Oh No, It’s Parvo!

By Treyton (Jai) Diggs, DVM

I purchased my first beagles when I was 14 years old. They were a mother and daughter, after I had purchased them I couldn’t wait to hit the woods with them. We returned home so late from getting them I couldn’t hunt them. But I had every intention to hunt the next day after I got out of football practice. I got off the bus and ran in the house changed clothes, grabbed my gun and dogs and off we went. My cousin and I met in woods after walking for a while we jumped a rabbit and the race began. We killed one rabbit that evening.  I attempted to catch the oldest dog but she ran away. We stayed in the woods trying too catch her for hours. After many failed attempts we went home. I woke up early the next morning early to go look for her before school, but was unsuccessful. After several days I found her hit by a car. A few months had passed and it was spring and a buddy had a good male so we bred our dogs together. I had a litter of six pups at about seven weeks of age I noticed that they had droopy eyes, had a lot of saliva hanging from their mouths, and they weren’t as playful. That evening I smelled a horrible smell but didn’t see anything. I sat there and watched them for a while and that’s when I saw one have bloody diarrhea. This was my first experience with Parvo. Unfortunately, we only saved two pups. But this one experience was a life lesson that I never wanted to experience again.


Parvo Virus is a highly contagious diease of mainly puppies and young dogs but dogs of any age can contract this disease. Parvo is probably one of the most common infectious disorders of dogs and is also the most prevalent virus in dogs with infectious diarrhea. This disease was first seen in the early to mid-70’s. The initial strain has since mutated several times. The most commonly seen strains in North America are types 2b & 2c. A Canine Parvo Virus infection does not always result in apparent disease. Many dogs that become naturally infected never develop overt clinical disease signs especially in the presence of maternal antibodies. When an infection does occur it is most severe in young rapidly growing dogs. Canine Parvo Virus is highly contagious and most infections occur as a result of contact with contaminated feces. This infection may also be spread by the oronasal route (having contact with fluids or discharge from the mouth or nose). In addition, humans, instruments/tools, and rodents can severe as vectors (means by which the disease can be transmitted). Given the right atmosphere dogs can carry this virus on their coats for extended periods. The initial incubation periods were 7-14 days but with the new mutated strains they can be as short as 4-5 days. Infections can occur at any age but most occur between the ages of six weeks and six months.


Once a dog is infected with Parvo, the disease spreads rapidly through the body through the lymphoid tissue and then the small intestine. Once in the small intestine, it attacks microscopic fingerlike projections called villi by way of the intestinal crypts. These villi are responsible for absorbing water. Once infected with Parvo Virus these projections are damaged and shortened therefore compromising their ability to absorb water and nutrients properly. Bloody diarrhea is the result of the damage the virus does to villi which line the small intestine. Other body systems or tissue in the body affected by Parvo are the skin, nervous, bone marrow, and the myocardium (heart muscle).

Clinical Signs of Parvo Virus

1) Vomiting

2) Diarrhea (bloody foul smelling)

3) Inappetence

4) Dehydration

5) Depression

6) Lethargy

7) Excessive Drooling

8) Hypothermia


Prevention of this disease is mainly associated with proper vaccination and management. Many think that once they give one vaccine that it protects their pup, but this often not the case. The main reason a pup may not get proper immunity from a vaccine is primarily due to the presence of maternal antibodies (the antibodies pups receive from their mother’s milk). This is why we booster puppy vaccines, this increases the likelihood that pups will get adequate protection against this virus. It is recommended that pups be vaccinated at 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 12 weeks and 16 weeks (notice that pups aren’t vaccinated less than two weeks apart). If you suspect that your pup has Parvo please isolate it from others and take it to your veterinarian as soon as possible. Please never vaccinate a pup that you think has Parvo as you are more than likely making the situation worse. because you are going to challenge the immune system in a pup that is already sick. Choosing a quality vaccine is very important and cost should not be the determining factor of choice. Most quality vaccines will protect your pup from the initial Parvo Virus strain and the newer mutated strains.


If you have this disease in your kennel I recommend disinfecting with a 1/10 bleach solution. Any dog showing signs of the virus should be removed and isolated from all other dogs. Any cages or runs occupied by this dog should be disinfected daily and left vacant for at least 2-3 weeks. In some areas Parvo can live in the soil for years so if you don’t have a hard surfaced kennel or brooder it may be very hard for you to completely sanitize your kennel. The most important aspect of disinfection is contact time, disinfecting solutions should be allowed to contact with the pre cleaned surface for at least 15 minutes.


Many of us spend a great deal of time planning breedings and traveling all over with hopes of making or producing the next champion and there is nothing more heartbreaking than to watch a pup or young dog suffer through the effects of Parvo Virus.  But with the right education, habits and vaccination protocols this can be greatly decreased in our kennels.


Author: dan

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