Parvovirus, also known as canine parvovirus type-2 (CPV-2), or parvo, is a very contagious disease that affects dogs. In fact, it is the most common dog disease in the United States. Parvovirus affects puppies more often than adult dogs, but it can affect dogs of any age.

Parvovirus comes in two strains, CPV-2A and CPV-2B. Because the symptoms and spread of these two strains are very similar, they are generally both referred to as CPV-2. Some researchers believe that there is also a new strain emerging, but evidence is inconclusive thus far.

Symptoms of Parvovirus

The most common and recognizable symptom of parvovirus is excessive diarrhea, often accompanied by blood. Symptoms are generally more severe and noticeable in puppies than in adult dogs.

Also, symptoms of parvovirus can vary among different dog breeds. The following breeds are more susceptible to severe symptoms:

  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Rottweilers.

Symptoms usually show up in dogs anywhere from seven to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Aside from bloody diarrhea, symptoms of parvovirus can include:

  • dark feces
  • dehydration
  • low white blood cell counts (white blood cells help fight disease)
  • severe vomiting.

The presence of other bacteria or viruses in a dog’s system can make these symptoms even worse.

Parvo can be a deadly disease and can progress very quickly. The disease causes a dog’s death within two days after symptoms begin to show up. This is why it’s extremely important to see your veterinarian immediately if your dog is exhibiting any symptoms of parvovirus. Some parvovirus symptoms are the same as symptoms of other diseases, so getting an accurate diagnosis from a vet is important.

Spread of Parvovirus

Parvovirus is spread through contact with an infected dog or contact with an object an infected dog has touched. In some cases, parvovirus can live on objects for up to five months or even longer.

Parvovirus is not killed by most environmental elements, such as heat. This is why it can live outside a host so much longer than most viruses.

Rodents and insects can also spread parvovirus to dogs.

Preventing Parvovirus

The best way to prevent parvovirus is to vaccinate your dog. This can be difficult for puppies, as there is a “window of susceptibility” where the puppy can get parvovirus even if he is vaccinated.

When a puppy is born, he has certain antibodies, or disease fighters, from his mother. These antibodies will also fight off the effectiveness of certain vaccines. There is a period in a puppy’s life when his mother’s antibodies are too strong for a vaccine to work, but too weak to fight off the actual parvovirus disease. This is referred to as the window of susceptibility.

Puppies must be vaccinated as early as possible against parvo. A veterinarian can advise you on when a vaccine will be effective against parvovirus. Additionally, your vet can advise you on how long to wait before getting a “booster” parvovirus vaccine. A booster is a follow-up that re-vaccinates the puppy. Vaccines don’t last a lifetime and must be re-administered to remain effective.

Treating Parvovirus

Treating parvovirus can be very difficult, especially if symptoms progress before treatment begins. Veterinarians must treat each symptom of parvovirus and usually intravenous (through the veins) fluid is necessary. Antibiotics, de-worming and other types of medication are usually also necessary.

Sadly, even with treatment, many dogs will still die from parvovirus.