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December 12, 2017
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Parvovirus in Dogs

By Joseph A. D’Abbraccio, D.V.M.

Parvo, or canine parvovirus (CPV) infection, is a relatively new disease that was appreciated in dogs in the 1970s. The disease is often rapidly spread and has great severity, thus causing great cause for concern among pet owners. The canine parvovirus is very similar to the feline panleukopenia (feline distemper) and is thought to be a mutation of the canine parvovirus.

Currently there are two recognized strains of canine parvovirus, named CPV-2a and CPV-2b. They cause the same disease and the vaccine protects against both. CPV-2b is associated with the most severe disease among patients. The main source of the virus is from the feces of infected dogs. The virus begins to shed in the feces just before a dog appears to be sick and virus shedding continues for about 10 days. After a dog ingests the virus it is carried to the intestinal tract, where it invades the intestinal wall and causes inflammation. The virus is very stable in the environment and is resistant to the effects of heat, detergents, alcohol and many disinfectants. A 1:30 bleach solution will destroy the virus. The virus has been isolated from surfaces three months after infected dogs had contact with the area.

Due to its environmental stability, the virus is easily transmitted via the hair or feet of infected dogs, or on shoes, clothing and other objects contaminated by infected feces. Direct contact between dogs is not required to spread the virus. Dogs that become infected with the virus and show clinical signs will usually become ill within six to 10 days after exposure.

The clinical signs of CPV can vary, but generally they include vomiting and diarrhea. The diarrhea is often very strong smelling and may contain lots of mucus and even blood. Additionally, dogs affected often exhibit a lack of appetite, severe listlessness, depression and fever. Young puppies less than five months of age are usually the most severely affected and are the most difficult to treat. Any unvaccinated puppy that shows the symptoms of vomiting or diarrhea should be tested for CPV.

The test used to diagnose CPV is a simple in-clinic or on-site test that requires a small amount of fecal material, generally taken from the rectum, and eight minutes to process. There are some unfortunate cases where a dog may test negative using the test but in fact can be positive. These situations are few and far between but do occur. This further stresses the importance of proper history taking and assessment by a veterinarian. Additionally, some dogs infected may have a very low white-blood-cell count. This supports the concern that the virus has spread to the bone marrow and is inhibiting natural immune system cells from being produced.

Treatment for CPV can be very stressful on the patient as well as the pet owner. The patient is often admitted to the hospital’s isolation room and strict sanitation protocols followed. Intravenous fluid therapy, anti-nausea medication, and a number of antibiotics are used to help combat secondary bacterial infections. We do not have any medications that have been found to delay or cease the replication of the virus. There has been discussion of using a human drug commonly used for the flu, Tamiflu, but research studies have not been very promising in regards to improving survival rates. Some breeds such as rottweiler, Doberman pinscher, and English springer spaniels have a much higher fatality rate than other breeds.

Canine parvovirus is an easily preventable disease with proper vaccination and guidance by your family veterinarian. Treatment can become quite costly and with no guarantee of proper outcome. Puppies should be vaccinated between six and eight weeks of age and repeated every two to three weeks until they are 16 to 18 weeks of age. If you feel your pet is at risk, you should seek veterinary care as soon as possible.

[Contact Dr. D’Abbraccio at,, or]