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Parvovirus in dogs

Golden labrador at the vet advice

What is parvovirus in dogs?

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Parvovirus is a virus that affects the cells in the intestines and immune system. The most common symptoms are diarrhoea and lethargy. It can cause serious illness in dogs of any age, but is particularly severe and often fatal in puppies. It is very infectious and quickly spreads between animals. 

By Dr Hester Mulhall MA, VetMB, MRCVS

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Parvovirus, which affects the cells in the intestines and immune system, is difficult to treat, but it's preventable by vaccination. It’s therefore really important to ensure that puppies are vaccinated against parvovirus. The initial course is usually two vaccinations, which are given 2-4 weeks apart, with the first typically given at eight weeks of age. Sometimes three vaccinations are recommended in high-risk areas. This means that your puppy should have their first vaccination while they are still with their breeder. You should ask for a vaccination card or vet notes as proof from the breeder. After this, your dog will generally require a booster annually throughout life.

If your pet has parvovirus, a vet will need to admit them for veterinary care as an emergency, and isolate them to prevent spread to other animals. They are likely to be put on to a drip to help combat dehydration, and to be given other supportive treatments. However, there is no cure for the virus itself, and even with supportive care, parvovirus is fatal in a high proportion of dogs.

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If you think that your dog or puppy might have parvovirus, contact a veterinary practice immediately. Be sure to make them aware that you are concerned about parvovirus, and do not bring your pet into the waiting room as they may infect other patients. Ask the practice whether you should wait in the car upon arrival. A vet will also be able to advise how to disinfect your home to protect other dogs in the household.

What does parvo poop look like?

Dogs or puppies with parvovirus will usually have diarrhoea, which means that their stools look very runny and you can often see visible blood in it. Blood in the faeces can be caused by lots of other health problems, not just parvo. However, it is never something you'd normally find and you should always contact a vet for advice if you see blood.

What colour is parvo poop?

Parvo poo can be any colour, but you will often see fresh, red blood in it. Since parvovirus can progress extremely quickly, you shouldn't waste any time in contacting a vet.

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What does parvo smell like?

Parvo in dogs often causes very bad or even ‘rotten’ smelling diarrhoea. However, if your pet is showing any symptoms at all of parvovirus then you should contact a vet, regardless of how their diarrhoea smells.

What are the stages of parvo?

The first symptom of parvovirus is usually lethargy, but your dog can develop a range of symptoms including vomiting, foul-smelling diarrhoea (which may contain blood), lack of appetite, depressed mental state and collapse. Symptoms of parvovirus tend to be particularly severe in puppies, as they are badly affected by dehydration and can become very weak. Any of the above symptoms in a puppy are cause for concern, and you should contact a vet immediately even if they seem otherwise well in themselves. Parvovirus can progress extremely quickly over the course of two-three days and the outlook is much better the earlier the pet receives veterinary care.

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Although the disease can be slightly less extreme in older dogs, it can still be fatal, especially if your pet has a reduced immune system.

How long does it take parvo to run its course?

Parvovirus can cause death within a matter of hours at its most severe. Recovery can be lengthy even with supportive treatment. If your dog is lucky enough to recover from this illness, you should speak to a vet about re-introducing them gradually to their normal diet and exercise routine, and ask how long they should be isolated before allowing contact with other pets.

Will a dog with parvo drink water?

A dog with parvovirus will become very dehydrated due to diarrhoea and their reduced appetite. You might notice your pet drinking more water, but usually they're feeling too sick or lethargic to drink. If you are concerned that your dog might have parvovirus, you should contact a vet regardless of how much liquid they are drinking.

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What can I feed my dog if he has Parvo?

A vet will advise you what to feed your pet if they are diagnosed with parvovirus. Initially, they will usually be kept at the veterinary hospital and fed a special diet that is easy to digest. Once they return home, they will need to be fed a diet that is very gentle on their stomach, as their gut will take time to recover fully.

What can I give my dog at home for parvo?

You cannot treat a dog effectively at home for parvovirus as they almost always require a drip. In fact, 91% of untreated cases die from parvovirus. You should always seek veterinary advice as early as possible.

How do I get rid of parvo in my dog?

It is down to your dog’s immune system to fight off parvo. This is why it is so important to prevent infection with the disease by keeping your pet up-to-date with vaccinations. If you think your pet might have parvovirus, get your pet to the vet immediately and focus your efforts on disinfecting to prevent the virus spreading to other dogs in your neighbourhood.

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How many days does it take for parvo to kill a dog?

Parvovirus usually causes death in a matter of days. In some cases, it can even cause sudden death before your dog shows other symptoms. This is why it is essential to contact a vet as soon as you notice any signs of the disease. It is much better to be over-cautious where parvovirus is concerned.

How much does parvo treatment cost?

For any queries relating to fees, you should contact your vet practice directly who may be able to give you an estimate. They often require intensive nursing care and supportive medication for a few days, until they are looking and clearly feeling better, and eating on their own. The cost of vaccinating your pet against parvovirus will be significantly less than the cost of veterinary care if they catch the disease.

Can humans catch parvo?

Humans cannot catch parvovirus from a dog. However, it is very contagious between dogs and it is possible for a person to pass the virus between dogs on their hands or clothing. It is therefore essential to change clothes and ensure that you wash your hands thoroughly, if you have touched a dog that might have parvovirus. Parvovirus can survive for many months in the environment, so you should not take an unvaccinated puppy or dog anywhere in public, even if there are no other dogs present as they can catch it from their surroundings. You should also disinfect your home if your dog has had parvovirus, to protect any other dogs living at home or visiting.

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Can a dog get parvo twice?

It is unlikely that a dog will get parvovirus more than once, because they should have built up an immunity to the disease. However, there is no guarantee, especially in dogs with weakened immune systems. This is why annual vaccination boosters are recommended.

Can a dog survive parvo without treatment?

A dog is very unlikely to survive parvovirus without treatment because they will become severely dehydrated. Even if a pet is still drinking fluids, they will not be able to take on enough to replace the losses through their diarrhoea. It is essential for a pet to receive veterinary care if they stand a chance at surviving the disease. However, even with veterinary care a high proportion of pets will sadly die. Always seek veterinary advice as soon as you are concerned that your pet might have parvovirus, or that it may have come into contact with a dog that is known to have contracted the disease.

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