Parvovirus- what you need to know

If you have a dog, in particular, a puppy, you need to make sure it’s vaccinated against canine parvovirus (parvo).

It is a potentially fatal virus, picked up from contact with another infected dog or indirectly via contaminated objects. The good news is, it is preventable. By getting your dog vaccinated against parvo you are protecting them against this, often deadly, disease.

What is parvovirus?

Also known as parvo or CPV, canine parvovirus is a nasty virus that causes severe vomiting, dehydration and diarrhoea in dogs. Unfortunately, it is still commonly seen in the UK, and if left untreated, it is often fatal, particularly in puppies.  

Your dog or puppy can pick up parvo if he ingests, licks or sniffs contaminated faeces or vomit from an infected dog. It can also be transferred from object to object. For example, if a human has been in contact with an infected dog and touches a food or water bowl, lead or toy, the virus can be transferred. It is highly contagious and can survive outside for up to a year.  

It is a disease of the stomach and small intestine. This is where the most damage occurs. Parvo mainly attacks the small intestine where it disrupts the gut barrier, destroys cells and prevents essential nutrients from being absorbed. In puppies, it can also cause problems with bone marrow, lymphopoietic tissues, and the heart.

What are parvo symptoms?

It can take up to seven days for your dog to become ill after becoming infected. The following symptoms may indicate your dog has canine parvovirus:

  • Severe sickness
  • Malodorous diarrhoea containing blood
  • Dehydration and weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Collapse and sudden death

If your dog has any of the parvo symptoms listed above and you suspect they may have caught this virus, you must get them to a vet immediately.

Why does canine parvovirus affect puppies so badly?

When puppies are first born, they will have some immunity to parvo as they will have antibodies passed on from their mother, assuming she was fully vaccinated. When they reach six weeks and beyond, their immune systems are not yet strong enough to fight the virus because they are young. They will become weak and dehydrated very quickly. It is an extremely serious condition for any dog that has not been vaccinated or had their boosters but is particularly dangerous for puppies aged between six weeks and six months.

Can I prevent my dog from getting parvovirus?

Luckily, canine parvovirus is fully preventable if you have your dog vaccinated and keep up to date with future booster injections. Puppies are vaccinated against parvo at approximately 6, 8 and 12 weeks, and then again at one year.

It’s important you keep them away from any other dogs and do not walk them in public places until the first three vaccinations are completed.

Adult dogs are normally vaccinated annually, but this can vary. Your vet will be able to advise you on how regularly your dog will need a booster.

What should I do if I suspect my dog has parvovirus?

You will need to call your vet immediately and let them know you suspect parvo. The quicker you get your dog to your vet, the better their chance of recovery. Most deaths happen between 48-72 hours after symptoms begin, so time is of the essence.

Unfortunately, there is no cure, but your vet can use drugs to support the immune system to fight off the virus. Your dog will be most likely be admitted into intensive care and treatment will be difficult and expensive.

It is worth reiterating that this is a preventable illness. By vaccinating your puppy or dog and keeping up-to-date with booster injections, you are ensuring your dog will not have to suffer this terrible and serious illness.


If you have an Agria Pet Insurance policy, you can access the free Pet Health Helpline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The veterinary-trained team will advise on any concerns or queries that you may have over your pet’s health – much like the NHS 111 service for people. Call free on 03333 32 19 47.