CPV – Canine Parvovirus – Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment

Canine parvovirus, a dangerous and highly contagious disease seen in dogs that can turn deadly within 48 to 72 hours. While puppies under 6 months of age are most likely to contract the infection, dogs of all ages can get it. Detecting the disease and starting aggressive supportive treatment in a timely manner is vital to the survival chances of the dog. So, let’s have a closer look at what parvovirus is, what the symptoms are, how it can be prevented, how the diagnosis is made, and what treatment can be started when a dog gets infected with parvovirus.

About parvovirus

Canine parvovirus, also often referred to as parvo, is a viral disease which mainly affects the dogs GI tract resulting in acute gastrointestinal symptoms. In some cases it can also affect the heart. A common symptom seen in dogs that have parvo is severe bloody diarrhoea. The GI tract issues can lead to rapid dehydration and a parvo infection can turn deadly within 48 to 72 hours. Canine parvovirus has an incubation period of three to seven days before the first symptoms arise, and is species-specific. This means that while other species like cats, and even humans, can also contract different parvoviruses, canine parvovirus is specific to canines. Canine parvovirus however can cause infection in wild canines, such as coyotes and wolves.

Canine parvovirus is mostly seen in young unvaccinated pups, and due to its rapid and deadly nature, pups with parvo symptoms like bloody diarrhoea should always be treated as an emergency and seen by a veterinarian. Parvovirus spreads through contaminated surfaces, stool, people, and dog-to-dog contact, and can move from place to place through shoes or other objects that move from the infected area. Parvovirus is extremely hardy and can survive heat, cold, humidity, and drying, and can stay persistent in the environment for a long time. Special disinfectants will need to be used to kill the virus in the surroundings. For indoor use bleach will suffice at a dilution of one part bleach mixed with approximately 30 parts water. Coming in contact with the virus does not always trigger an infection, several factors like the number of viruses the dog is exposed to, and their immune status will play a role if they will contract the infection, or not.


  • Blood in stool
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lethargy 
  • Vomiting
  • Tiredness
  • Fever

Diagnosis & Treatment

When parvovirus is suspected, a faecal ELISA test can confirm the diagnosis. These types of tests take less than 15 minutes and can be done at the veterinarian. While generally accurate, occasionally an ELISA test may produce a false negative or false positive result, and further testing might be needed to confirm the diagnosis. 

There is no medicine available that will cure parvovirus, so treatment is aimed at supporting the dog while their body fights the infection. Supportive treatment should be started immediately and will mainly be aimed at combating dehydration and replenishing protein, electrolytes, and fluid loss preferably through IV drip. Supportive treatment to manage symptoms can be given, like medicine to control vomiting and diarrhoea. In some cases, blood transfusions will be needed to replenish low blood cell counts. 

Even with early detection and aggressive treatment, parvo is a deadly disease and not all dogs will make it. Dogs with parvovirus will need to be kept in isolation, and proper cleaning protocols will need to be followed to prevent spreading the disease. 



As young pups are susceptible to contract the disease, extra care is needed when having a pup. Unvaccinated pups are mostly at risk, especially once their natural immunity drops after weaning from their mother’s milk. Immunity provided by the mother’s milk can in some cases interfere with the first vaccines given. To develop adequate protection, all pups between 14 and 16 weeks of age should receive a canine parvovirus vaccine, regardless of how many doses they received up until that point. Pups should not mingle with other dogs, go for walks, or visit places where other dogs gather, until they have received all of their puppy vaccines

While less susceptible, older dogs can also get parvo. To prevent them contracting the disease their vaccination needs to be kept-up-to date. Through a titer test, one can measure the dog’s level of antibodies against the canine parvovirus. In some cases, dogs with adequate antibody levels can still contract the disease, however the course of the disease often will be milder. 


Canine parvovirus is one of the biggest dangers to young pups. Swift intervention is needed if you suspect your dog has parvo. Aggressive supportive treatment will increase the chances of your dog surviving the infection. 

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