Canine Parvovirus Symptoms and Treatment
Is Parvo a Death Sentence for Your Dog?
Unfortunately, it can be. But the rate at which parvovirus kills has been greatly diminished in recent years due to scientific understanding on how to replace the vital elements in your dog's body that are lost in the throes of this decimating virus.
If you think your dog may have parvo, please continue reading to learn what you can, must, and should do to help them through this devastating illness.
Q: What Is Parvovirus?
Canine parvovirus is a very contagious and sometimes life-threatening viral disease that attacks rapidly dividing cells in a dog's body and manifests severely in the intestinal tract.
How Can My Dog Be Exposed to Parvo?
Dogs do not have to be taken into new surroundings to be exposed, although doing so regularly does increase the risk of contracting parvovirus. In fact, even if your dog stays in an enclosed area (such as your backyard), it may still be at risk for exposure. Some of the most common places your dog can be exposed include:
- Vet or clinic visits
- Dog parks
- Through a person who has been in contact with a sick dog
- If a contaminated dog visits your home or just enters your yard.
Although these certainly are not the only means by which your dog can contract this deadly virus, this list gives you a good idea of how easy and how wide-reaching it can be. Something as simple as a bird landing on fecal matter that contains the parvovirus and then perching on a dog's food or water dish could a source of contagion. This virus is known to stay alive and active, even in your yard, for anywhere from six months to two years. For this reason, be sure you read the section below on Cleaning Up After Parvo.
Which Dogs Are Susceptible to Parvo?
Although a dog of any age can contract the parvovirus, it most commonly affects puppies. Pups six months and younger are most susceptible. It can also affect older dogs, though dogs over a year old have a 90 percent chance of survival if proper care is provided. Older dogs experience the symptoms very mildly compared to what the pups go through. Dogs with a compromised immune system may also pick up the virus.
The best known preventative is to have your dog immunized. However, even fully immunized dogs have been known to contract the parvovirus.
Two Different Types of Parvovirus
There is an intestinal form of the virus, as well as a cardiac form.
The most common form of parvovirus attacks the intestines and causes the inner layer to slough off.
Pups under eight weeks old are more likely to suffer from the cardiac form. This form attacks the heart muscles and the symptoms and outlook is very grim for these affected puppies. It should be noted, however, that with proper care pups from eight weeks to one year old have a survival rate of around 70 percent. The signs include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Crying, gasping, or difficulty breathing
- Serious depression
- Refusal to nurse
- Sudden death
Most vets will suggest humanely euthanizing the animal instead of a "peaceful death" at home with their families due to the extreme pain and suffering they can experience until their heart stops.
Can Cats Contract Parvo?
Parvovirus is contagious to dogs only, not to humans or cats.
The First Signs of Parvo
Since the earliest signs can easily go unnoticed, you may not recognize them at all until the next stage sets in.
- Loss of appetite
- Lethargy/sleeping more than usual
- Excessive drooling
If you worry that your pup is sick, offer its absolute favorite treat. If the pup refuses the treat, you have a sick pup.
With parvo, the earlier you can begin to treat the symptoms, the better chance the dog has. The onset to the peak of the symptoms can take anywhere from a few minutes to 24 hours on average. It is also possible for the dog to begin to experience all of the symptoms at once.
When Parvo Breaks
When the virus breaks, you can expect a lot of upsetting things to occur:
- Dog quits eating and drinking
- Vomiting: Can be muscus-y, bloody, white, yellow, or green
- Diarrhea or projectile diarrhea: The stool will become very watery and is often made up of "old blood" in the intestinal tract
- Limb weakness and shaking
It is not the virus itself that can kill your beloved pet, but the dehydration and secondary infections that result from it. There should be no need to tell you that at this point, you will want to get your pet to the vet as soon as possible. Call ahead of time and letting the vet staff know that your pup may have parvo so they can be prepared and direct you toward a less-traveled entrance (to prevent exposing other animals).
Vomiting will be almost constant, even after doses of water or even IV fluids given by a vet. After water is ingested, you can expect it to be vomited up from 45 minutes to 1 hour later. You will know that your pup is on the mend when they go much longer between bouts.
This stage is the worst, not to mention by far the most dangerous to your pet's survival. The second stage of parvo, marked by the first time your dog suffers from projectile or bloody diarrhea, can last anywhere from 4 to 10 days.
How Long Will the Worst Last?
The second stage of parvo, marked by the first time your dog suffers from projectile or bloody diarrhea, can last anywhere from 4 to 10 days.
What to Expect at the Vet
The sooner you get to the vet, the better chance of survival your dog has. At the vet, your dog will likely:
- Be stool-tested.
- Receive intravenous fluids—don't freak out over the bubble it puts on the back of their neck because this hump will provide them fluids when needed, sort of like a camel.
- Be tested for dehydration—you too can do this test at home, so watch how the vet pulls and releases the loose skin up on their back: The slower this skin snaps back, the more dehydrated, and in danger, your pup is.
At this point, if your dog's heath is in a critical stage, you will want to discuss two very real possibilities with the vet:
Don't panic. Your vet will likely tell you, and hopefully with compassion, what they would do if the dog were their own. Although it doesn't happen with regularity, some animals can suffer from an enlarged heart or painful nervous conditions as side effects.
Should your dog begin to show signs that your very touch is extremely painful, you may want to seriously consider ending their misery as humanely as possible.
If however, your dog is just severely dehydrated, and your schedule will not allow you to nurse them, hospitalization may be the only option.
Meds the Vet May Administer
If your dog was vomiting before you took it to the vet, the vet may give it a shot to help control the nausea. Be sure to take advantage of this time to get some fluids in it when you get home if they do not give IV fluids at the vet office. If they do, do not force any more fluids. The vet will likely administer:
- Cerenia, an anti-nausea medication
- Metronidazole, an antibiotic
- Proviable, a probiotic
Be aware that your vet may use different brands of these medications. They, along with a few items you can purchase at any grocery store, can and likely will mean the difference between your dog's survival and its very untimely death.
Parvaid: A Miracle Option for Dogs with Parvo?
An organic herbal food supplement has been tried and proven to help. It is also known to be highly beneficial to dogs who have other intestinal problems. Made by a highly resourceful herbalist, this remedy (or series of remedies) helps to replenish the vital vitamins and minerals your dog loses due to vomiting and diarrhea stages of a parvo reaction. It is well known to not only save the lives of dogs on whom other remedies and medications have not worked, but to also greatly shorten the time your animal suffers from this illness.
Important: Stay Hydrated!!!
Post-Vet Care at Home
While visiting the vet, the vet will probably suggest that you have these items on hand at home:
- Chicken baby food
- Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate (for dogs)
- Cooked chicken
- Cooked rice
- Eye dropper
- Unscented puppy pads
- Bleach (mixed with water 1:10 as a cleaning solution)
Although it may seem like quite a list, many of these items you will already have available in your home.
If your pet has gone a long time without eating, you may want to consider purchasing a tube of Nutri-Cal. This can be squirted as small dollops on their noses and they most likely will lick it off. This can replenish depleting nutrients that they need since they are not getting them from their usual food source.
You May Be Solely Responsible for Nursing Your Dog Back to Life
You will need to be prepared to care for your pup about every three hours, even at night. Not doing so can cause a dog that is very dehydrated to take a sudden turn and pass on before you can get fluids in them. Do not let them go 6 to 8 hours without being offered liquids.
If your vet has given you a few different medications, be sure to write down their dosage times. Do not rely on your memory since you are likely to be experiencing a bit of chaos for the next few days.
You will be making use of all those things you purchased at the grocery store now.
Make Sure Dog Stays Hydrated
Whenever possible, offer your pup Pedialyte in place of water, even though it has a sweet taste and some dogs may turn up their nose to it because it doesn't smell like water. If this is an issue, offer the dog water. The point is to stay as hydrated as possible, the Pedialyte just helps to replace the electrolytes lost during vomiting and diarrhea. If you do not have Pedialyte handy, you can substitute Gatorade highly cut to around 1/10 with water. Although it isn't created to help weak tummies in babies like Pedialyte is, it does have the vital electrolytes that your pup needs to survive.
If your pup absolutely will not drink, there is one more thing you can try. Fill a small, light-colored bowl (salad size) with water and pour in one teaspoon of milk. The light bowl prevents them from seeing that the water is altered, and for some reason many dogs will take water, even if they really don't want to, if it has a bit of milk in it. This is NOT the best idea as if the pup is fevered and hasn't had food on their belly for a while, as milk can turn the stomach a bit. However, an upset tummy is better than a dehydrated dog.
Also keep in mind that no dog should go more than 24 hours without some water or Pedialyte. If you have tried all of the tricks and your pup hasn't had water in an entire day, call your vet and ask if you can bring it in for IV fluids. Many vets are kind enough to offer this service at a fee of around $10 to $20 dollars, without charging for an office visit. Never hesitate to ask!
You May Need to Force Fluids
If you get to the point where the dog is no longer taking water willingly, and the vet is not an option or you feel the situation is an emergency one, you can use the eyedropper you purchased to force a bit of water into your dog. However, if it comes to where you are forcing fluid intake, it would be better to use Pedialyte instead of water. This way your pup gets fluids and electrolytes. If you have to force it, may as well force the most beneficial liquids on them.
Drinking Again? Slow it Down
Parvo is a horrible and sometimes deadly roller coaster ride. Even though your pup may feel a bit better one moment, doesn't mean it can go free-for-all in the water bowl. Not only can drinking loads of water after a dry spell cause the tummy to spasm, a pup can quickly backpedal on their recovery if a barely healing tummy begins to spasm and vomit its contents again.
It may be very hard to pull your obviously thirsty pup away from the water dish, but not doing so can turn one ounce of recovery into a deadly game of sympathy.
I mean reaaalllly stinky poop.
One of the most concrete signs of the virus is when your pet's stool turns into a brown or red watery liquid. The other side effect is that it really stinks, far more than usual. You may be thinking to yourself, well, all poop stinks doesn't it. Yes, it does, but once you smell a parvo poop, you will definitely notice the difference.
It will be very important to you, of course, to prevent your pup from releasing any of this seriously smelly poop inside your home. In order to have the best chance of preventing this, be sure to keep an eye on your pup for when they get restless, move around, or look for corners or dark places in your home. The best thing you can do is offer to take them outside every time they do perk up. Chances are during the parvo stint, if they are moving, they are about to poop or vomit.
With parvo, it seems that often the real symptoms, or the heaviest part of the illness, do not truly kick in until they release this toxic smelling poop. After this begins, you can plan on another 4 to 9 days of pup nursing.
Stay Clean and Prevent the Spread of Parvovirus
When your pup begins to get ill with this virus you will want to go ahead and drag out all of the old towels, rags, and carpet or upholstery cleaning items. When your pup begins to get sick, gently urge them towards the door or to the area in your house where vomit may be the easiest to clean. Doing so right off the bat will quickly train the pup to head to those areas, or to run to the door when they are about to vomit. However, this is only if your pup is able to stand and walk. Many dogs with parvo will not be able to stand or obey your rules and you must be prepared to keep towels, rags, or items you are willing to wash or dispose of around their head and neck area.
You can expect, like slightly broken clockwork, that after every ingestion of fluids, your pup will likely expel them. Often they will actually have a bit of spit up right after drinking, and then 45 minutes to 2 hours later, the rest will follow. But even if they are seemingly vomiting up every bit of liquid they drank, they are still keeping some extremely vital water in them, even if just a little bit.
Make a habit of grabbing a towel quickly to clean up any accidents, and there will be many. Follow up by using a spray bottle with the bleach mix to coat the soiled area, then let it air dry. You can also use the puppy pads to create a nest for your pet. Puppy pads have waterproof plastic on them to help prevent your furniture, carpet, or flooring from absorbing the water from the vomit.
Should I Bleach the Yard?
Even once your dog's health begins to improve, you need to stay vigilant about cleaning up the areas it may have soiled with virus. You should even take a bleach mix and a hose to clean the areas of your yard your dog may have used. Parvovirus has been known to live up to 2 years in the environment and the only thing that will kill it is bleach.
Help! My Dog's Head Is Shaking!
If you see your dog's head shaking, you may panic and wonder if he/she is having a seizure. Most likely, however, this head shaking is due to hypoglycemia—which means they are not getting their daily sugars. The head shaking can be stopped by giving your pet a half teaspoon of sugar in a bowl of water once per day.
Generalized Parvo Timeline
- Day 1: Exposure to the virus
- Days 2–5: Pup shows first signs (not eating, drooling, etc.)
- Days 3–6: Projectile (or very watery) stool begins
- Days 4–10: Virus runs its course with periods of extreme depression, lethargy, dehydration, and vomiting
- Days 5–21: Pup slowly recovers, begins showing interest in food, stops vomiting, stool slowly begins to harden.
Don't Forget the Love!
Human touch is vital to healing. Even if they look at you as if they could go the rest of their lives without your touch, don't let there be a chance that happens. Touch them, croon to them, sing to them, baby-talk to them, do anything and everything you can do to get a perk of the ears, a lifted head, or a noticeable glare. The important part is that they know they are loved. Dogs that are extremely ill can be just like any other mammals, including humans, and just get to a point where they would like to give up. You may even recognize this in their eyes. There is nothing harder to witness. But DO NOT GIVE UP!!!
Keep forcing those fluids, cleaning those messes, and baby-talking until your dog is so angry they look ready to bite. Do anything and everything you can do to keep their spirits up, even if their spirit is sort of cranky at the moment. That spark, that fire, and the fight to want to live may be the most vital part of their survival.
What if the Medicines, Vet, and Nursing Don't Help?
If you do all of these things and still lose your pup, the first thing you must do is grieve. Who cares if people think you a little odd for crying over a pup you had for only x months or weeks? Remember that you did your absolute best, and ignore any judgmental comments you may hear.
Also, be sure you clean your house, your entire property, and anything exposed to the parvovirus with a fairly strong bleach mixture before you consider bringing any other dogs back into your home.
As you have just bore witness to exactly how ravaging this virus can be, you are certainly likely to be first in line when it comes to wanting to prevent this from occurring to any other dogs. Until you can kill this virus, let friends and family members know that your home is not safe for their dogs.
I am no expert but have researched and used many different methods for keeping a parvo dog hydrated, the most important thing. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments here and I will reply within a few hours.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.