Canine parvovirus made the news in DogWatch’s home state of Massachusetts in September, when an outbreak of the virus killed 15 dogs in the city of Lowell and infected hundreds more throughout the state. Outbreaks of the virus were also reported recently in Indiana and New Jersey. Parvovirus (parvo for short) is a very contagious infection that affects a dog’s gastrointestinal tract. It is often fatal, especially to young dogs, but it is also easily preventable. Here are some facts about parvo, and some tips to protect your dog from the virus.

Three puppiesHow is parvo spread?

Parvo is spread from one dog to another via direct or indirect contact with an infected dog’s feces. The virus can survive in the environment of an infected dog, meaning a contaminated leash, bowl, kennel, bed or even his owner’s clothing and shoes could potential spread the virus. Humans cannot contract parvo from dogs. Urban areas may see more outbreaks due to the denser population of dogs and the presence of more stray dogs. Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, American Pit Bull Terriers, English Springer Spaniels and German Shepherds are believed to be at increased risk of infection with parvo.

Symptoms and Treatment

Symptoms of parvo include lethargy, decreased appetite, vomiting, fever and bloody diarrhea. Colin Parrish, Professor of Virology at the Baker Institute for Animal Health, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and an expert on parvovirus, writes: “If you suspect your dog has parvovirus, take him or her to the veterinarian as quickly as possible. There are diagnostic tests the vet can perform in the clinic using a swab or a fecal sample. If the dog is infected they’ll be able to tell right away, and early supportive treatment will give the best outcomes.” Meanwhile, infected areas of the home will need to cleaned thoroughly with a solution of one part bleach to 32 parts water, in order to disinfect the area.

Even with aggressive treatment, however, parvo can be fatal. This is especially true for young dogs. They have still-developing immune systems that are often not strong enough to fight off the infection.


Veterinarian giving dog a vaccineThe best way to avoid infection, long vet hospital stays, high vet bills and possibly the death of a pet is quite simple – vaccination. At 6-8 weeks old, puppies can receive a combination vaccine that protects against parvo and other canine diseases, including canine distemper virus, leptospirosis, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and coronavirus. Four “boosters” are generally recommended every 2-4 weeks until the puppy reaches 16 weeks. After 16 weeks, boosters are typically recommended annually to maintain protection.

If you are unsure whether parvo was included in your dog’s vaccination protocol, consult your veterinarian. And if you are bringing a new dog home, be sure to inquire about their vaccination history and schedule a vet appointment right away to fill in any gaps. For puppies too young for a parvo vaccine, consider keeping them in the home or away from other dogs until they are old enough for the vaccine.

Finally, if you or someone you know is having trouble affording the cost of vaccinations for their dog, consult your local animal shelter or animal hospital. Many organizations offer discounted vaccinations for pets in their community, sponsoring clinics at local vet hospitals, vet schools or in neighborhoods via mobile pet clinics. The Humane Society of the United States has a state-by-state list of these resources. The risk of a parvo outbreak decreases with every vaccinated dog. Keeping your dog protected from parvo not only helps her stay healthy, but also protects the dogs in your community.

Photo Credit, Top Left: “3 puppies from the same litter: Miss Bambie Buttram, Miss Fuzzy Orange, and Miss Rose Alice Lane, without their brother Blue, Resturant [sic], Baja, Mexico” by WonderlaneCC2.0Rescue dog Bambie, far left, contracted parvo as a puppy, but survived thanks to treatment by a veterinarian.