Parvovirus in dogs


  • Parvovirus is a virus that causes severe illness and death in dogs. It damages the lining of the guts, resulting in severe diarrhoea and vomiting. It also attacks infection-fighting cells within the bone marrow, which weakens the immune system.
  • It’s a highly contagious virus and can live for many years in the environment.
  • The only way to protect your dog against parvovirus is by vaccinating them as a puppy and then regularly throughout their life.

What is parvovirus?

Parvovirus (also known as parvo, canine parvovirus, or CPV) is a virus that causes severe illness and death in dogs. It damages the lining of the intestines, causing severe vomiting and diarrhoea. It also attacks infection-fighting cells inside the bone marrow, which weakens the immune system making it very difficult for dogs to recover. Parvovirus is especially serious in unvaccinated dogs and puppies less than six months old because their immune systems aren’t as well developed and so are less able to fight the virus.

Illustration showing parvovirus in dogs

How do dogs get parvo?

Most dogs catch parvovirus while they are out exploring. It’s shed in the poo of infected dogs three to four days after they are infected, then for a couple of weeks after their symptoms clear up. Unfortunately, it can then survive in the environment for months to years – meaning it can be found almost anywhere that dogs go, such as gardens, parks and fields. It can also travel in dirt, so can be found on the bottom of shoes, inside houses, on dog leads, collars, bowls, clothes, toys, and even on human hands.

Most dogs are exposed to parvovirus at some point in their life, so the only way to protect them is through regular vaccination.

Illustration showing how parvo is spread

Symptoms of parvo in dogs

Symptoms of parvovirus usually take three to seven days to appear and include:

Diagnosing parvovirus in dogs

Testing for parvo isn’t always necessary because the symptoms are usually very obvious. However, if needed, it can be diagnosed using a quick poo test that gives a result in approximately 15 minutes. This test is usually very accurate, but if the result isn’t what your vet expected, they may want to check it by sending some poo away to a lab.

Your vet might also run blood tests to check levels of infection-fighting cells and to test for anaemia from blood loss.


There is no cure, so dogs with parvovirus need very intensive care and medications to control their symptoms while their body tries to fight the infection. Treatment usually includes:

A fluid drip – fluids and electrolytes given directly into the bloodstream to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalances caused by severe diarrhoea and vomiting.

Antibiotics Antibiotics won’t kill parvovirus but are often used to protect against other infections during recovery.

Anti-sickness medication – it’s likely that your dog will be given anti-sickness medication to stop them from feeling nauseous and vomiting.

Feeding – your dog probably won’t want to eat anything at all while they are poorly with parvovirus and, even if they do, it’s likely that they’ll vomit most of it back up. However, it is important that they have a small amount of food in their tummy, to give their intestines the energy to repair. If your dog isn’t able to eat they may need to be fed by a syringe or stomach tube.

Cleaning – dogs with parvovirus need round-the-clock care to keep them clean from vomit and diarrhoea. They also need to be kept in an isolation ward, away from other pets. This will prevent the spread of parvovirus as well as stop them from picking up any other infections.

Warmth – dogs with parvovirus often have poor circulation and become very cold, so their temperature will be closely monitored and managed.

Caring for a dog recovering from parvovirus

If your dog has recovered enough to return home, you will need to continue nursing them while they fully recover:

Isolation – your dog will still be infectious for two to four weeks after they have recovered, so it’s vitally important that you keep them away from other dogs and public spaces for this time.

Monitoring – your dog might still have diarrhoea for a few days after they return home, but this should steadily improve. However, if it continues, they start vomiting again, won’t eat, or seem lethargic (low in energy), contact your vet for advice.

Food – your dog will probably be very hungry after not eating properly for a few days, but it’s important not to let them eat too much in one go. Instead, you’ll need to regularly offer them small amounts of bland food - your vet will tell you which food is best.

Water – offer your dog water regularly, but don’t force them to drink if they don’t want to.

Toileting – your dog will need to go to the toilet very regularly so give them constant access to somewhere they can wee and poo, and clear up their poo as thoroughly as possible to prevent the virus from spreading.

Rest – make sure they get lots of rest in a comfortable, warm bed – they won’t need any walks while they recover.

Other pets – other pets that are up to date with their vaccines are at a low risk of contracting the virus. If you have any unvaccinated pets, have them vaccinated straight away and keep them completely separate from your poorly dog for at least a month after they have recovered (and you’ve had a chance to disinfect everything). Parvovirus can remain in the environment for months to years, and it’s almost impossible to remove it all even after disinfection, so don’t bring any dogs or cats into your home unless they are fully vaccinated (especially puppies and kittens).

Bathing – once they are well enough, you can bathe your dog to reduce the amount of virus on their fur. Only do so if it doesn’t stress them out, make sure you use warm (not hot) water, and dry them off thoroughly afterwards with a towel so they don’t get cold.

Vaccines – once your dog has fully recovered from parvovirus, they will probably have some natural protection against the virus – unfortunately, there isn’t any evidence to say how long this will last, so we recommend that they continue to have their parvo vaccines as your vet recommends.

Will my dog survive parvo?

Your dog’s chance of surviving parvovirus is much higher if you take them to the vet as soon as you notice symptoms. Dogs that receive prompt intensive care whilst hospitalised in a veterinary practice are much more likely to survive but, unfortunately, due to the seriousness of parvovirus, some die even with treatment. Parvovirus is nearly always fatal without treatment. Puppies are more at risk of dying, especially those less than two weeks old.

When to contact your vet

Contact your vet immediately if your dog is showing symptoms of parvovirus. Let them know you think it might be parvo, and wait outside the clinic until your dog is called in to prevent spreading it to other dogs in the waiting room.

There is no need to contact your vet if your dog has simply come into contact with parvovirus, just monitor them closely for symptoms and call your vet for advice if you’re concerned.

Preventing parvovirus

A photo of a dog receiving an injection from a PDSA vet

Vaccinations – the best and only way to prevent parvovirus infection is by vaccinating your dog regularly. They will need two to three parvovirus vaccines while they are a puppy, then boosters regularly throughout the rest of their life.

Buy/rehome responsibly always buy from a responsible breeder or a reputable rehoming centre. Make sure you see your puppy and their siblings with their mum, in the place they are raised, on more than one occasion. All puppies should be healthy and bright with no signs of illness, and their mum should be up to date with her vaccines.

Taking a new puppy out – unvaccinated puppies and puppies that have only had their first injection are at risk of catching parvovirus. Your puppy will be safe to go out for a walk and meet other dogs one to two weeks after they complete their first vaccination course, so until then follow the advice below:

  • Home and garden – your puppy is safe to go into your garden as long as there haven’t been any dogs with parvovirus, or unvaccinated dogs in it.
  • Public places – carry your pup in public places, don’t put them on the ground.
  • Puppy classes socialising your puppy is extremely important, and the risk of them catching parvovirus from another healthy puppy is very low. So as long as your puppy is fit and healthy, we advise enrolling them in a puppy class.

The cost of treating parvovirus

Parvovirus can cost hundreds, if not thousands of pounds to treat because most dogs require several days of intensive treatment in a veterinary hospital. It’s important to speak openly to your vet about your finances, the cost of treatment, as well as what you think is right for your dog.

How long should I wait to get a puppy after losing a dog to parvovirus?

If you’ve recently lost a dog to parvovirus, the virus will survive in your home and garden for a long time afterwards. It can remain in the environment for months to years and it’s almost impossible to make sure you’ve got rid of it all, especially in areas that are difficult to disinfect such as the garden. This means that any unvaccinated dogs/puppies that come to your home are at risk of catching parvovirus.

If you are considering getting a new puppy, we advise you to wait until they are fully vaccinated before bringing them home (you’ll need to make sure they are properly socialised by the breeder/rescue centre). If this isn’t an option, you can reduce the risk of them catching parvovirus by thoroughly disinfecting your home and keeping them out of your garden until they are fully vaccinated – speak to your vet for more advice and read about how to disinfect parvovirus.


How to disinfect after parvovirus

It’s important to fully disinfect any areas that have been contaminated with parvovirus. ‘Veterinary Partners’ have some great advice on their website about how to disinfect parvovirus.


Can a vaccinated dog get parvo?

Yes, unfortunately, no vaccinations provide 100% guaranteed protection so occasionally vaccinated dogs do get parvovirus. However, it’s by far the best way to significantly reduce the chance of your dog catching it/developing severe symptoms if they do.

Can humans catch canine parvovirus?

No, canine parvovirus can’t be passed to humans.

Can cats get parvo from dogs?

In the past, cats weren’t able to catch parvovirus from dogs, but unfortunately in 2000, a new strain appeared (called CPV-2c) that can pass from dogs to cats. Cats vaccinated against Feline Parvovirus/Panleukopenia are protected from parvo.

Can a dog survive parvo without treatment?

It’s very unlikely. Parvovirus is fatal in most dogs that don’t receive treatment quickly.

Published: January 2023

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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only. Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst.