Dog outside with a flower on its ear

Key takeaway

Canine Parvovirus is a serious condition that affects young puppies and unvaccinated dogs. Knowing what the symptoms of parvo are can help you and your veterinarian act immediately to give your pup the medical attention they need. Taking preventative measures and promptly acting when your pet begins showing some of the symptoms of parvo in dogs, such as vomiting and diarrhea, can protect your dog and prevent the disease from spreading. 

If you’ve had a puppy before or are considering getting one in the future, you’ve probably heard of and been warned about parvo. Parvo gets a lot of talk around it and while you may have heard of it, you might be wondering what are the symptoms of parvo in dogs and how you can treat it.

Canine parvovirus, often referred to as parvo, is a highly contagious virus that commonly affects puppies. However, the disease can pose a risk to unvaccinated adult dogs as well.

While parvo can be a life-threatening disease, knowing the prevention strategies, signs, and symptoms are key to making sure your pup remains healthy and safe. Common symptoms and signs that your dog may be suffering from parvovirus can include diarrhea, lethargy, anorexia, fever, vomiting, depression, dehydration, and if left untreated, can result in septic shock and death.

If you’re looking to ease the worries you have for your pup, we’ve got you covered.

What Is Parvovirus?

Canine parvovirus is highly contagious and most commonly affects young pups under four months of age and unvaccinated dogs.

Canine parvovirus is a relatively new virus in dogs, with some of the first cases and discussions about the disease dating back to the 1970s. The virus can be found in essentially any environment, living in soil for up to a year, but before you panic, a number of other causes can lead to a puppy actually contracting the virus, like your pet’s immune system.

When a dog contracts parvovirus, they can be contagious within 4-5 days of the virus entering their system, often before the incubation period has been completed and your dog begins to show signs and symptoms. Your pup will remain contagious throughout the time they are sick and for around 10 days after they’ve received treatment.

Dogs can contract the virus by coming into oral or nasal contact with infected feces or by coming into contact with objects or an environment that has been contaminated with parvo. The virus can remain viable in a contaminated environment for over 6 months and be transmitted to many animals.1

Puppy playing in the grass

8 Signs Of Parvo In Dogs

Signs that your dog has been infected with the canine parvovirus will typically begin to show around 5-7 days of your dog coming into contact with the disease, after the disease’s incubation period. Parvo can also begin to show within a broader range of 2-14 days.1

Parvo treatment is most effective when caught early, so here are some of the symptoms of parvo in dogs to watch out for.

1. Diarrhea

One of the most common symptoms of parvo in dogs is diarrhea. Loose or abnormal stool can be the result of a lot of contributing factors like dietary changes or allergies, but in puppies can be especially alarming. Diarrhea occurring in unvaccinated puppies or adult dogs can be an indicator that they have been infected with parvo. If you’re concerned that your pup may be experiencing some digestive issues and diarrhea, use the Purina Fecal Score to determine and better describe the symptoms to your veterinarian. After examination, your vet can determine whether the symptom is a result of parvo.

2. Lethargy

Parvovirus can also cause an energy decline in your dog and lethargy can be a resulting symptom. If you’ve had an otherwise playful and active puppy that has suddenly seemed less interested than usual, this can be a sign of an underlying health condition.

While it's normal for your dog to enjoy a nice long nap after some serious playtime, if your dog begins to exhibit signs of a significant decrease in energy, it is always a good idea to describe the changes in behavior to your veterinarian. Remember, lethargy doesn’t mean laziness! Lethargy in dogs looks more like a slower response to stimuli, acting out of character, less interest in activities they otherwise enjoy (like going out for a walk), and grogginess.

3. Anorexia

It is always concerning if you notice a decrease in your puppy’s diet or if they don’t seem interested in eating at all. Dogs need lots of nutrients, especially growing puppies and a puppy not eating could lead to significant weight loss or anorexia.

Parvovirus affects your pup’s gastrointestinal system, which makes it difficult for them to eat and hold food down, but there could be many contributing factors leading to your pup not eating so it is important to consult your veterinarian if you become concerned.

4. Fever

Fever is another common symptom associated with parvo. Just like with many illnesses, the body responds by increasing its internal temperature. Dogs naturally have a higher body temperature than humans, with the average ranging from around 99.5 and 102.5F, so anything above that range is likely a fever.

If your dog is suffering from a fever, there can be visual indicators such as red eyes, a decrease in energy, a dry nose, warm ears, coughing, and shivering, similar to that in humans.2 

If your dog is showing some of the listed signs and you’re concerned they may have a fever,  you can always use a pet thermometer to check their temperature at home. When your pup develops a fever, its immune system is trying to fight off the virus by increasing its body temperature to make it harder for the virus to survive. So if you’ve determined that your puppy has a high temperature, it is always best to take them to the vet to have them checked out for illnesses and viruses, such as parvovirus.

5. Vomiting

Similar to diarrhea, vomiting can be a resulting symptom of parvo in dogs. Some dogs have particularly sensitive stomachs, but vomiting in combination with some of the other signs can indicate a parvo infection.

There could be many reasons for your dog throwing up, but it is always best to play it safe and rule out any illnesses or possibilities that your dog ate something toxic or has been infected by a virus. If you have a young puppy who’s been throwing up, always take this indication very seriously and handle it with caution as they could be suffering from parvovirus or other viruses they haven’t had the chance to build immunity up to.

Graphic listing the signs of parvovirus in dogs

6. Depression

It can be tricky to determine if your dog is suffering from depression because unfortunately, they can’t speak up and tell you about their troubles! Knowing the signs of depression in dogs is the next best thing to them telling you themselves. One of the symptoms of parvo in a dog can be depression due to feeling sick.

Paying close attention to body language, lethargy, a decrease in appetite, or any major changes in behavior that deviate from their normal pattern could potentially mean your puppy has got the blues. If you’re worried your puppy is suffering from depression, it is always good to consult a vet so they can rule out any medical conditions. Constantly feeling sick and not being able to enjoy things as they usually would get any puppy down, and parvo can make life for your canine friend miserable, so ensure you rule out this possibility.

7. Dehydration

Water is crucial to a dog’s survival and we all know the sound of a dog slurping away at their water bowl. Dehydration occurs when the body is not getting enough water to a dangerous degree and are losing more than they are replenishing.

Since our canine friends can’t speak up and tell us when they’re thirsty, you can do some at-home tests to check. First, you can check your pup’s skin elasticity by gently pulling the skin on their backs in the area between their shoulders. If it bounces back to normal, your pup is probably getting enough liquids. If the skin seems to have difficulty getting back to its normal position, your dog may be dehydrated.

The second test is to check your dog’s gums. Your pup’s gums should be moist and if you gently put pressure onto their gums, the color should briefly turn white and then go back to normal. If not, this could be a sign that they’re dehydrated.

When parvo infects a dog, the virus travels to their intestines, causing inflammation. The inflammation and intestinal bleeding from the virus make it very difficult to ingest anything since it will usually result in vomiting. This can lead to puppies becoming dehydrated, which should be treated as an emergency situation because, without proper treatment, your dog could develop septic shock and die.

8. Septic Shock

If left untreated, parvo can quickly develop and symptoms can worsen. One of the most alarming symptoms of parvo in dogs is septic shock.

Septic shock occurs when there is an overwhelming infection in the body. When parvo enters your pup's digestive system, it can lead to inflammation and bleeding of the intestinal tract. This damage to the intestines can lead to the infection entering the bloodstream, therefore infecting the entire body.

When septic shock occurs, it can be extremely difficult to treat which is why it is so urgent to get to your vet as soon as you may suspect they have contracted parvo. Signs consistent with septic shock include hypothermia, tachycardia, and a poor or weak pulse.1

When To See A Vet

Now that you’ve got your “what are the symptoms of parvo in dogs” questions answered, your next thought may be when to take your pup to the vet if you’re concerned that they may have caught it.

If you’re worried that your puppy may have contracted parvo, either due to them showing any of the signs we mentioned above or because they may have come into contact with another dog who has contracted parvo, bring them to the vet as soon as possible. They can offer you some peace of mind and advice on how to protect your pup if the results come back as negative for the virus. If your puppy did catch parvovirus, bringing them in as early as possible can help save their life and get them the proper medical care they need.

If you suspect or have confirmed that your dog contracted parvo, it is important to strictly quarantine your pup immediately and inform others if you had any puppy playdates recently.

Graphic listing parvovirus prevention tips

Canine Parvovirus Prevention

When it comes to parvo, knowledge, and prevention are key. The best thing you can do to ensure you keep your puppy safe is to take preventative measures and know the signs and symptoms just in case. Some parvo precautionary measures include: 

  • Follow strict isolation procedures if you suspect or have confirmed your dog has contracted parvo.
  • Clean and disinfect any areas and surfaces the infected dog may have come into contact with.
  • Follow CPV vaccination guidelines at 6-8 weeks, 10-12 weeks, and 14-16 weeks of age, with a booster one-year following and another every three years after that.
  • Limit the amount of contact your dog has with other unvaccinated dogs.
  • Deworm your puppy if needed.
  • Limit the public areas you go to with your dog prior to the age of vaccination.

Canine Parvo Symptoms: Frequently Asked Questions

What are the first signs of parvo in a dog?

Initial signs that your dog may have contracted parvo are running a fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, and anorexia. These initial signs may progress and can result in vomiting and diarrhea within two days after showing their first symptom.

What does a dog with parvo look like?

The visual cues of a dog suffering from parvo can be any of the signs listed above. Knowing about the symptoms of parvo in dogs can give you a visual indication of whether your dog may be suffering from an illness or virus. If you’ve noticed your dog has been losing a significant amount of weight, eating less, and looks exhausted, you should have them checked out by a vet as soon as possible.

Does parvo come on suddenly?

Parvo doesn’t necessarily come on suddenly, but the signs and symptoms may seem to develop and worsen quickly if left untreated. Dogs infected with parvo will begin to show signs of illness after the disease’s incubation period, around 5-7 days after contracting the virus.

Graphic listing the dog breeds that are at higher risk for parvo

Are some breeds at higher risk for parvo?

Young puppies from 6 weeks to 6 months old (the period before they’re able to receive the CPV vaccine) and unvaccinated dogs are the most at risk for contracting parvovirus. Some breeds are at an increased risk for contracting parvo, including1:

  • Rottweilers
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • American Pit Bull Terriers
  • English Springer Spaniels
  • German Shepherds

Final Notes

Getting a new puppy means lots of play and fun, but it also means it is important to do what you can to keep your new best friend safe and healthy. Taking preventative measures as well as knowing the signs and symptoms of the canine parvovirus can help to ensure you and your pup have lots more fun in the future! 

Remember, if you notice any signs or have any concern that your dog may have come into contact with the virus, take your dog to the vet immediately. With Dutch, you can help you get in touch with a qualified veterinarian to help you get the care your pet needs, right from the comfort of home.

References

  1. Gallagher, Alex. “Canine Parvovirus - Digestive System.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 22 Mar. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/digestive-system/diseases-of-the-stomach-and-intestines-in-small-animals/canine-parvovirus?query=parvovirus.

  2. Staff, AKC. “Fever in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 26 Dec. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dog-fever-and-temperature/.