Parvo Affects More Than Just Puppies. Learn the Signs of This Deadly Disease

We are all acutely aware of Parvo and its dangers. Just recently, new strains have been discovered that our current vaccines do not prevent, making the disease even more scary. You know it can be deadly to your dog, but do you even know what it is? Do you know the signs to watch for? Not knowing could cost your dog her life.

What is Parvo

If your puppy is not acting like himself, take him to the vet immediately.
If your puppy is not acting like himself, take him to the vet immediately.

Parvoviruses are actually a large group of viruses that effect nearly all mammals. The interesting thing is that each species seems to have their own group of viruses (meaning you can’t get your puppy’s parvo or vice versa)…until recently. In 2000, one of the canine strains mutated in such a way that cats were also becoming infected. The virus mutates often, making it impossible to have a vaccine that covers all strains (just like the human flu shot). (

Signs of Parvo

It is important to note that while parvo is most common in puppies, older dogs can also catch the disease. Senior dogs and puppies have the greatest risk of death.

Regardless of your dog’s age, you should be aware of the symptoms. If you have a puppy, keep an eye out for these symptoms, especially one from a disreputable place.

Look For:

  • Lethargy
  • Listlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Rapid Heart Beat
  • Wet tissue of the mouth & eyes bright red in color
  • Vomiting (followed by blood in vomit)
  • Diarrhea (followed by blood in diarrhea)

If you see any of these signs, TAKE YOUR DOG TO THE VET IMMEDATIELY. Parvo can take a dog quickly, especially if they are small or have a weak immune system.

“It is so important to catch it early because it’s often fatal,” Dr. Petryk from Trupanion Pet Insurance explains. “It progresses so rapidly. The pet’s prognosis is much better if caught quickly, but can be much harder to treat once the pet is severely depressed/dehydrated.”

Prevention Tips

While Parvo is scary, and there is no way to prevent all exposure, there are things you can do to reduce the risk. Dr. Petryk offers some valuable tips based on her experience as a veterinarian.

  • Get your pet vaccinated by your veterinarian. If you are a new puppy owner, establish a great relationship with a local veterinarian right away.
  • Do not go to public parks, dog parks, other parks, or public walkways . . .  it is THERE that vulnerable puppies are exposed to the virus. The virus survives for an extremely long time in its environment. Puppy noses love to sniff, the virus gets on the nose, the puppy licks his nose and BAM – they get exposed to the disease.
  • A puppy’s immune system is not mature and strong until at least SIX months old.  Protect your puppy and play in your own backyard or someone else’s backyard  (a controlled environment) until the puppy is at least six months old.
  • Never meet someone in a parking lot to pick up your puppy. You need to see the environment where the puppy lives. Just be sure to know where your puppy is coming from. For example, some online postings (such as Craigslist) are created by those running puppy mills, and the immune systems of puppy mill puppies are particularly bad.
  • Avoid getting your puppy from far away (purchasing it over the internet and having him shipped by plane, for example). The travel to your home is very stressful and stresses the immune system AND this is yet another way that puppy mills stay in business.
  • Be sure and/or try to get proof that the puppy’s parents were vaccinated.
  • Get pet insurance EARLY when your puppy is young and has had no gastroenteritis.

While there is no way to get rid of parvo, we can all help reduce the number of fatalities by keeping our pets vaccinated, watching for symptoms, and immediately taking action if we see any signs of it in our puppy, or even someone else’s.

About the Author

Based in Tustin, Calif., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She also owns her own custom pet products company, A Fairytail House, where she makes personalized collars, leashes, beds, keepsake pillows and blankets, and anything else your imagine can think up. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs.

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