Dog: Parvovirus

General information

Other common/scientific names: canine parvovirus, CPV, infectious enteritis, hemorrhagic diarrhea


Parvovirus is a highly contagious, potentially fatal viral infection caused by the canine parvovirus. A worldwide epidemic of parvovirus occurred in 1978. Because this was a new virus and the dog population had no protective immunity against it, many canine deaths resulted. Since this time, effective vaccination has greatly reduced the cases of canine parvovirus.

While all dogs are at risk of acquiring parvovirus, most cases in the US involve puppies. Maternal (from the mother) immunity begins to wan at four months of age, leaving a puppy vulnerable to parvovirus if not vaccinated. Older unvaccinated dogs or dogs with weakened immune systems are also susceptible to parvovirus. Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Pit Bull Terriers and German Shepherds seem to be more susceptible.


Parvovirus is spread through the bodily fluids such as saliva, vomitus and feces of infected dogs. Contaminated cages, bedding, dishes, hands and shoes can also be a source of transmission. The virus enters the uninfected dog through the mouth and travels to the lymph nodes in the throat. From the lymph nodes, the virus moves into the blood stream causing a viremia and then invades rapidly dividing cells of the intestinal tract, immune system and heart.

The canine parvovirus has an incubation period of 3 to 7 days.

Cardinal symptom

Bloody diarrhea


Clinical signs of parvovirus include sudden onset of bloody, foul smelling diarrhea, severe vomiting, fever, lethargy and lack of appetite.


Diagnosis of parvovirus is based on history and clinical signs. A laboratory test performed in your veterinarian’s clinic can detect and confirm parvovirus in the stool. Because parvovirus attacks a dog’s bone marrow, the white blood cell count may be very low. A complete blood count (CBC) may be used to monitor this blood count.


There is no specific treatment or drug available to kill parvovirus in infected dogs. Dogs with parvovirus must be hospitalized for supportive care. Due to the severe vomiting and diarrhea, intensive intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration are needed. Antibiotics to prevent secondary infections and medications to reduce vomiting and diarrhea are also administered. Other medications which provide antibodies and stimulate the bone marrow are occasionally used. These medications are costly and used more commonly in specialty clinics and teaching universities. Sick dogs should be kept warm and receive good nursing care. Stringent hygiene and isolation from other dogs must be implemented.


Dogs with parvovirus have a good chance of recovery if they are treated quickly with hospitalization and intensive therapy. However, treatment can be expensive and the prognosis depends on the severity of clinical signs and the age of the dog. Older dogs have a better chance of survival than young puppies.


Effective vaccination for the prevention of canine parvovirus is available. Puppies should be vaccinated for parvovirus beginning at 6 to 8 weeks of age and boostered every 2 to 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age. After the initial puppy series, an annual vaccine is recommended. Subsequent vaccination boosters are given every 1 to 3 years depending on your veterinarian’s recommendation. Canine parvovirus vaccination is most commonly included in a combined vaccine with canine distemper, canine parainfluenza, canine hepatitis, Leptospirosis and coronavirus.

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Parvovirus can be shed in the feces of infected dogs for up to three weeks. This virus is very hardy, can survive for many months in the environment and is able to withstand extreme temperatures and disinfectants. Because of this, plus the fact that large amounts of virus are shed in the stool of infected dogs there is a huge potential for environmental contamination. Therefore, it is very important to dispose of any contaminated bedding and objects. All dogs introduced into the contaminated environment must be properly vaccinated against parvovirus.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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