Parvo in Puppies: The Facts about this Terrible Virus

How do you know if your puppy will survive parvo? As a new puppy owner, the last thing you want to worry about is whether or not he will survive an illness. Unfortunately, parvo in puppies is one of the most common and deadly diseases they can get. This virus can be fatal in a high percentage of cases, so it’s important to be aware of the symptoms and know how to protect your pup. In this article, we will discuss all you need to know about parvovirus in dogs.

What is parvovirus?

Canine parvovirus or “parvo” is an extremely contagious virus that affects the gastrointestinal tract. Canine parvovirus was first identified in Europe in 1976 and is now known as canine parvovirus type 2 (CPV-2). The disease began spreading uncontrolled throughout the world in 1978, causing a worldwide epidemic of myocarditis and inflammation of the intestines (gastroenteritis). Parvovirus can affect some other animals such as coyotes, wolves, foxes, skunks and raccoons (Cornell).

The virus prefers to infect the stomach and small intestine. It destroys cells, disrupts absorption, and damages the gut barrier. Parvo can also affect the bone marrow and lymphatic system. In puppies under 3 months old the virus  can affect the heart causing inflammation of the heart (myocarditis) and sudden death.

It is highly contagious and can be spread through contact with infected feces (most commonly) or vomit. The virus can also survive in the environment for long periods of time, making it difficult to avoid exposure. Canine parvovirus is most commonly seen in puppies between six weeks of age and six months of age, but any dog can get sick from it with unvaccinated dogs being the most at risk.

parvo in puppies can be spread by dogs playing at the dogpark

How common is parvo?

Parvo is common in puppies under 4 months and unvaccinated adult dogs. It is estimated that approximately 90% of all unvaccinated dogs will contract the virus at some point in their lives (Cornell). The virus is most commonly transmitted through contact with feces, so it’s important to keep your dog away from other animals’ waste and to always clean up after them. It can also be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, so make sure to disinfect your home thoroughly if your dog contracts parvo.

How can a puppy get parvo?

Parvo is most commonly contracted when unvaccinated puppies come in contact with the feces or vomit of an infected dog (this includes just sniffing the feces). There is an incubation period of 3-7 days before symptoms start to show. 

Any time a dog comes into direct contact with the virus, it can catch Parvo.  If your puppy has come into contact with the virus there is almost a 100% likelihood of them getting parvo. The virus is very resilient and resistant to cold and heat. It may survive on a person’s shoe, on the carpet, in the soil in the backyard, at the dog wash, in a kennel, at the park and in the swimming hole at the dog park.

Parvo can also be spread by a person who has been in contact with an infected dog. Parvo is not contagious to humans (but they can spread it on their footwear, clothes and hands) or other household pets such as cat’s, but it is extremely transmissible among dogs. 

Dog sitting on toilet

What are the Symptoms Of Parvo In Puppies?

A puppy with parvo will become sick very quickly. The earlier you detect the early symptoms of parvo infection, the quicker you can bring your dog to the veterinarian. Because the parvo virus affects young puppies, you should contact your veterinarian if your puppy is feeling unwell, but be aware of parvovirus’ various symptoms in puppies: The most common signs of parvovirus are:

  • Bloody diarrhea that is often very smelly
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • High Fever
  • Weakness
  • Dehydration

All of the above symptoms are very serious in puppies even if you don’t suspect parvo so it is important to take your puppy to the vet if your puppy has any of the above.

How to prevent my puppy from getting parvo?

There is no 100% prevention for parvo, but there are ways to help reduce the risk of your puppy getting it. Vaccination and good hygiene are the cornerstones of prevention:

  • Young puppies are very vulnerable to infection because their natural immunity from their mothers’ milk may wear off before their own immune system is mature enough to fight off infection.
  • Vaccinate your puppy against parvo. Puppies should receive their first vaccine at around six to eight weeks old, and then follow up booster shots every two to four weeks until they are 16 weeks old.
  • To develop full immunity, puppies should be given a parvo vaccine booster shot between 14 and 16 weeks of age, even if they have previously received several vaccinations. Your veterinarian will give you the most up-to-date vaccine schedule as the recommendations change from time to time.
  • Despite proper vaccination, a small number of dogs do not develop protective immunity and remain susceptible to getting parvo.
  • Keep your puppy away from direct contact with other dogs and feces till it is fully vaccinated.
  • Do not take your young dogs to high-risk areas such as dog parks and popular walking trails.
  • While socialization is extremely important for puppies under 16 weeks – it is vitally important you choose their play companions carefully. Choose 1-2 dogs that do not frequent high parvo risk areas for your dog to socialize with and ensure they are fully vaccinated
  • If you suspect your puppy has been exposed to parvo, contact your veterinarian immediately. Do not wait; the sooner treatment begins, the better the prognosis for your pup.
  • Parvo boosters are required for an older dog to keep up immunity. Ask your vet about their recommended prevention program for your dog.
puppy sleeping in toilet paper

What to do if you think your puppy has parvo?

If you are at all concerned that your puppy may have parvo, it is important to get them to the veterinarian as soon as possible. You must tell the clinic that you suspect your puppy has parvo prior to arriving as they will have a strict hygiene protocol to prevent their clinic from being contaminated. Many clinics also will have an isolation area set up to avoid any crossover with healthy patients. Parvo can progress very quickly and if left untreated, the consequences can be deadly. The veterinarian will perform a number of tests to determine if your pup has parvo, including a rapid antigen test and blood tests to check for severe dehydration, organ function, white blood cell count etc.

Treatment for Parvo

Quick and aggressive treatment will give your puppy the best chance of survival and is supportive in nature as there is no cure. 

  • Hospital treatment and intravenous fluids  (IV fluids) – Vomiting and severe diarrhea can result in nutrient and fluid loss and electrolyte imbalances in your puppy. Since their gut is damaged this means they cannot absorb nutrients and water very easily and thus they usually go on a drip at the vet clinic.
  • Anti-nausea medications are usually given to stop the vomiting and help with nausea.
  • Antibiotics. A serious virus like parvo affects a puppy’s immune system and reduces its white blood cells. This makes it hard for them to fight off secondary infections and sepsis. Secondary infections and sepsis happen when bacteria from the stomach travel through the damaged stomach and intestinal walls to other organs in the body, causing organ failure and antibiotics can help reduce this risk.
  • Blood transfusions might also be beneficial for boosting low blood cell counts that may occur as a result of parvo damaging the bone marrow. 
  • In some cases your puppy may require a tube to be inserted into their esophagus or stomach to provide nutritional support and support their gastrointestinal system. 
  • Home remedies and care at home rarely work and are best discussed with your veterinarian.


How do I know if my puppy will survive parvo?

There is no definitive answer to this question. The prognosis for puppies with parvovirus can vary greatly depending on how severe the infection is and how quickly it is treated. In general, however, the majority of puppies who are diagnosed and treated early will survive. However, there is a risk of permanent damage to the intestines, so some dogs may not be able to eat or drink normally after recovering from parvo. Below is the survival rate of treated vs untreated dogs:

How long are dogs with parvo contagious?

3-to-7 days after being exposed to parvo, pups and adult dogs shed the virus. Unfortunately for diligent dog owners, this period does not always match with the first parvo symptoms, which means dogs can be infectious before their owners are aware that they are ill. Puppies recovering from parvo continue to shed the virus for 10 days after a clinical recovery1. It is important to keep your puppy isolated for two weeks after it has recovered to be on the safe side and help reduce the spread of parvo.

How do I get rid of parvo from my house?

If an infected dog has contaminated your home or yard, there are steps you can take to disinfect it before adding a new dog or puppy. Despite its resistance to cleaning solutions, the best way to get rid of parvo is a bleach solution. Cleaning with one part bleach in thirty parts water is an acceptable technique for disinfecting any indoor space (including bedding, food/water bowls, and all surfaces) that previously housed a parvo-infected dog. 

It is difficult however to treat your backyard – please don’t apply bleach to your lawn unless you plan on killing it! The virus particles will eventually be destroyed by sun and diluted by rain over several months but it has been known to stay in the soil for years. A general rule of thumb is:

  • The virus is killed by freezing: So if you get snow in the winter it is fairly to safe to say the virus will be killed in the thaw
  • In shaded areas it is likely to stay contaminated for  7 months or so – it can stay around for months – years
  • In sunny areas the virus will be killed more quickly at around 5 months. 

Frequently Asked Questions

when are puppies safe from parvo?

Talk to your veterinarinan but approximately one week after their final booster. Remember that while the Parvo vaccine is very effective – no vaccine is 100% effective. So if you know another dog or a vertain dog park has had Parvo – avoid them or it till safe to do so.

Is parvo deadly?

Yes it is very deadly. Parvovirus has one of the highest mortality rates of dog diseases. Without treatment, mortality is high at around 80-90%. If treated prognosis is much better at 75-80%

When can puppies get parvo shots?

From 6 weeks of age they can begin their vaccination schedule.

Can Cats Get Parvovirus?

Cats can get a type of parvovirus that causes severe disease, known as feline panleukopenia. While dogs cannot contract feline parvovirus from cats cats can get canine parvovirus from dogs!

Can my older dog get parvo from a puppy?

If your older dog is unvaccinted or not vaccinated in more than three years then yes, they can get parvo from your puppy.

How much is a parvo shot for a puppy?

Parvo shots are given as part of your puppy’s vaccinations schedule. The individual price is $15-20 but does not include the examination fee or other vaccines.

Can my puppy get parvo from my backyard?

Potentially yes. If you have had a dog with parvo in your home in the last two years the virus can stay in the soil in cool shady areas for months to years.

Is Parvo Only In Puppies?

Parvovirus can infect any unvaccinated dog but it is more common in puppies who have no immunity.

Can humans catch parvo from puppies

No they cannot – it is a canine disease

What to Feed a Puppy with Parvo

Parvoviris causes severe damage to the intestinal linings so the right diet is crucial. Your puppy will typically be fed a critical care diet while in hospital which is very high energy with lots of electrolytes and vitamins. They may even have a feeding tupe placed if they cannot eat.

The right diet is also very important when they come home. They need at least two weeks of a prescritpion gastrointestinal diet they are sent home with to help repair the gut wall.

Can Vaccinated Dogs get Parvo?

Canine parvovirus vaccine is a very effective way to protect your dog from this dangerous virus. It’s unlikely that your fully vaccinated dog will get sick with it but no vaccine is 100% effective.

Can a Dog Get Parvovirus Twice?

It is possible that your dog can contract canine parvovirus again, but it’s highly unlikely. Immunity to Canine Parvovirus lasts three or more years. It is recommended to get your dog vaccinated upon recovery to avoid this possibility.


Parvo is a serious virus that can affect puppies’ health and even lead to death. It is important to get your puppy vaccinated against the virus and to take them to the veterinarian if you suspect they have  contracted it. Treatment should be started as soon as possible for the best chance of survival. Parvo is also very hard to get rid of, so if your puppy does become infected, it is important to take precautions to avoid spreading the virus to other dogs. There is no one definitive answer to the question “How do I know if my puppy will survive parvo?” but with aggressive and timely medical treatment most puppies do make a full recovery. Thank you for reading!

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