Will my puppy survive a Parvo infection?

Parvovirosis, a dangerous disease dreaded by both pet owners and veterinarians alike. Believe me, delivering the news that a pup has parvo is extremely hard. And the first question that usually follows is ‘Will my puppy survive?’. 

I’ll be honest with you, parvo carries a significant mortality rate and can be a challenging and unpredictable disease. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that your puppy will not make it. You have to remain hopeful, as each case is unique. With rapid medical intervention and proper treatment, his chances are much much higher. And I can assure you that your vets are doing everything they can to help your little furry friend. 

Young pups and unvaccinated dogs of any age are especially susceptible. If your puppy gets the right treatment as soon as possible, he has a good chance of full recovery. However, it’s a disease that’s sometimes very hard to predict.  

I want to give you enough information about canine parvovirus so that you know your options and can make informed decisions (and not lose hope if your puppy has been diagnosed with parvo). 

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.

While I am a veterinarian, this article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. If you have any medical concerns about your pet, consult your vet immediately. Always seek professional assistance if you are unsure of your pet’s health.

hand holding the paw of a sad puppy

What exactly is parvo and why is it so dangerous?

Parvo, short for parvovirus, is a highly contagious virus that primarily affects puppies. It belongs to the Parvoviridae family and is specifically known as canine parvovirus type 2 (CPV-2).

It’s a single-stranded DNA virus, that’s unfortunately resistant to many common detergents and disinfectants, as well as to changes in temperature and pH.

Infectious CPV can persist indoors at room temperature for at least 2 months. Outdoors, it can persist for many months and possibly years. 

It’s a dangerous disease for both puppies as well as unvaccinated adult dogs of any age. 

Parvovirus targets rapidly dividing cells, particularly those in the gastrointestinal tract, bone marrow, and lymphopoietic tissues. The destruction of small intestine cells can lead to secondary bacterial infections. 

Parvovirus Transmission

The transmission of parvovirus occurs mainly through direct contact with infected dogs or their feces

Puppies can contract the virus by coming into contact with contaminated surfaces, such as water and food bowls, bedding, toys, or outdoor environments. 

Additionally, the virus can be transmitted indirectly through human contact or even on the shoes or clothing of individuals who have been in contact with infected dogs.

However, the main transmission method is through direct contact with an infected animal.

Incubation Period

The incubation period of parvovirus in puppies can range from a few days to two weeks, during which the virus replicates and spreads within the puppy’s body.

Unfortunately, infected puppies can shed the virus in their feces even before they show visible symptoms. 

Why are puppies more susceptible to parvovirus infection?

There are several reasons why are puppies and young dogs more susceptible than adult dogs. Puppies have an immature immune system, a sensitive intestinal tract, and are prone to dehydration.

In some cases, they also have an unprotected window between two parvovirus vaccines, but more on this later. 

When puppies are born, they receive some protection against parvovirus from their mother’s milk, but only if their mother has antibodies against it. This protection lasts as long as they drink milk. However, as puppies start to switch from milk to solid foods, these antibodies decrease. That’s when puppies become vulnerable to infection. 

Factors such as stress from weaning, overcrowding, malnutrition, as well as concurrent intestinal parasites, or other infections can make the illness more severe. 

The WSAVA guidelines for parvovirus vaccinations recommend starting at 6 weeks (in some cases 8) of age. This usually means that the breeder is responsible for vaccinating your puppy for the first time. Finding responsible breeders is therefore crucial for your pup’s health and well-being. 

Recognizing the symptoms of parvo is vital for early detection and intervention. The sooner your puppy gets medical treatment, the higher its chances for survival. 

Common clinical signs include severe, often bloody diarrhea, with a strong, foul odor, vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy, fever, and dehydration. 

What makes this disease so dangerous, is that these symptoms can quickly lead to severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. 

It is crucial to seek immediate veterinary attention if you observe any of these symptoms, as prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential for your dog’s survival.

The most common signs of parvo in puppies

The first indicators of a parvo infection are gastrointestinal symptoms. 

Puppies affected by parvo may experience severe vomiting, often accompanied by a foul odor. 

They may also develop profuse, watery diarrhea that is typically yellow or bloody in appearance. 

Parvo symptoms in dogs:

  • Severe vomiting
  • Profuse diarrhea (often yellow or bloody)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Complete loss of lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Signs of severe dehydration (dry, sticky gums, low skin elasticity, sunken eyes)
  • Weight loss

Persistent vomiting and diarrhea quickly lead to severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and damage to the intestinal and immune system. This can quickly progress into shock and death

It is important to closely monitor the puppy’s bowel movements and eating habits. While many puppies experience puppy diarrhea at some point in their lives, any changes or abnormalities are potential red flags for parvo. 

Signs of parvo in puppies

The importance of seeking immediate veterinary care

Parvo is a fast-acting, deadly virus that can progress rapidly within a short time.

Time is of the essence when dealing with this dangerous disease, and the sooner your puppy receives medical attention, the better are its chances of survival. 

Your puppy needs critical treatments and supportive care, such as intravenous fluid therapy, medications to control vomiting and diarrhea, antibiotics to prevent secondary infections, and nutritional support. 

Additionally, many puppies need to be hospitalized and need intensive care. They have to be closely monitored and usually require around-the-clock medical attention.  

Without professional veterinary care, a puppy’s chances of survival decrease significantly. Without proper treatment, most puppies with extreme gastrointestinal symptoms don’t survive.  

On the other hand, puppies who get intensive treatment within the first 5 days and whose owners follow their vet’s medical advice have a very high chance of complete recovery. 

Puppy's poop color chart

Diagnostic tests for confirming parvo in puppies

Diagnostic tests play an important role in confirming the presence of the virus. 

One of the primary tests for parvo detection is the parvovirus test. This test is able to detect the presence of viral antigens or genetic material in the puppy’s feces. It’s highly specific and can provide rapid results, allowing for prompt diagnosis and timely initiation of treatment. 

However, in some cases, it can lead to false negative results. 

That’s why most vets base their diagnosis on clinical signs, results of physical examination, anamnesis, the overall state of the patient, other blood tests, fecal tests, and X-rays, and use the parvovirus test to confirm their diagnosis. 

Your vets will need additional tests and blood work to assess the overall condition of your puppy. These tests are essential for evaluating the extent of the illness, identifying potential complications, and tailoring the treatment plan accordingly.

Common additional tests include a complete blood count (CBC) to evaluate red and white blood cell count, blood chemistry panels to assess organ function and electrolyte levels, and fecal examinations to check for the presence of other parasites or bacteria that may complicate the puppy’s condition. 

All these tests provide valuable information that helps your vet gain a comprehensive understanding of your puppy’s health status and create an appropriate treatment plan.

All dogs that tested positive for parvovirus have to follow strict isolation protocol. This is to protect the other clinic patients or, in the case of at-home treatment, to protect other animals. 

Hospitalized patients need to be placed in an isolation ward. If you have your puppy at home, follow your vet’s advice to minimize the risk of spreading the disease. 

dalmatian puppy sleeping

Treatment of parvovirus infection in puppies

Parvovirus infection is a complicated disease that wreaks havoc on your puppy’s body. It’s not just the diarrhea and vomiting, there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface. That’s why this viral infection requires a multi-faceted approach and an aggressive treatment plan

On top of that, your puppy will need to be monitored closely to assess its response to treatment and make necessary adjustments.

Immediate veterinary care gives your puppy the best chance of recovery. Sadly, most dogs don’t survive the infection without intensive treatment. 

However, the treatment can be very expensive, so talk to your vet about your financing options, especially if your puppy needs to be hospitalized. 

Therapy of parvovirus infection typically involves intensive supportive treatments to manage the symptoms and complications. 

This may include intravenous fluids to correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, as well as medications to control vomiting and diarrhea.

Antibiotics may also be administered to prevent or treat secondary bacterial infections that can arise due to the weakened immune system and lesions in the intestinal tract.

In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary to closely monitor your pup’s condition and provide round-the-clock medical attention.

Throughout the treatment period, it’s essential that you and your veterinarians work as a team. Your puppy will need regular check-ups to monitor the progress and to make any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan. 

Signs of improvement and positive indicators include a decrease in vomiting and diarrhea, an increase in appetite, improved energy levels, and more solid and formed stools.

These improvements demonstrate that your puppy’s body is responding positively to the treatment, and their condition is gradually improving. 

printable puppy planner

Prognosis and survival rate of canine parvovirus

Parvo is a dangerous disease, and even with the right treatment, the mortality rate is 25-30%. 

Several factors directly affect the survival rate and prognosis. The most important is a rapid medical intervention within 5 days, but also the type of parvovirus strain the dog is infected with. 

Factors affecting survival rates of parvo-positive puppies:

→ Age and overall health of the puppy

The age and overall health of the puppy can significantly impact their chances of survival. A strong immune system plays a vital role in fighting off the virus and recovering from the infection. Puppies with a robust immune response have a better prognosis compared to those with weaker immune systems. 

On the other hand, young or weak puppies may face additional challenges in battling the virus, making their chances of survival more uncertain. 

Proper nutrition from an early age and regular veterinary care contribute to overall health and can positively influence your puppy’s ability to overcome parvovirus.

Your pup’s vaccination status also plays a major role. Vaccinated puppies can still contract the disease, but they have fewer and less dramatic symptoms and a much higher survival rate. 

→ Promptness of Treatment and Intervention:

The promptness of treatment and intervention is a crucial factor in the survival rates of puppies with parvovirus. Time is of the essence when it comes to this aggressive disease. 

A study has shown a survival rate of 86% if the dogs received prompt medical intervention within the 5-day period. 

Seeking immediate veterinary care at the first sign of symptoms significantly increases the chances of a full recovery. 

→ Compliance with Veterinary Recommendations:

Compliance with veterinary recommendations plays a vital role in improving the survival rates of puppies with parvovirus. 

It’s essential that you follow the prescribed parvo treatment plan diligently. This includes administering medications as instructed, adhering to dietary guidelines, and keeping up with veterinary appointments for check-ups and potential adjustments to the treatment regimen. 

As I said before, you and your vet have to work as a team. Battling this dangerous disease needs to be a team effort. Otherwise, you’re rapidly decreasing your puppy’s survival chance. 

→ Breed Predispositions:

Several breeds of dogs have an increased risk of developing parvovirus enteritis. 

Several studies concluded that Rottweilers, American Pit Bull Terriers, Doberman Pinschers, and German Shepherd Dogs were at increased risk. 

However, this does not mean that other dog breeds (or mixed breeds) are safe. 

Overall, it’s safe to say that most puppies recover from parvo, so chances are your pup will be among them. Health status and rapid medical intervention are the most important factors that influence your puppy’s chances of survival.

How to help a puppy that’s recovering from parvovirus infection

Puppies recovering from parvo are often weak and lack appetite. Since the progress of the disease and its severity are extremely individual, the best way you can help your pup is to follow your vet’s recommendations. 

If you have your puppy at home, close cooperation with your vet is necessary to ensure your pup is on the way to recovery. Any worsening of signs or development of new symptoms needs to be reported to your vet. Your vet needs to be able to respond quickly and alter your puppy’s treatment plan. 

Actually, report any changes you observe, even the good ones!

Otherwise, here are a few tips on how to help your puppy speed up its recovery:

Nutritional Support for Puppies with Parvo:

Nutritional support plays a critical role in the recovery of puppies, as the virus causes significant nutrient loss and hinders the absorption of essential nutrients by damaging the intestinal cells. 

Choosing the right diet for a recovering puppy is essential to provide the necessary nutrients for healing and support its weakened immune system.

Most parvo puppies need a specialized veterinary diet. Please follow your vet’s prescription! 

Feeding small, frequent meals helps prevent overwhelming the puppy’s digestive system and allows for better nutrient absorption.

If your puppy is avoiding food, try enticing it with small, easily digestible meals that are gradually increased in quantity and quality to help reestablish its appetite. Be patient and gentle. Cuddling helps too! 🤗

Make sure your puppy is drinking enough water! He should have access to clean fresh water at all times.

If he doesn’t want to drink, talk to your vet and follow his advice. You can also read this article, there’s a part with tips on How to entice a puppy to drink more 🙂

Gradual Reintroduction to Normal Activities:

As your puppy progresses in his recovery journey and is no longer required to stay in isolation,  it’s important to gradually reintroduce him to normal activities. However, balancing rest and exercise is crucial during this phase to avoid overexertion and aid in the healing process. 

Your puppy should have a quiet and comfortable space for rest, to help him regain his strength and replenish energy. 

Once he’s getting stronger, it’s important to engage in appropriate levels of exercise to promote muscle tone and mental stimulation. Short walks and gentle play sessions can help your puppy regain its physical and emotional well-being while avoiding excessive strain.

Talk to your vet about appropriate exercises for your pup!

In addition to physical recovery, socialization, and mental stimulation are vital for a healthy transition back to normalcy. Again, only after he doesn’t have to be in isolation anymore! 

Gradually exposing the puppy to new environments, people, and other animals in a controlled manner helps him rebuild his confidence and develop important social skills. 

Engaging in positive reinforcement training and interactive play sessions can provide mental stimulation and strengthen the bond between you and your pup, especially after a long stay in a hospital.

Don’t forget, your puppy needs lots and lots of love and cuddles! 🥰

How to prevent parvovirus enteritis in puppies

I’m going to state it right at the beginning – you cannot 100% prevent canine parvovirus. However, you can greatly decrease the risk of contracting it and increase the survival rate in case your pup gets it anyway. How? With proper parvo vaccinations. 

Parvovirosis is so dangerous, that it’s part of the “core” or recommended vaccines for dogs. World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) vaccination guidelines recommend vaccinating puppies at 6–8 weeks of age, then every 2–4 weeks until 16 weeks of age or older.

An integral part of the core vaccination is the booster shot. There are new guidelines as to when the booster vaccine should be given. It used to be at 12 months of age, but now WSAVA recommends bringing the booster vaccine forward to 26 weeks of age instead of 52 weeks.

Why? Because if a puppy fails to respond to the primary core vaccine, that puppy may be unprotected until it receives this 12-month parvovirus vaccine. So basically, it’s to minimize the risk of contracting canine parvovirus enteritis during this window between the first set of shots and the parvo vaccine booster. 

However, there are exceptions to these rules. Talk to your vet about the best vaccination schema for your pup. 

Even if your puppy catches the virus, it’s been proven that vaccinated puppies have much higher survival rates and less severe symptoms.

​Young puppies should avoid dog parks and contact with unvaccinated dogs. 

Proper hygiene and isolation of infected animals are also crucial. If hospitalized, an infected dog is always in an isolation ward. At home, most dog owners create a separate space for the pup, that can be easily desinfected. Talk to your vet about the proper isolation method that works for you, your family, and your pup. 

Canine parvovirus can remain viable in the environment for an extended period.

Isolating the infected animal is therefore equally important as proper disinfection of contaminated surfaces and removal of contaminated organic material. 

Can dogs get parvo twice? 

Once your pup survives a parvovirus infection, he is considered immune. Theoretically, it is possible, but the chances are extremely slim. On very rare occasions, he might theoretically get infected with another parvovirus strain. However, cross-strain immunity is usually good enough to protect your dog.

The best advice I can give you is: Talk to your vet. Ask questions. And if you’re still not sure or confused, ask again. Having a puppy with parvovirus enteritis is stressful and overwhelming. We vets know that and we understand that you need our support. 

Trust your vet. And follow your vet’s instructions. That’s how you best help your puppy and increase his chances of recovery.

Good luck! ❣️🤗

PS: If you are as crazy about animals as I am and want to get more pet health tips, subscribe to my newsletter! Today you will get a free pet planner as a bonus 🤗

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