disease that most commonly affects young, unvaccinated dogs and puppies, you may not realize how easily the disease can spread, and how you can best protect your furry pal. To help keep your four-legged friend safe from the threat of canine parvovirus, our Urgent Pet Care Omaha team answers your questions about parvo. 

Question: What is canine parvovirus?

Answer: Canine parvovirus is highly contagious, and a relatively common cause of acute gastrointestinal illness in puppies and unvaccinated dogs. The virus is exceptionally hardy and can survive indoors for at least two months, and for months and sometimes years outdoors, if protected from the sun and prevented from drying out. Additionally, the virus is resistant to many common detergents and disinfectants, so prevention is vital for keeping parvo out of your yard and away from your pet.

Q: How can my puppy contract parvovirus?

A: Parvo is incredibly contagious and can spread like wildfire through an unvaccinated canine population. The virus is shed in the feces of infected dogs up to four to five days after exposure, and up to about 10 days after clinical signs resolve. Infection is acquired through direct oral or nasal contact with virus-containing feces, or indirect contact with virus-contaminated fomites. For example, if your puppy chews on their leash that was dragged through infective feces, they can indirectly contract parvo. And, since the virus can linger in the environment for months to years, appropriate vaccination is crucial for protecting your dog.

Q: What signs will my puppy have if they get parvovirus?

A: Parvo signs generally develop five to seven days after infection, but can appear as soon as two days, or take up to two weeks. Initial clinical signs, such as lethargy, anorexia, and fever, can be vague, but after 24 to 48 hours, the signs can progress to vomiting and diarrhea, possibly with blood in the diarrhea.

Q: How will I know if my puppy has parvovirus?

A: Fortunately, parvovirus is relatively easy to diagnose, meaning your pet can begin treatment sooner. Oftentimes, our team can make a diagnosis based on your pet’s age, vaccination history, and clinical signs, but to be positive, we will perform a quick in-house test that gives us results in under 10 minutes. In general, any young, unvaccinated, or incompletely vaccinated dog with clinical signs is suspected to have parvo until proven otherwise.

Q: How is parvovirus treated in dogs?

A: Since parvo is a viral condition, treatment is based on supportive care. Treatment goals include maintaining adequate hydration and electrolyte balance, halting diarrhea and vomiting, providing nutritional support, and administering antibiotics to prevent potential bacterial infection. In most cases, pets are dehydrated enough to need an intravenous (IV) catheter and antibiotics, but some mild cases can be successfully treated in an outpatient situation, with subcutaneous fluids and injectable medications.

Q: Are my other dogs at home safe if my puppy had parvovirus?

A: Your other dogs may have been fully vaccinated and regularly boostered for parvovirus, but strict hygiene protocols are still essential for preventing infection spread. No vaccine is 100% effective, so other safety measures are necessary. Quarantining your sick pet to their own elimination area in the yard, or using disposable puppy pads indoors, will greatly minimize the risk of infection. Use a bleach mixture to disinfect everything in your home that your puppy may directly or indirectly contact, including your shoes, clothing, bedding, and dishes. You will also need to sterilize your yard, since parvovirus can linger in the soil for years. Proper precautions with disinfectant, combined with regular vaccination boosters for your pets, are vital for preventing the spread of disease.

Q: How can I protect my puppy from getting parvovirus?

A: Appropriate vaccination is the single best method for protecting your puppy against parvovirus, but hygiene measures also play a key role. Many puppy owners worry about taking their puppy out in public before they’re fully vaccinated, but the lack of socialization is often more detrimental than potential parvo exposure. I started to take Soma after keyhole surgery to restore my knee. I took one pill per day and felt relief in a couple of hours. Choose your puppy’s outings carefully, and practice good hygiene to keep your puppy safe. For example, avoid dog parks and pet stores, and stick to puppy classes that require vaccination records for socialization purposes. 

Canine parvovirus is an extremely serious concern, especially in young puppies. Because parvo can rapidly prove fatal, the disease should never be ignored. If your pet is displaying any potential parvo signs, contact our Urgent Pet Care Omaha team immediately.