What Is It?

Since 1978 dogs of all ages and breeds have been victins of a highly contagious viral disease that attacks the intestinal track, white blood cells, and in some cases the heart muscle. This disease, canine parvovirus (CPV) infection has appeared worldwide.

CPV infection is spread by dog-to-dog contact and has been diagnosed wherever dogs congregate, including dog shows, obedience trials, breeding and boarding kennels, pet shops, humane shelters, parks and playgrounds.

A dog that is confined to a house or yard and is rarely in contact with other dogs is far less likely to be exposed to the virus. CPV infection can only be transmitted to dogs and other canids, not to other types of animals or people, but animals and people can carry it to your dog.

The source of infection is fecal waste from infected dogs. Large amounts of the virus may be present in fecal material of infected dogs. The virus is resistant to extremes in environmental conditions and can survive for long periods. It is readily transmitted from place to place on the hair or feet of infected dogs or by contaminated cages, shoes, clothing, or other objects.

How Can You Tell If A Dog Has CPV

The first signs of CPV infectionare depression, loss of appetite, vomiting, and severe diarrhea. Rectal temperatures may be raised. The normal rectal temperature for dogs is 101-102 degrees. These signs will most often appear 5-7 days after the dog is exposed to the virus. At the onset of illness the feces will generally be light gray or yellow-gray. Sometimes, the first sign will be fluid feces streaked with blood.

Dogs may dehydrate rapidly due to vomiting and diarrhea. Some dogs may vomit repeatedly and have projectile and bloody diarrhea until they die. Others may have loose feces and recover without complications.

Most deaths occur within 48-72 hours following the onset of clinical signs. Puppies suffer most with shock-like deaths occurring as early as two days after the onset of the illness. In the past, a high percentage of pups less than five months old and 2-3% of older dogs died from this disease. Now, due to widespread vaccination, these numbers have decreased dramatically. Puppies between weaning and six months of age are at increased risk of acquiring the disease.

Another form of parvoviral infection is inflammation of the heart in pups less than three months of age. This syndrome occurs without concurrent diarrhea because the virus multiplies rapidly in muscle cells of the growing heart.

Pups with this syndrome may act depressed and stop suckling shortly before they collapse gasping for breath. Death may follow within minutes. Others die at intervals over the next several days. There is no specific treaatment and pups that survive may have permanently damaged hearts. These pups may die from heart failure weeks or months after they have apparantly recovered from infection.


Treatment of CPV infection, which should be started immediately, consists primarily of efforts to combat dehydration by replacing electrolyte and fluid losses, controlling vomiting and diarrhea and preventing secondary infections with antibiotics.

Prevention and Protection

Proper cleaning and disinfection of kennels and other areas where dogs are housed is essential to control spread of the virus. Remember, the virus is capable of existing in the environment for many months unless the area is thoroghly cleaned. Sodium Hypochlorite solution, such as one part household bleach to 30 parts of water, is an effective disinfectant.

Do not allow your dog to come in contact with fecal waste of other dogs when walking in a park or along city streets. This is especially true until six months of age. Check lawns and sidewalks for fecal waste from neighborhood dogs.

Keep your vaccinations current and exercise good judgement and should not have a problem with CPV. However, if you think your dog may be infected do not delay, see your veterinarian immediately

Copyright © 1998-2008 by David Ronsheim.  All rights reserved.