Parvo Infection in Dogs

Canine parvo virus has been around since the 1970s.  It is highly contagious and is passed directlyGolden Retriever puppy from dog to dog, or indirectly through ingestion of parvo infected dog feces.  Puppies are especially prone to becoming infected with the parvo virus.  When they are first born they are unable to make their own antibodies to fight off infection.  For the first day or two, after they are born, their mom produces a special kind of milk, called colostrum, which is loaded with the mom’s antibodies.  The puppies drink the colostrum, which protects them from infection until the antibodies wear off in the first 4 months of life.

Vaccinating for Parvo in Dogs

Because maternal antibody levels decrease, which leads to a puppy being susceptible to infection, it is very important that they be vaccinated.  This will stimulate their immune systems to develop antibodies against parvo and other infectious agents.  The puppy vaccination series should start around 8 weeks of age and the vaccines should be given every 3 to 4 weeks until they are 16 weeks old.  Although it is uncommon for an adult dog to develop a parvo infection it is important to realize they are susceptible.  For this reason, adult dogs should be given parvo vaccines, or have parvo antibody titers monitored throughout their lives

The parvo virus is widespread in the environment.  This is because it is hard to disinfect, it can live for a long time in the environment, and is shed in extremely large numbers by infected dogs.  It is important to understand that it only takes a small amount of the virus to infect a dog with a poor immunity to parvo.  Once the parvo virus enters a dogs body it will enter the lymphatic system and replicate into large numbers.  It will then enter the bloodstream and target the rapidly dividing cells of the bone marrow and gastrointestinal tract.  There is typically a 3 to 7 day period from the time the dog becomes infected to when the signs of illness will begin.

Symptoms of Parvo Infections in Dogs

The common signs of parvo virus in dogs are vomiting, diarrhea, fever, lethargy, and a poorMaltese puppy appetite.  The diagnosis of parvo can often be made with a small fecal sample used to run a parvo ELISA (Enzyme Linked ImmunoSorbant Assay) test.  This test takes about 15 minutes, can be done in a veterinary hospital, and the results are very reliable.  There are some limitations to the test.  If the dog was given a modified-live parvo vaccine 2 weeks prior to the test,  it could be falsely positive.  Also, if a dog that is infected with parvo is not shedding the organism in the stool, the test could be falsely negative.  This is rare.

Treatment of Parvo Infections in Dogs

Without treatment most dogs will die from a parvo infection, and even with medical treatment,  a small percentage of dogs will die.  The recommended treatment is to hospitalize the dog and administer intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and anti-nausea medication.  Lab work will need to be monitored while the dog is hospitalized to assess the dog’s protein levels, blood cell count, and organ function.  Although parvo is a virus there are no anti-viral medications known to be effective.  Canine parvo virus is not contagious to people.  It only infects dogs who have a poor immunity.  If a dog survives a parvo infection they can be healthy.

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Dr Peter Nurre

Peter Nurre, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board- certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include internal medicine and cardiology.

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  1. avatar Barbara says:

    When one of our dogs had Parvo, we made a huge change in his food and it helped him to recover. We found something that was immunity-boosting and had prebiotics for digestion, which really helped clear up the diarrhea. Since switching him to Synergy, and following our vet’s medications and advice, he recovered and is doing great today.

    1. Parvo virus infections cause severe gastroenteritis and bone marrow suppression in dogs. They will become severely nauseous and not want to eat in some cases for multiple days, have vomiting and diarrhea, and a decreased immunity. It is a life threatening infection. The primary therapies for parvo virus are intravenous fluids, injectable antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections, and injectable medications to treat nausea and gastritis. If a dog infected with the parvo virus develops an appetite it is recommended to feed them a bland diet. This type of diet is easy to digest. To the best of my knowledge there are no studies that have been performed that have even evaluated prebiotics as part of the dietary therapy for dogs with parvo virus.