The threat posed by parvo

Like their owners, dogs are not immune to illness. With a little help from their veterinarians, dogs may recover from a host of health problems rather quickly. But other problems pose greater threats, and some can even prove fatal.

One health problem dog owners hope to avoid at all costs is parvo. According to the American Kennel Club, dogs infected with parvo can go from happy and healthy to fatally ill in a matter of days, which only highlights the need for dog owners to learn about parvo and how to prevent it.

What is parvo?

Parvo is a highly contagious virus that affects the gastrointestinal tracts of puppies and young dogs. If the gastrointestinal illness that results from a parvo infection is not treated, it can be deadly.

How do dogs contract parvo?

Parvo can spread through direct contact with infected dogs or through feces and spreads easily through the canine population, according to the AKC. Direct contact with poop through the nose and mouth can occur when curious puppies or young dogs sniff or lick surfaces or other dogs that have been contaminated with feces. If this fecal matter comes from dogs that have parvo, the virus can spread.

But parvo also can spread through indirect contact. Because the resilient parvo virus can survive on clothing, including shoes, human skin and equipment, as well as in the environment, puppies or young dogs can contract it through these sources as well. Resistant to common household cleaners and disinfectants, the parvo virus can survive for years if it’s protected from direct sunlight.

Are certain dogs at greater risk of contracting parvo than others?

The AKC notes that, while the reasons are unknown, German shepherds, rottweilers, doberman pinschers, English springer spaniels, and American Staffordshire terriers are at greater risk of contracting the parvo virus than other breeds. But the dogs whose risk of contracting parvo are the greatest are those between six weeks and six months of age as well as dogs that have not been vaccinated or whose vaccinations are incomplete.

The link between vaccinations and parvo can be found in the antibodies puppies receive from their mothers before they are born. Dog owners must vaccinate their dogs to protect them from parvo as these antibodies fade after puppies are born.

What are the symptoms of parvo?

The AKC notes that the most common symptoms of parvo include:

  • Severe and bloody diarrhea
  •  Lethargy
  •  Anorexia
  •  Fever
  •  Vomiting
  •  Weight loss
  •  Weakness
  •  Depression
  •  Dehydration

Can parvo be prevented?

No dog is 100 percent safe from the parvo virus. However, vaccinations can be highly effective, and the AKC recommends all puppies begin receiving vaccinations for the parvo virus when they are between six and eight weeks old. These vaccinations are typically administered in a series of three, and the second round may occur between 10 and 12 weeks, with the third coming between 14 and 16 weeks. Within a year of receiving the final initial round of vaccinations, a booster shot will be administered and then readministered every three years after that.

More information about the parvo virus is available at

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