How to Prevent Parvo in Puppies

Parvo in puppies is a serious viral infection that often proves deadly. There's no cure for parvo in puppies, and the best your vet can do if your puppy catches parvo is to offer supportive therapy and hope for the best. Protecting your puppy from parvo could save his life. Read on to learn how.

Parvovirus Transmission

The canine parvovirus spreads through direct contact with contaminated feces. The virus can survive in the environment, on bedding and food dishes, for instance, for as long as five months. Rodents and insects can carry the virus from one place to another. The vomit and feces of dogs sick with parvovirus should be cleaned up with a bleach solution of one part bleach, ten parts water.

Dogs typically begin to display symptoms of parvovirus infection about one or two weeks after they're exposed. They remain contagious for about two weeks after symptoms begin.

Symptoms of Parvovirus Infection in Puppies

While adult dogs can recover from infection with this virus without even showing symptoms, parvovirus can be a killer for puppies. Most symptomatic cases of parvovirus infection occur in puppies less than six months of age, with puppies less than 12 weeks of age being at the highest risk of death due to infection. Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers and Labrador Retrievers seem more susceptible to catching parvovirus than others.

Parvo usually affects the intestinal tract in puppies. Symptoms include:

  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • dehydration
  • bloody feces or feces that are unusually dark in color
  • fever
  • lowered white blood cell count

Parvo is a very aggressive disease and death can occur within as few as 48 hours, especially if the puppy has contracted a secondary infection of some sort.

Diagnosing and Treating Parvo in Puppies

Diagnostic blood tests for parvo are expensive time consuming, but your vet may be able to test your dog's feces for parvovirus. Most vets will diagnose the disease based on your dog's age and symptoms. There's no cure for parvovirus, so your vet can only hope to support your dog's recovery through the use of IV fluid therapy, antibiotics and steroids. Even with supportive therapy, most puppies die from parvo infection.

Preventing Parvovirus in Your Puppy

The best way to prevent parvovirus in your puppy is to get him vaccinated. Vaccination schedules should start at eight weeks of age, and your puppy should receive additional vaccines at 12 weeks, six months and one year. Adult dogs should receive additional vaccinations. 

Before your puppy gets his parvo vaccine, protect him from contracting the virus by keeping him away from other dogs. It's a good idea to limit your puppy's contact with other dogs until he's had his first two vaccinations, to ensure that his immunity is adequate. Even if your puppy has been vaccinated, keep him away from dog and puppies you know to be sick with parvovirus, since the vaccinations may not always be effective. Parvovirus is a very resilient virus, and very difficult to contain or control.