Warning Signs of Parvo in Dogs and Pups

Vet holding sick pup during an examination

Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious, deadly virus, and just the mention of it strikes fear in a dog owner's heart. By the time the symptoms show, an affected puppy or dog is seriously ill and in dire need of veterinary care. Being able to recognize the signs of parvo is crucial if you're going to have any chance to save your pet's life.

Parvo Symptoms

Parvo symptoms vary depending on which type of parvo a dog contracts, intestinal or cardiac. According to the ASPCA, the disease has an incubation period of roughly four to six days, and an infected dog may begin to shed the virus in its stool before the first symptoms appear. The virus is easily transmitted by contact with an infected dog or its feces, contact with contaminated food and water dishes, and any other items a sick dog came in contact with.

Signs of Intestinal Parvovirus

Intestinal parvovirus is the most common form of parvo. This strain infects the bloodstream and attacks the lining of the digestive tract, bone marrow and cells. The intestines deteriorate and release bacteria into the bloodstream, further complicating an already serious problem.

According to Pets WebMD, dogs can display any combination of the following symptoms.

  • A high fever
  • Lethargy or depression
  • Abdominal pain
  • Odd or especially foul fecal odor

As the virus continues to damage the intestinal lining, the dog will become weaker and begin to exhibit far more serious symptoms, including:

  • Bloody, foul-smelling, mucus-filled diarrhea
  • Severe vomiting
  • Rapid dehydration
  • Shock

Cardiac Parvovirus

In rare cases, the parvovirus will head straight for the heart and attack the tissues and vessels. This causes massive internal bleeding that leads to death. The cardiac form of parvo is usually transmitted to unborn pups via the uterus of an infected mother.

According to Vet Arena.com, cardiac parvo symptoms come on quite rapidly and include:

  • Gasping for breath
  • Weakness
  • Crying
  • No interest in nursing
  • Heart inflammation and an irregular beat

Unfortunately, there is really nothing you can do in a case like this, and affected puppies die quite suddenly.


Sick puppy

An infected dog needs prompt treatment for the best outcome. While there is no cure for parvo, the veterinarian will put the dog on an IV to fight dehydration and malnutrition, and provide other supportive treatment as deemed necessary.


Since treatment measures are fairly limited, prevention is incredibly important to protect your dog from contracting parvovirus. All dogs should be vaccinated against this virus on a schedule recommended by a veterinarian. Failure to vaccinate leaves your dog at risk to contract the virus every time he meets another dog or takes a walk in public. This scenario may seem dramatic, but parvo is a very dramatic illness that
can turn fatal very quickly.

Act Fast

If you notice any symptoms in your dog that resemble parvo, don't wait to see if he gets better. Take him to your vet right away in order to get a proper diagnosis. With quick intervention, you may be able to save your pet from a miserable death. If you bring home a new puppy, be sure to keep up with his vaccinations. It is better to be proactive than risk the life of your pet.

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Warning Signs of Parvo in Dogs and Pups