How to Spot Puppy Parvovirus Symptoms

If you have a dog, chances are you have heard of parvovirus. Canine parvovirus, often called parvo, is a virus that attacks puppies and can be fatal. Luckily, a vaccine is available as part of your new puppy's vaccination series, but knowing the signs of parvovirus is essential, especially when your puppy has yet to complete his vaccination series. While parvo typically hits puppies, older dogs can contract the virus, especially if booster shots are not received.

Boy (12-13) holding puppy
Little boy holding a new puppy outside.
credit: David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images

The Most Common Symptom

While symptoms vary with parvovirus, one symptom is common in all cases. Diarrhea, often containing blood or mucus, is a major symptom that comes on suddenly. This diarrhea often has a very foul smell. In addition to diarrhea, your dog may suffer with severe vomiting. This diarrhea and vomiting often leads to severe, life-threatening dehydration.

Behavioral Symptoms

Parvovirus may cause behavioral changes in your puppy. A once rambunctious puppy will seem very lethargic and not want to move. Your puppy may refuse food and water. When you try to comfort your puppy, he may flinch in pain, especially in his stomach area. Those belly rubs that used to bring a smile to his face, may cause extreme pain.

Physical Changes

In addition to seeing the changes in your puppy's stool, other physical changes may occur in puppies with parvovirus. You may notice weight loss, a tucked-up stomach area and the membranes of the mouth and eyes may appear red. Fever is common but your puppy also may experience hypothermia, or a low body temperature. Certain strains of parvovirus can attack the heart muscles, often causing death.

When to Seek Veterinary Care

If your puppy or older dog is experiencing any symptoms associated with parvovirus, seek veterinary care immediately. Parvovirus can be life-threatening if left untreated. If you have other dogs, keep your sick dog isolated from others and use household bleach to clean up anybody fluids that may be in your home.

How to Reduce Parvovirus Risk

While vaccines help protect your puppy from parvovirus, young puppies who have not had a full vaccination series are very susceptible. Do not take your puppy to dog parks, walks around the neighborhood or even puppy classes until his vaccination series is complete. Keep neighborhood dogs out of your yard and pick up waste as soon as possible. Parvovirus can survive in the soil for up to a year or more, so direct contact with feces is not required. Follow your veterinarian's recommendations for puppy vaccines and regular boosters.