Most Common Canine Illnesses – Canine Parvovirus


Last week, we talked about one of the most common and dangerous viral conditions in dogs, canine distress. Today, we will be covering another viral disease, one that is even more dangerous for your dog, called canine parvovirus. We say more dangerous because this particular viral disease causes death in more than 90 percent of cases that are left untreated. Canine parvovirus is also called parvo for short.

Canine parvovirus belongs to the family of viruses known as parvoviruses which are among the smallest viruses known to modern medicine. There are many different types of parvoviruses and depending on the type of virus, they will affect different animals. To illustrate how varied they are, they can affect species as different as sea stars and humans. One of these is the variant that attacks canines and it is actually among the youngest of the parvoviruses with first cases reported in the 1970s.

The current theory that is mostly agreed upon is that the canine parvovirus came to life as a variation of the feline parvovirus. They are extremely similar in structure with barely noticeable differences. Unfortunately, these differences are enough to make the new parvovirus attack canines while still being able to afflict cats, although to a lesser extent.

Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious virus which can survive outside of a host for months. It is transmitted by feces that are expelled by an infected dog. Puppies are the most common victims of parvo and the condition is particularly dangerous for them. One of the reasons for this is that they are more likely to be affected by the cardiac form of the virus which causes death very quickly, not leaving enough room for any treatment to be introduced. The more common form is the intestinal form and that is the one we will be most concerned with today.

Canine parvovirus enters the body through oral contact with viruses found in the feces of infected dogs. The virus lodges itself in the lymphoid tissue in the throat where it replicates and then enters the bloodstream. The next step is the invasion of rapidly-dividing cells, which happen to be found in intestinal crypts, bone marrow and lymph nodes. In the affected areas, the virus causes necrosis (dying off) of the tissues.


The first sign of a parvo infection is lethargy. It is usually accompanied by fever, vomiting and diarrhea that is often bloody. The dog loses appetite, while diarrhea and vomiting intensify. This most commonly leads to rapid and severe dehydration, which can lead to systemic failure and death if left untreated. Secondary infections also occur frequently due to the weakened immune system, while the harmful effects of the virus on the intestinal lining can lead to anemia, loss of protein and sepsis.

Hospitalization of the dog is pretty much a necessity if the dog is to survive. Primary mode of treatment will be rehydration through IV fluids containing electrolytes, B-complex vitamins, potassium chloride and dextrose. Broad spectrum antibiotics are also often administered in order to clean opportunistic secondary bacterial infections. The dog may also be administered medication that will mitigate nausea. Sometimes, the treatment will also involve painkillers to ease the intestinal discomfort and pain.

Once the dog is somewhat stabilized and they are no longer vomiting, bland foods are introduced while IVs are discontinued. Unfortunately, the dog’s system itself needs to fend off the parvovirus and in some cases this just does not happen, resulting in death.

The good news is that there is a very easy way to avoid canine parvovirus affecting your dog and that is vaccination. The vaccination should ideally start when the dog is 7 or 8 weeks old and the whole vaccination sequence needs to be completed. It is also possible to vaccinate older dogs, but never pregnant mothers as this will result in miscarriage and make the bitch very sick.

In short, vaccinate your dog against canine parvovirus. If you hadn’t done that and your dog starts showing signs of this condition, take them to the vet immediately and be ready to spend quite a bit of money on hospitalization.

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