Everything you need to know about parvovirus

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Canine parvovirus is a serious and often fatal viral disease that impacts unvaccinated puppies and dogs. It’s important to understand the ins and outs of this virus, so you can protect your pet and other dogs in our community. 

(While the term ‘parvovirus’ refers to a family of viruses with many different strains , this blog specifically refers to the canine parvovirus that impacts dogs.) 

How does it spread? 

Parvovirus is highly contagious and can stay on surfaces and in environments for a long period of time—withstanding heat, cold and humidity. Dogs can contract the virus by interacting with infected dogs, or by coming into contact with contaminated faeces, surfaces or environments.  

What are the signs 

The typical incubation period for parvovirus is four to six days. Signs that your dog is infected include (but are not limited to): 

  • Lethargy 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Severe or repeated vomiting 
  • Diarrhoea (commonly with blood present in the stool) 

It’s important to note that parvovirus progresses rapidly. If you notice any of the above signs in your dog or puppy’s behaviour, take them to a veterinary hospital immediately. Your local veterinarian will perform a test to diagnose the illness.

Can it be treated?  

Parvovirus is treatable but due to the severity of the virus, it requires several days of hospitalisation, medication and intravenous fluids to support the dog through the disease. Sadly, the virus is quite aggressive and intensive treatment does not always prevent it being fatal.  

Are certain dogs more susceptible? 

Parvovirus commonly impacts dogs aged between six and 20 weeks old, but older unvaccinated dogs have been known to contract the virus too.  

How do I prevent my dog getting parvovirus?  

Vaccinations to prevent your dog from getting parvovirus are available and highly effective. Please consult your vet and get your puppy vaccinated starting at six to eight weeks old with several boosters required over the subsequent weeks. Your vet will advise on the most appropriate course of vaccines according to your circumstances…  

The vaccination is not protective until after the full initial course is complete and it is important not to miss the scheduled booster. Depending on the type of vaccination used, protective immunity is achieved several days to weeks after the final vaccination so discuss with your vet when it is safe to take your dog out into the world.  

In the meantime, we recommend limiting your dog’s excursions from home to prevent it from accessing environments that may unknowingly be contaminated with parvovirus. Be creative about finding ways to socialise your pup and expose it to different people and experiences without putting it at risk of infectious disease. 

Is it the same as panleukopenia?  

Feline panleukopenia virus and the canine parvovirus are similar illnesses but not the same. Panleukopenia also goes by the name ‘feline parvovirus’ because it is caused by a strain of virus that typically impacts young kittens, often resulting in death. However, these viruses are species-specific, so they generally don’t carry from cats to dogs, and vice versa. Cats can be vaccinated against feline panleukopenia.