After much research, talking with friends and family, and scouring dog shelters, you finally found the perfect puppy for your family. You immediately fell in love, and already cannot imagine life without them. Unfortunately, a number of infectious diseases lurk in the environment that can threaten your new puppy’s health. Your pup can pick up viruses, bacteria, and parasites by simply walking through the grass and then licking their paws. Parvovirus infection, in particular, is a serious threat to young puppies, and severe cases can be deadly. Our Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital team shares important information about parvovirus infection every dog owner should know. 

What is parvovirus infection in puppies?

Parvovirus infection, or parvo, is caused by canine parvovirus type 2 (CPV-2). The virus is particularly hardy, being resistant to cold, heat, humidity, and desiccation, and can persist in the environment for months to years. Trace amounts of feces picked up on a shoe, paw, or fur, for example, can cause infection when spread by people and animals. Parvovirus infection causes severe gastrointestinal (GI) illness that can be deadly, especially in young puppies.

How does parvovirus infection affect puppies?

Highly contagious CPV-2 is shed in the feces of infected dogs. The virus infects puppies via direct oral or nasal contact with infective feces, or indirect contact with virus-contaminated objects, such as clothing, bedding, or food bowls. Once inside a puppy’s body, CPV-2 attacks rapidly dividing cells in several areas, including:

  • Small intestine — CPV-2 attacks small intestinal cells, causing necrosis and sloughing of the intestinal lining. This disrupts the GI barrier’s integrity, which allows GI bacteria to enter the bloodstream, with the potential for life-threatening sepsis.
  • Bone marrow — CPV-2 also attacks a puppy’s bone marrow, where it interferes with white blood cell production. White blood cell deficiency causes immunosuppression, which can compound the already-serious infection.
  • Lymphatic tissue — Lymphatic tissue produces lymphocytes, which are a white blood cell line that functions as part of the immune system. CPV-2 further impacts the immune system by suppressing lymphocyte production. 

Bacterial translocation from the GI tract to the bloodstream can cause sepsis, which involves systemic infection and inflammation that can cause death in affected puppies. 

What are parvovirus infection signs in puppies?

Parvovirus infection signs mainly stem from the virus’s effects on the GI tract, and may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea, often containing blood
  • Inappetence
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Fever

Affected puppies typically become extremely sick, with severe vomiting and bloody diarrhea that often contains sheets of tissue from the sloughing of the intestinal lining. Vomiting, diarrhea, and an inability to keep food or water down quickly lead to severe dehydration. The sepsis-dehydration combination is life-threatening, and without prompt and aggressive treatment, a puppy’s condition can quickly worsen.

How is parvo diagnosed in puppies?

If your puppy shows any parvo signs, you should seek immediate veterinary treatment. Parvo can be diagnosed during a veterinary visit with a quick in-office fecal test. Prompt diagnosis is important so treatment can be initiated quickly, and affected dogs can be isolated to prevent disease spread. 

How is parvo infection treated in puppies?

Since parvo is caused by a virus, the disease cannot be cured, and treatment focuses on supporting affected puppies while their immune systems fight the infection. Treatment typically includes hospitalization in an isolation ward to prevent viral spread to other patients. Designated team members who care for puppies with parvovirus infection wear protective equipment, such as an isolation gown, shoe covers, and gloves, to prevent virus spread. During hospitalization, treatment may include:

  • Intravenous (IV) fluids 
  • IV electrolytes and glucose
  • Injectable medications to control vomiting
  • Injectable antibiotics to control secondary infections
  • Plasma transfusion
  • Nutritional support

Since parvo can cause serious, life-threatening disease, prompt diagnosis and aggressive treatment is critical for survival. With appropriate treatment, approximately 70% to 90% of puppies will recover.

Which puppies are at highest risk for parvovirus infection?

Puppies are at highest risk for parvovirus infection prior to completing their initial vaccine series. The maternal immunity that young puppies are born with begins wearing off at around 6 weeks of age, leaving them vulnerable to infection. 

Although any puppy can contract parvo, it is more prevalent in certain dog breeds, including:

  • American pit bull terriers
  • Doberman pinschers
  • English springer spaniels
  • German shepherds
  • Rottweilers

How can I protect my puppy from parvovirus infection?

The parvovirus vaccine is highly effective, and ensuring your puppy is properly vaccinated is critical. Puppies should receive their first vaccine at approximately 6 weeks of age, and booster vaccines every three to four weeks, until 16 weeks of age. As an adult, they should receive a booster vaccine one year after completing their puppy series, and then every three years. In addition to vaccination, protective measures you can take include:

  • Not taking your puppy outside your yard until they are fully vaccinated
  • Preventing contact with feces
  • Cleaning up all feces in your yard
  • Not bringing a new, unvaccinated puppy into your home following a parvovirus infection

We can’t wait to meet your new four-legged family member. After bringing your new puppy home, make an appointment with our Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital team to protect them against deadly diseases, including parvovirus.