What Is Canine Parvovirus?

When it comes to the health of you and your family, your pet’s health can be as much of a concern as that of your human family members. Noticing signs of distress or a change in your pets behaviour can be worrying as it may indicate anything from a small upset to a serious illness. Fortunately, there is plenty that you can do to learn about your animal's health and take steps to help prevent them falling ill 

Canine parvovirus (CPV) is a viral infection that affects dogs, causing gastrointestinal upset among other symptoms.1 It mostly affects young dogs and puppies because of their lower immunity levels but it can affect any dog at any age. It can be passed onto your dog directly from  infected dogs, or contracted from an infected surface in their environment. Protecting your unvaccinated dog or puppy against canine parvovirus is essential for them to lead healthy lives and avoid a stay at the vet.1

Learn to spot the signs of parvovirus before your pet falls ill, especially if you have or are planning to adopt a puppy. This will ensure you can take the best course of action in regards to your dog's health to ensure the best start in life for them.


Canine parvovirus causes the illness known as parvovirus enteritis in dogs. The virus enters the body and attacks the gut (intestine). The damage prevents puppies and dogs from getting the nutrition and hydration they require so they will showsigns of illness and fatigue. Vomiting and diarrhoea will almost always present as the main symptoms of canine parvovirus.1  

Canine parvovirus is particularly common in the UK and is easily spread through the environment (dogs with an active CPV infection should not be let outside in public areas).2  Therefore, it can be hard to completely protect your pet from the virus.2

However, there are some essential measures you should take as a new dog owner and throughout your dog's life to lower their chances of contracting and becoming ill with parvovirus.  These include appropriate cleaning measures and following your veterinarians recommended vaccination schedule.3 

If your dog does fall ill with canine parvovirus, there are also some treatment options available.  However, for the best chance of recovery and survival they will need to visit the vet sooner rather than later as the virus can make your pet very ill, very quickly.3 Your vet will ultimately guide you on what is best for your dog so they should be your first point of call. 

Causes of canine parvovirus

Dogs become infected with canine parvovirus via interacting with an infected dog or with a contaminated object or surface.1 Dogs are infectious to others before parvovirus symptoms appear and for up to 2 weeks after their recovery. They shed the virus into the environment and expose other dogs directly and indirectly to the infection.

Exposure to the virus primarily occurs by ingesting or sniffing contaminated faeces.4

Contaminated dog faeces may also be present on:1

  • Outdoor shoes 
  • Human hair and clothing
  • Dog hair and feet
  • Dog toys and equipment 
  • Other household objects 

Signs and symptoms of canine parvovirus

fter infection, canine parvovirus takes fast action in your dog's system so the signs and symptoms may come on quickly: usually 3-7 days after the virus enters the body and reaches the small intestine.1 

Signs and symptoms include:5

  • Rancid-smelling diarrhoea
  • Loose, bloody stool 
  • Vomiting 
  • Eating less or no food 
  • Lethargy and sudden disinterest in usual activities/stimuli (e.g., walks and toys)
  • Collapse 
  • Fever 

Severe cases will present with sign and symptoms such as:4

  • Dark pink/red gums
  • Faster or slower than normal heartbeat
  • Drop in body temperature (hypothermia)

It is important to note that dogs infected with canine parvovirus may not show every symptom of the disease even though they are ill. Vomiting and diarrhoea are the most common symptoms and will usually be the first to appear.1 Parvovirus can even cause sudden death. You shouldn’t wait to take action if you believe your dog is showing signs of a CPV infection.  

Management and treatment for canine parvovirus

If your dog or puppy has canine parvovirus or you suspect they might, it is important to take fast action to prevent their condition from worsening.3 You should take them immediately to the vet to receive a diagnosis - the faster the vet can diagnose your dog, the better the treatment outcome will be for them.

Once your vet has diagnosed your dog, they will lay out an appropriate treatment plan. This will most likely involve your pet taking an overnight stay at the vet so that they can properly monitor their condition. There is no currently available treatment that can directly kill-off a parvovirus infection. Instead your dog will be given treatments designed to support their recovery such as:3

  • Intravenous (IV) fluid 
  • Anti-sickness medication
  • Antibiotics 

Dogs will usually require one week in hospital to recover from canine parvovirus.  Unfortunately, puppies and other dogs with weaker immune systems are much less likely to recover and the disease may become fatal.5

This is why the best treatment option for your pet is the preventative measure of vaccination against canine parvovirus - it is much less costly than prolonged hospital treatment for your ill canine companion and will provide better health benefits in the long run such as:5 

  • Preventing illness 
  • Aiding recovery if an infection does occur 
  • Reducing the chance of fatality

Other preventative measures that can be done at home include sanitising your pets living area and any surfaces/equipment they touch (it is recommended to use a 1 part bleach/ 30 part water solution on these areas as this is the only known effective cleaning agent against parvovirus).3

Using this cleaning technique is particularly important if:3

  • You have a new puppy joining the home
  • Any of your dogs have not been vaccinated yet
  • You, your dogs or home have had a known exposure to CPV

Reducing the spread of disease is another important factor in canine parvovirus management.  If your dog has canine parvovirus you should not take them outside for walks as they will be infectious to other dogs.4 Allowing them to drop stools in grass or other areas where dogs might walk is particularly dangerous as the stool is highly infectious - this is even the case when you pick up your dog's poop as remnants of the matter still contain a lot of CPV particles. Instead, you should allow your dog access to a private garden to relieve themselves.

If you have other pets in the home, they should be kept separate from your dog with CPV to prevent any further canine illness.5 Your clothes, skin and hair may also be contaminated with parvovirus, so it is advisable to clean and change before interacting with any other dogs once you have been in contact with a dog who is infected.


How is canine parvovirus diagnosed?

Canine parvovirus cannot be confirmed through symptoms alone as vomiting and diarrhoea are common symptoms of many other ailments such as food poisoning or a stomach bug.1 Vets will perform a diagnostic test through sampling your dog's stool and/or blood for the canine parvovirus marker. These tests have a high level of accuracy and will usually be able to confirm whether your dog has canine parvovirus, at which point the vet will recommend and begin treatment with your consent. 

Can canine parvovirus be prevented?

Vaccinating your dog against canine parvovirus is essential - you should be offered it for your pet at their first veterinary checkup if they have not already received it.5 Puppies should be vaccinated at 6-8 weeks old and boosted 2 weeks after their first vaccine. To keep up-to-date with vaccinations and to ensure your dog has lifelong protection against the virus, booster vaccinations are needed (at 1 year old and every 3 years subsequently after). Canine parvovirus can survive in an infected environment even after cleaning, however the most effective cleaning product suitable for use in the dog's indoor area is bleach diluted in an appropriate volume of water (30 parts water for every 1 part bleach).3 It is more difficult to prevent your dog from catching canine parvovirus outdoors as it is an inherently non-sterile area. Infected dogs and unvaccinated dogs shouldn’t be allowed in public areas to reduce the chance of spread and infection.3    

Who is at risk of canine parvovirus?

Any dog can contract and pass on parvovirus.5 Dogs most at risk of becoming ill with canine parvovirus are puppies younger than 4 months old as they are not eligible for vaccination until this age, and their immune systems are weaker than older dogs. Any other unvaccinated dog will also be at risk. The risk of your puppy or unvaccinated pet contracting parvovirus increases anytime they are walking outside or come into contact with another dog. The risk of contracting a serious or fatal case of parvovirus while being outside decreases after vaccination.

Is canine parvovirus contagious to humans?

Canine parvovirus is not contagious to humans so you can still care for your dog as normal while they are recovering.5 However, any surface such as your skin, clothing or household object that your dog has come into contact with will likely be infected and therefore will be a risk to any other dogs you pet afterwards. 

How common is canine parvovirus?

The UK has a common occurrence of parvovirus in the dog population.2 Sometimes the virus can spread faster than normal, so it is vital that your dog receives yearound and lifelong vaccine protection. 

Is canine parvovirus contagious to other animals? 

Dogs infected with canine parvovirus are contagious to all other dogs so should be kept separate from their animal companions while they are infected.  You should also avoid walking your dog in public while they are in recovery as they may give the virus to other passing dogs.5

When should I see a doctor?

You should seek medical attention for your pet at your registered veterinary practice at the first signs of illness. In the case that canine parvovirus symptoms begin to present in your dog outside of practice hours, you should take your dog to the nearest emergency out-of-hours veterinary service. Canine parvovirus can be fatal if dogs - usually 2-3 days after symptoms appear if they do not receive the proper treatment and care.5 Therefore, it is always better to have them checked by a vet than to wait for their condition to worsen.


Canine parvovirus (CPV) is a serious viral infection that affects dogs. It can be contracted from anywhere in the outside environment  so it can be hard to fully prevent.  Before puppies reach the eligible age for vaccination, you should not take them outside around other people or dogs and take proper cleaning measures within their living space to reduce the chance of contamination with the virus. You should get your dog vaccinated as soon as they are eligible as this is the primary method for reducing the chance of illness with CPV. If you notice the signs of CPV in your dog it is important that they receive immediate care with their local or emergency vet - this can ultimately save their life. No pet owner is perfect and taking proper care of your dog is often a learning curve, especially for new and first-time dog owners. This is why it is crucial to arm yourself with knowledge and understanding of your pets' health so your dog can be as healthy and happy as possible and you in turn will be more able to enjoy life alongside your canine companion.  


  1. Parvovirus in dogs | vca animal hospitals [Internet]. Vca. [cited 2023 Mar 10]. Available from: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/parvovirus-in-dogs 
  2. Canine parvovirus [Internet]. Medivet.UK. [cited 2023 Mar 10]. Available from: https://www.medivet.co.uk/pet-care/pet-advice/canine-parvovirus/ 
  3. Canine parvovirus [Internet]. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. 2017 [cited 2023 Mar 10]. Available from: https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/baker-institute/our-research/canine-parvovirus 
  4. Canine parvovirus: What’s parvovirus in dogs and what are the symptoms? [Internet]. Vets Now. 2017 [cited 2023 Mar 10]. Available from: https://www.vets-now.com/pet-care-advice/canine-parvovirus-in-dogs/ 
  5. Canine Parvovirus in dogs [Internet]. Blue Cross. [cited 2023 Mar 10]. Available from: https://www.bluecross.org.uk/advice/dog/parvovirus-in-dogs 
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Amy Murtagh

BSc Veterinary Bioscience - Bachelors of Science, University of Glasgow

Amy is a recent graduate from Glasgow's School of Biodiversity, One Health and Veterinary Medicine with a particular interest in science communication in these subject areas.

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