puppy at vet with parvo symptoms

Parvo Symptoms, Signs, Prevention, and Treatment

Parvovirus (often known simply as parvo) is a deadly virus which can cause severe illness in young and unvaccinated dogs. We wanted to do our bit by outlining parvo symptoms, signs, and what you can do to treat and prevent parvo.

The Facebook posts of animal shelter HUHA show a concerning recent increase in parvo cases across a number of areas in New Zealand. The influx has led the passionate animal welfare advocate to mention on socials that it’s planning a parvo outreach project to help increase awareness and stop the spread.

But what exactly is parvo, what are the parvo symptoms and signs, and what should you do if you suspect a dog has contracted it?

What is parvo?

Parvovirus is a virus which usually attacks the gastrointestinal tract and occasionally the heart, says Manukau vet clinic. Parvo is a highly resistant virus and can withstand extreme temperatures as well as common disinfectants. This means that when there’s an outbreak, it can spread quickly.

Parvo is transmitted through the vomit and faeces of an infected dog. It survives in faeces for around two weeks, but can survive for months on floors, cages, clothes, and more.

So, if you touch an object, ground surface (grass and soil too!) or something else contaminated with the parvo virus, your hands or shoes could carry the virus for a long time thereafter. Especially as it’s a very difficult virus to kill.

The same goes for your dog. And we all know dogs like to sniff, lick and rub themselves up against a ton of stuff on walkies…

A dog of any age can get parvo, but it’s more prevalent in puppies and young dogs. There’s a particularly high-risk window between 8 and 16 weeks of age.

Unvaccinated dogs are also high risk – that’s why the canine parvovirus vaccine is one of the core vaccines for dogs. It should be part of your routine pet care schedule.

How serious is parvo?

Parvo can be very serious and even fatal for dogs. Prompt treatment is necessary to help your puppy or dog fight the virus off.

HUHA says, “parvo is an incredibly contagious killer in dogs. It is a hard, expensive and distressing road to recovery for those that get treatment in time. And a sad and painful death for those that don’t.”

If your dog or puppy contracts parvo, there is treatment available. The earlier you catch it, the better their chances of survival. Parvo isn’t an automatic death sentence. With prompt veterinary treatment, survival rates are often as high as 90%.

However, any suspected parvo cases should be taken very seriously. A significant number of dogs who sadly pass away. A delay in treatment times can make a huge difference to your dog’s chances.

What parvo symptoms should I look out for?

A dog who has parvovirus will usually display parvo symptoms 3-7 days after infection with the virus. One of the very first signs is lethargy and a lack of appetite. Fever is commonly (but not always) seen in the early stages too.

Other parvo symptoms include:

  • Diarrhoea (sometimes bloody)
  • Bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Dehydration


In very severe cases, the dog or puppy might collapse. They sometimes also display a very high heart rate and hypothermia, due to severe dehydration and sepsis.

this brown and white puppy is showing lethargy, one of the first parvo symptoms

If a dog displays parvo symptoms, what should I do?

If your dog or puppy displays parvo symptoms, you need to act quickly. Visit a vet as soon as possible, and alert them to the fact that you suspect parvo.

This will enable them to not only treat your dog quickly, but warns them to put infection control measures in place so if parvo is confirmed the spread can be contained. They will want to avoid putting other animals at risk.

Your vet will likely want to hospitalise your furkid and use IV fluids to help nurse them back to health. This is expensive, but means they can be monitored 24/7. Most dogs with parvo struggle to keep oral medications down, so a drip can help to hydrate them again.

After your dog has been diagnosed with parvo, you’ll need to clean your environment to try to kill the vaccine. Bleach should be used on any surface which can withstand it, such as floors, crates, and counters.

For lawn, fabric, and other surfaces that can’t be bleached you should steam clean wherever possible. In shaded areas, the virus could survive for more than six months. Warm or sunny areas may be safe within a month or so.

It’s so important for dog owners to understand just how contagious it is and what they need to do to keep their pets safe.

Can parvo be prevented?

As mentioned, the parvo vaccine is considered a core vaccine for dogs. The vaccine is highly effective in significantly reducing the risk of contagion to dogs that are fully vaccinated.

Fully vaccinated adult dogs are also likely to have better immune systems than young dogs and puppies, so their chances of survival are better if they are unlucky enough to catch it.

“Vaccinating your dog is not a guarantee, but it is your best chance of keeping your fur baby safe from parvovirus,” says HUHA. “If your pup or dog is not fully vaccinated do not take him to a public area or street where other dogs are likely to have been and toileted.

“Keeping him in your bubble is not enough. Even if he has no direct contact with other dogs, the virus is extremely contagious and they can pick it up through indirect contact with objects or surfaces that have been contaminated with infected faeces….even your shoes!”

If your pup looks subdued, is vomiting or has diarrhoea (especially if there’s blood), isolate your situation. Call your vet immediately. They should make time for you and if they’re too busy to help, call another. There are many success stories about dogs surviving parvo, especially if treated early.

Parvo and pet insurance

One of the most devastating realities of parvo is that treatment, while available, is often expensive. Stuff reports that the vet bill for a dog with parvo can often run between $1,000 and $2,000. As a result, some dog owners make the heartbreaking decision to euthanise due to the expense.

This is where pet insurance can be invaluable, allowing you to get the lifesaving treatment your dog or puppy needs in an emergency. View our dog insurance plans here, and read our article “How Expensive Is Pet Insurance? for a better understanding of the costs associated with a pet insurance policy.

Parvo symptoms – over to you

Have you ever had a puppy or dog with parvo? What symptoms alerted you to it, and what steps did you take to clear the environment of the virus? Let us know in the comments.

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