How Do Dogs Get Parvo?

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Some dog owners have had the scary experience of their energetic, happy dog experiencing a swift transformation—they're low energy, they refuse to eat, and they might spend excessive amounts of time hiding in their crate.

These symptoms might mean the dog has contracted parvovirus, an extremely contagious disease that can be fatal if not immediately treated.

Luckily, parvovirus, or parvo, is highly treatable—you just have to catch it early enough.


Many dog owners don't know much about this frightening disease and how it can spread. So here's the important information you need about how dogs can get infected with this potentially life-threatening disease.

What is parvo?

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Canine parvovirus, more commonly known as parvo, is a highly contagious virus that infects a dog's digestive system and weakens their immune system. Dogs can become severely dehydrated, stop eating, and become more susceptible to secondary infections.


How does a dog catch parvo?

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What makes parvo more dangerous is that it's environmentally stable, so while many viruses break down when exposed to the elements, parvo can survive outdoors for months. The virus can even stay alive inside for at least a year, so for the most part, you can expect that you and your pup are walking through a place carrying parvo on a regular basis. That's how most dogs catch parvo – from walking outside through infected areas, or spending time in areas where infected dogs have been.


Grown dogs get vaccinated against parvo, so the disease isn't as much of an issue. But up until a puppy has received all of its parvo shots, its chance of catching parvo is very high. That's why vets recommend that puppies without their full vaccinations stay indoors as much as possible.

How do I know if my dog has been infected with parvo?

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The most common symptoms of parvovirus are diarrhea and vomiting. Specifically, a dogs' diarrhea will have a uniquely foul order that smells, well, worse than usual. The scent will be notable, and you'll be able to tell that something is off. You may even spot blood in their stool or vomit.


Anytime your dog, particularly a puppy, suffers from repeated vomiting or diarrhea, you should bring them into the vet to be safe. But it's even more urgent if you have a puppy who is not fully vaccinated against parvo.

Other symptoms of parvo include lack of energy, anorexia (refusal to eat), depression, and fever.

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Once you get your pup to the vet, he or she will examine your dog and run blood tests. A test called ELISA can detect parvo antigens in your dog's feces as well, to confirm the diagnosis.


How is parvo treated?

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Like many viruses, there is no cure for parvo. However, your vet will treat the dangerous effects of parvo, such as dehydration, lack of nutrients, and bacterial infections. Most likely, your puppy will be hospitalized, so that it can receive fluids, intravenous antibiotics, and constant monitoring for any changes in its condition.


Are certain dogs more prone to parvo?

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Yes, there are some dog breeds that are more likely to contract a severe case of parvo when they are puppies, so if you own one of these breeds, be extra vigilant:


  • Rottweilers
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • American Staffordshire Terriers
  • English Springer Spaniels
  • German Shepherd Dogs
  • Labrador Retrievers

Additionally, like we talked about above, puppies who are not yet fully vaccinated are much more prone to contracting parvo than fully vaccinated dogs.

If you stay aware of the symptoms and take your puppy to the vet after any unusual digestive activity, then you will have a greater chance of successful treatment if your dog does catch parvo. Also, keep your puppy up to date on all vaccinations, and follow your vet's instructions to minimize contact with the areas prone to carry the disease that can infect your dog.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.