What is it?          Cause          Symptoms          Diagnosis          Treatment          Prevention


What is it?

Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious, air- and water-borne disease that affects dogs. It primarily affects the gastrointestinal system. If untreated, it is usually fatal. 

The virus exists in two different forms. The more common form is the intestinal form, which is characterised by vomiting, diarrhoea, weight loss, and lack of appetite (anorexia). The less common form is the cardiac form, which attacks the heart muscles of very young puppies, often leading to death. Most cases are in puppies between six weeks and six months old. The incidence of canine parvovirus infections has been reduced radically by early vaccination in young puppies.



The virus is usually spread by direct contact between two dogs. It is also transmitted by the faecal-oral route, which means that a dog can be infected through the mouth or nose (e.g. when sniffing the backside of an infected dog) or with other contact with an infected dog’s faeces (e.g. the soles of your shoes, on the road).

Reduced immunity raises the risk of contracting parvovirus and other diseases.


Symptoms usually appear after three to seven days of infection. Any of the followingsymptoms, individually or in combination, can lead to shock and death.

  • lethargy and tiredness (usually the first sign)
  • vomiting (with or without blood)
  • diarrhoea (often bloody)
  • fever
  • dehydration
  • strong and offensive faecal odour
  • distinctive body odour (in later stages)

The intestinal form of parvovirus affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, and an affected animal will quickly become dehydrated and weak from lack of proteinparvo-2 an
d fluid absorption. The wet tissue of the mouth and eyes may become noticeably red and the heart may beat too rapidly. When your veterinarian palpates (examine by touch) your dog’s abdominal area, your dog may respond with pain or discomfort. Dogs that have contracted the virus may also have a low body temperature (hypothermia), rather than a fever.



Parvovirus is diagnosed with a physical examination, biochemical tests, urine analysis, abdominal radiographs, and abdominal ultrasounds. A chemical blood profile and a complete blood cell count will also be performed. Low white blood cell levels are indicative of infection, especially in association with bloody stools.

You will need to give a thorough history of your pet’s health, recent activities, and onset of symptoms. If you can gather a sample of your dog’s stool, or vomit, your veterinarian will be able to use these samples for microscopic detection of the virus.



There is no cure for parvovirus.

Treatment is symptomatic, which means that only the symptoms can be treated.

Severe diarrhoea causes dehydration – made worse during the hot humid months – so treatment will include rehydration and nutrition using a drip recommended by your vet. These are obvious challenges in setting up a drip on the street, so you’ll need bags of initiative, a vet or paravet to set up the drip, and friend to help you stay with the dog.

Prognosis   There is a good chance of survival if the dog is treated properly and quickly. Puppies don’t yet have a fully developed immune system and are therefore more at risk. It is common for a puppy to suffer shock and sudden death.


Vaccination is the only means of prevention. The vaccine of choice is usually the same as that used for distemper: NOBIVAC – DHPPiL. DHPPiL stands for Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvo virus, Para-influenza, Leptospirosis; and the vaccine protects against all these diseases.

Household bleach is the only disinfectant known to kill the virus – use it on the soles of your shoes if there’s a chance you’ve stepped on infected faeces.





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