By Staci Brigham, DVM

The canine parvovirus (CPV) infection, also referred to as Parvo, is a highly contagious viral illness that affects dogs, particularly in puppies that are between six weeks and six months old. The virus takes on two different forms: intestinal, which is characterized by vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and lack of appetite; and cardiac (less common), an often deadly attack on the heart muscles of very young puppies.

Vaccines can prevent this infection, but if left untreated, the mortality rate is 91% .

  • Dogs that develop the disease tend to show symptoms of the illness within 3 to 7 days. The major symptoms of Parvo include:
  • severe, bloody diarrhea
  •  lethargy
  • anorexia
  • Fever
  •  vomiting
  • severe weight loss
  • dehydration
  • red, inflamed tissue around the eyes and mouth
  • rapid heart beat
  • pain or discomfort
  • low body temperature

There are a variety of risk factors for Parvo, but the virus is most commonly transmitted either by direct contact with an infected dog, or indirectly, by the fecal-oral route. There is evidence that the virus can live in ground soil for up to a year.


Goals of parvo treatment include keeping the pet hydrated, controlling nausea and vomiting, preventing secondary bacterial infections and controlling abdominal pain. Hospitalization is needed so medications and fluids can be given through injections. Parvo pets have a very difficult time keeping oral medications, food and water down so successful home treatment is extremely difficult to achieve. Pets can be hospitalized up to 7 days in some cases but in most cases 3-5 days. The survival rate for hospitalized parvo dogs is approximately 90%. Pets are able to go home when they are hydrated, no longer vomiting and are eating willingly. Pets with parvo can continue to shed the disease for up to a month after recovery so it is important to keep them away from public places and other pets during this time. They should get vaccinated for parvo about 3-4 weeks after treatment is complete.


According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the best way to prevent parvovirus is through good hygiene and vaccination. Make sure to get your puppies vaccinated, and be sure your adult dogs are kept up-to-date on their parvovirus vaccination.
Puppies have immunity from their mothers early in life, but should receive their first vaccine between 6 and 8 weeks of age (after weaning), and then two boosters at three-week intervals.

Until a puppy has received its complete series of vaccinations, pet owners should use caution when bringing their pet to places where young puppies or dogs with unknown vaccination histories congregate. This includes pet-friendly restaurants, popular hiking trails, boarding facilities, and especially dog parks.

Puppies should be sequestered until three to four weeks after their third vaccine—this is when full immunity is achieved. It is also important to note that fully-vaccinated dogs have become sick with Parvo, so always be aware of possible symptoms.

If your dog is showing signs of Parvo, seek veterinary treatment immediately. VETMED’s emergency services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call (602) 697-4694 to make an appointment or to let us know you’re on the way.

About Dr. Brigham

Dr-Staci-BrighamDr. Staci Brigham graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Indiana University and earned her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Oregon State University in 2009. She completed an internship in Small Animal Rotating Medicine and Surgery at Vet Specialty Hospital of San Diego in 2010, and has since practiced ER in Phoenix, Arizona with special areas of interest in polytrauma, sepsis, SIRS and ventilation.

She is married with three daughters, and has four dogs and two cats who are all rescues. In her spare time she enjoys sprint triathlons and half marathons, and spending time in the garden.