What is Parvo in Dogs?

Can Humans get Parvo From Their Dog?


What is parvo in dogs? Should you be concerned about this disease if you are raising a farm dog? Canine parvovirus is actually an extremely fast-acting and deadly virus. When an outbreak of parvovirus comes around, it is easy for dogs to catch parvo. The virus is easily spread from dog to dog and can be transmitted by humans and everyday items the dog comes in contact with. While the cause is viral, this virus has some characteristics that make it extremely hard to avoid and fight.

What is Parvo in Dogs?

When answering the question, what is parvo in dogs, it’s important to first understand what we are dealing with. Canine parvovirus is a viral illness. The virus has three major factors that make it so deadly. First, the virus’s method of infection makes it extremely hard to kill once infection sets in. Second, the virus attacks the bone marrow tissue where immune system cells are made. Third, parvovirus can mutate. The strain that was first discovered in the late 1960s was not fatal. Within ten years the strain had mutated into Canine Parvovirus 2 (CPV 2). This new strain was deadly, killing both puppies and adult dogs. Since the middle 1970s three more recognized mutations have occurred. The current CPV2 in forms a, b, and c are still circulating through the world’s dog population.

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Originally, canine parvovirus is thought to have mutated from the variety of parvo that infects cats. Feline parvo or panleukopenia may have mutated through some other species, particularly wildlife, while becoming CPV2. The various forms of parvovirus are species specific. Human Parvo is much less deadly and is referred to as Fifths Disease. Racoon, fox, and mink can also suffer from strains of Parvo. Dogs do not contract the cat variety, however, cats have been known to contract the canine version.

When you are asking yourself what is parvo in dogs, you will want to know how is Parvo spread. I asked our Veterinarian, James Pleura, DVM, this question. How do dogs catch parvo? Dr. Pleura explained to me that the virus is everywhere. Even if your puppy or grown dog doesn’t come in contact with a sick animal, they can contract it from the surface of dog bowls, shared water, dog park facilities, and it can be transmitted even long after an infected dog was in the facility or home. The most common mode of transmission is through contact with contaminated feces, or direct, dog-to-dog contact. Since dogs don’t commonly show signs of illness during the initial incubation phase, your dog could be playing with an infected dog and you would not be able to tell.


Both the best farm dogs and the most pampered house dog can catch parvovirus. Contamination can be carried on shoes, clothing, and leashes. So how do you know that the illness your dog has, is parvo? The early signs of parvo include lethargy, not eating, abdominal discomfort or pain, fever, vomiting and finally, diarrhea. During the three to seven-day incubation phase of the virus, the dog will begin to shed the virus in its feces and body fluids once the virus infects the stomach and lymph system. Once it travels through the body to the bone marrow, the virus rapidly multiplies in the fast dividing bone marrow. The virus has now infected the area of the body that provides immune support.

Puppies and young dogs are more likely to contract the parvo disease. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends caution with newly acquired puppies. They should be kept away from places that are likely to be a higher risk for infection such as doggie day care, dog parks, and groomers until the vaccination series is complete.

Treating Dogs with Parvovirus

Since the virus is resistant to many different environmental conditions it continues to spread despite any heat or cold conditions. Parvovirus also is not affected by dryness or humidity. To top it off, there is no medication that will conquer parvo.

The best chance a dog has for recovering from parvo is when care is started quickly. Since the virus is not susceptible to drugs, the best treatment is supportive nursing care. Intravenous fluids, control of the vomiting and diarrhea and warmth are the top care points. Of course, this can get expensive quickly. The sooner the infected dog has begun treatment, the less severe are the effects from the virus. When you are asking yourself, “what is parvo in dogs”, make sure you follow up with a vet visit as soon as possible.

Can Dogs Survive a Parvovirus Infection?

Unfortunately, not all dogs survive a parvo infection. The American Veterinary Medical Association states that with appropriate, early treatment, the survival rate is close to 90%.  The supportive treatment mentioned also helps combat any secondary, opportunistic infections. Parvo recovery time varies with each animal. The better condition the dog is in when it contracts parvo, the more likely it will survive with treatment. Even if your dog recovers quickly, the virus can still be present for up to six weeks. It is best to keep your dog away from other dogs during this long recovery period.

Early and appropriate supportive care gives the dog suffering from Parvo the best chance for a full recovery. When you are researching, what is parvo in dogs, the best conventional, prevention method is the full vaccination series of shots.

Read more:
Signs of Parvo
Parvo Recovery Timeline 

Have your dogs experienced Parvo? What care did you give them? We’d love to hear in the comments below.

  • About 20 years ago, our dogs caught parvo. Ages 1, 3 &5. We never heard of parvo at that time.the youngest was the sickest and we took him to the vet. He survived with treatment, other 2 had milder case and got better on their own. The area was having waves of outbreaks, about every 3-4 weeks. Most gas and electric meters were in the backyards that the meter readers would read by entering fenced backyards. They in turn would track the virus from backyard to backyard, spreading it once a month

  • I have had 2 dogs recovered from parvo as young dogs. Then 2 weeks later I came down with it! It was terrible and I became pregnant a few week later.

  • I was taking care of twin puppies for a rescue I work with several years ago when one became lethargic. I had no idea it was a symptom of Parvo but took the puppy immediately to my vet who tested for several things and then found it was Parvo. I immediately took the puppy to an emergency vet who had it on iv fluids and other meds. for nearly a week, It survived! The second puppy seemed okay but, the day after the first one had been diagnosed, the second one presented with very loose stools so I called my vet who said to immediately take the puppy to the emergency care facility. The onset of Parvo comes extremely quickly and so I had been keeping an eye on the second pup anticipating it might come down with it. Catching it early meant the emerg. vet could administer Tamiflu–something they are just starting to try…and it worked! Apparently, if caught early enough, Tamiflu can be very effective. But here’s something important to remember, Parvo can stay in the ground for 5 years…so I have to make sure no one brings un-vaccinated animals to our back yard where the puppies played.

  • Very worthwhile and informative article from Janet. I appreciated Countryside sharing this information. We went through Parvo with one of our Dalmatian puppies about 23 years ago. I remember it was not fun, and very expensive as well.

  • Our puppy had had three of the floor parvo shots when he contracted parvo. The vet started him on an IV so that he would not be dehydrated, and he was given a shot of anti-nausea medication, plus something for the diarrhea. there wasn’t anything stopping the puppy from eating other than he was very nauseous. So once they got the IVs in him, stop the nausea, and stop the diarrhea, he started getting better. He was at the vet for 5 days. It took over 6 months for him to completely recover. During that time he pretty much just ate chicken, rice and yogurt. if we tried to feed him anything else he would get up very bad case of diarrhea. He is now over a year old and doing just fine. We were very fortunate with the vet we brought him to, about 60 miles from home. The cost was under $500. The local vet and our community would have charged over $1,000.


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