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As a dog owner, the last thing you want to hear is a veterinarian’s parvo diagnosis. Parvo in dogs and puppies is very common, and unfortunately, with very deadly repercussions as well.

But how do dogs get Parvo?

Canine parvovirus, commonly called parvo, is a highly contagious and viral disease transmitted through direct contact with an infected dog’s feces. Dogs that aren’t vaccinated are at more risk of contracting parvo than vaccinated ones, but the virus is more prevalent in puppies.

What is Canine Parvovirus?

Canine parvovirus is a contagious viral illness that manifests itself in cardiac and intestinal forms. The cardiac form of parvo is the less common form, and it attacks the heart muscles of young puppies under eight weeks old, often leading to death. The intestinal form is the most common, affecting puppies between six weeks and six months in most cases. Some of the dog breeds that are more prone to Parvovirus complications are:

  • German Shepherds
  • Rottweilers
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Labrador Retrievers

How Do Dogs Get Parvovirus?

If you’re wondering, “How do dogs get parvo?” the answer may interest you. Parvo is found in any environment, and it comes from infected dogs’ excretions through vomit or feces.

This virus is hardly outside its host. It is resistant to basic household cleaners, which can survive harsh winter conditions. Parvo can be transmitted in dogs through direct contact with infected dogs. It can be spread by licking, sniffing, or consuming infected feces or indirect transmission with contaminated objects. Indirect transmission happens when a recently exposed individual touches a puppy or a puppy comes across a contaminated object like a collar or bowl.

It takes five to seven days for the virus to be incubated before signs of infection are visible. After exposure, the virus begins shedding off in excretions, which can persist for up to two weeks. This life-threatening intestinal illness is preventable through vaccination, without which, parvo becomes 90 percent fatal without treatment.

Symptoms of Parvo in Puppies and Dogs

A dog with parvo is a very sick dog, so the sooner you catch the early signs of infection, the sooner you can take your dog to the vet. Prompt recognizing this virus’s symptoms is your best way to ensure your dog’s survival through veterinary care. Dogs that develop intestinal parvo show symptoms within three to ten days after exposure, but most dogs don’t show signs.

The symptoms of canine parvovirus start with a fever, lethargy, and lack of appetite in puppies. After a day or two, the symptoms may progress to:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Shock 
  • Severe abdominal pains 
  • Death

Intestinal parvo damages the intestinal lining and leads to blood and protein leaks. This leads to several medical concerns like anemia, sepsis, and a big drop in white blood cells.

Dogs with parvo experience hypothermia and rapid dehydration as a result of persistent vomiting and diarrhea. When there is intestinal damage or damage to the immune system, septic shock is experienced as a symptom of canine parvovirus in dogs. If your puppy or dog exhibits any of these signs, contact your veterinarian immediately. This is because most parvovirus deaths occur within 48 to 72 hours after the onset of clinical signs.

Diagnosis of Canine Parvovirus

Diagnosis for a parvovirus infection is made based on laboratory tests, physical examination, and the dog’s history. A veterinarian diagnoses parvo after a physical examination and blood tests to check the body’s white blood cell level. Low white blood cell count is an indication that your dog has parvo. Diagnosis of parvo can be made through running a fecal CPV ELISA test to check if there are virus antigens in the dog’s feces.

Additional tests are done for severely ill dogs to determine the extent and severity of the illness through a urine analysis or an abdominal X-ray. The urine analysis reveals any electrolyte imbalances and elevated liver enzymes, while the abdominal X-ray shows any intestinal damage, fluid-filled intestinal segments, and obstructions.

Treatment of Parvovirus in Dogs

Parvo is a nightmare to every dog and puppy owner because it takes just a few days for a perfectly healthy dog to get fatally ill. However, this disease is preventable, but all new puppy owners and breeders should know how to handle the situation in case of infection to give your dog better survival chances.

It’s important to note that there is no specific drug for killing the virus, and treatment is only meant to support the dog’s body system until the immune system can fight off the virus. Treatment of parvovirus in dogs should start immediately. It should entail intensive care efforts to fight dehydration by replacing the protein, electrolyte, and fluids lost during vomiting and diarrhea.

This treatment is vital for preventing secondary infections, which can be very expensive to treat and can lead to the dog’s death due to aggressive treatment. Most vets recommend hospitalization of dogs exhibiting parvo signs in isolation wards where they can offer supportive care. They also look out for any secondary infections as a result of parvovirus.


Depending on how severe the illness is, your vet can prescribe medications such as antibiotics to ward off bacterial infections. Antibiotics help prevent gut bacteria from entering the bloodstream and causing sepsis. These infections enter your dog through the damaged intestinal walls, which reduces the dog’s ability to fight infections. This treatment is paired with administering supportive fluids and nutrition to help with the recovery.


Parvovirus is highly contagious. As such, infected dogs should be isolated to reduce the spread of infection. The earlier you recognize symptoms of parvo and begin aggressive treatment, the better chances you give your dog for survival. You can control the virus’s spread through proper cleaning and disinfection of contaminated kennels since the virus is not easy to kill.


After visiting the vet and your dog tests negative for parvovirus, it is advisable to begin treatment to prevent the signs from worsening immediately. Treatment of parvovirus involves large hydration of your dog using intravenous fluid therapy to replace fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhea. IV fluid therapy is used to keep food and water off the GI tract for it to rest while still providing nutritional support to the dog.

Treatment of parvo is not successful all the time, but aggressive early treatment gives your dog a better chance of recovery and survival. As long as you are ready for the financial burden, weeks of hospitalization, and quarantine that come with the treatment, your dog has better chances of surviving the virus.

Prevention of Parvovirus in Dogs

Now that we’ve answered “How do dogs get parvo?” you’ll want to take the proper precautions. Parvo is potentially fatal and requires intensive and aggressive care upon diagnosis, but it is a preventable disease.


Vaccinations and good hygiene are key to the prevention of this virus. Vaccinations help give your dog some form of protection from this virus, especially when done in a series of three shots and booster shots following years later. If your puppy is unvaccinated or not completely vaccinated, do not expose them to unvaccinated dogs or to environments that could be contaminated.

Most puppies get parvo infections from dog parks, lawns, and homes that are not regularly disinfected, making it very easy for a puppy to contract parvo. When your puppy has not received the full set of vaccines during the first few weeks, keep your puppy away from unvaccinated dogs and off the floor or ground. After the sixteenth week, your dog will have received all three rounds of vaccinations, thus fully protected to interact and run around.


Parvovirus is very difficult to kill, and it can survive in any environment for up to a year. So, if you suspect there is contamination in your house, clean the surfaces with a dilution of bleach as regular soaps and disinfectants are powerless. Unvaccinated adult dogs are more prone to the disease, because other medical conditions and illnesses usually compromise their immune systems.

Once recovered, it isn’t easy for a dog to be reinfected, but it is vital to disinfect surfaces and around the kennel to prevent other dogs’ infection. You can also prevent the spread and infection of parvovirus by ensuring that your dog’s vaccination is up to date. You can ask for help from your veterinarian to recommend a prevention program for your dog and avoid bringing your pet to areas where young puppies congregate.

In terms of good hygiene for preventing parvovirus, don’t let your puppy or dog come into contact with the fecal waste of other dogs. Ensure prompt disposal of these waste materials to limit the spread of canine parvovirus and other diseases as a result.

Final Thoughts

Parvo can be an extremely scary realization for any new puppy or dog owner. Be sure that your puppies are fully vaccinated before venturing out with them. If you are adopting an adult dog, ask for a record of their vaccinations.

As long as your dog has proper vaccinations, they should remain in good health. If, by chance, your puppy or dog is experiencing symptoms of parvo, get them to a vet immediately. By taking these steps, you can ensure a long and healthy life free of parvo for your furry friend.

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