Tech Talks: Parvo

Tech Talks by Emily Harbury, LVT

March 23rd is National Puppy Day! Though we certainly love to have puppies around we must be aware of their vaccination history and schedule.

Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that can affect all dogs, but unvaccinated dogs and puppies younger than 6months old are the most at risk. The Parvo virus affects dogs’ gastrointestinal tract and is spread by direct dog-to dog contact and contact with contaminated stool, environments, or people. The virus can also contaminate kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, and the hands and clothing of people who handle infected dogs. It is resistant to heat, cold, humidity, and drying. It can survive in the environment for long periods of time (6 months to a year). Even trace amounts of stool containing parvovirus may infect other dogs that come into the infected environment. It can be transmitted from place to place on the hair or feet of dogs or via contaminated kennels, or shoes.

Signs of Parvovirus

Some of the signs of parvovirus include lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, vomiting, and severe (often bloody) diarrhea. Vomiting and diarrhea can cause rapid dehydration, and most deaths from parvovirus occur within 4 to 5 days following the onset of signs. Though these signs can be symptoms of a wide variety of illnesses, dogs and puppies who are unvaccinated are at the highest risk. If your puppy or dog shows any of these signs you should contact your veterinarian immediately.


A quick in-house test can be performed at your veterinary clinic. Results of this test will be ready in ten minutes and are 99% accurate. Though there is no specific drug available that will kill the virus in infected dogs, treatment consists primarily of supportive care. This means your pet will be required to stay in the veterinary clinic for a number of days. Veterinary clinics will have a special isolation ward equipped for these highly contagious patients. Your pet will be placed on IV fluids to combat dehydration, medications will be given to prevent vomiting and diarrhea as well as an antibiotic to prevent any secondary infections that may set in while your dog’s immune system is weakened. This treatment can be very expensive.

After Care

While your puppy is recovering from extensive damage to his intestinal tract it is typical for stool to be loose or no stool to be produced. This should gradually return to normal in the first 3-5 days. If vomiting or diarrhea persist, a return trip to the veterinarian is in order.

While the intestinal tract is healing a bland diet is needed. The veterinarian will send home a canned version to last a few days or you can feed rice and boiled chicken. Absolutely no treats, table scraps or gorging are allowed during the first week of recovery. Frequent small meals throughout the day are best for your dogs’s recovering GI tract.

Your puppy should be considered contagious to other puppies for a minimum of a month. It is important to play it safe by restricting trips to the park, kennel clubs, or neighborhood areas.

Contracting and surviving Parvo means that your puppy has effectively vaccinated itself for the virus. However there are other viruses that your puppy should be protected against. Your veterinarian will give you a vaccination schedule for the future. Your puppy can contract parvo again if not properly vaccinated in the future.

The vaccine given by your veterinarian is DA2PPC, which is a multivalent vaccine for dogs that protects against the viruses indicated by the alphanumeric characters forming the acronym; D for canine distemper, A2 canine adenovirus type 2, which offers cross protection to canine adenovirus. The first P for canine parvovirus and the second P for parainfluenza, the C indicates canine coronavirus.


Get your puppy vaccinated on a set schedule. Vaccines should be started at 8 weeks and then two more vaccines a month apart. When the puppy is less than 8 weeks old their mother’s antibodies should be active, though reducing the puppies risk by restricting outdoor play and unknown dog visitors is a must. I will discuss vaccine titer testing in a subsequent article.