A golden retriever puppy is sitting in a cage, safe from the recent parvo outbreak.

Parvo Symptoms, Signs, Prevention, and Treatment


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Parvovirus is a deadly virus that can cause severe illness in young and unvaccinated dogs – or worse. We want to do our bit by outlining parvo symptoms, signs, and what you can do to treat and prevent it. Why now? Over the past couple of weeks, you’ve likely seen media and social reports of a big NZ outbreak of parvo in dogs. Our PD claims data reflects this, with increased claims for the treatment of parvo symptoms.

Parvo outbreaks tend to happen during warm and wet periods of the year. Last January saw an outbreak too. People are really sitting up and taking notice, which is great because this is a serious illness. Your local vet, puppy school or doggy daycare may have even warned you about it and the importance of the parvovirus vaccine..?

Onto the info. Given the current parvo outbreak in NZ that’s affecting so many, what should dog owners know? What exactly is parvo, what are the parvo symptoms and signs in dogs, and what should you do if you suspect a dog has contracted it?

What is parvovirus?

Parvovirus is a virus which usually attacks the gastrointestinal tract and occasionally the heart, says Manukau vet clinic. Parvo is highly resistant and can withstand extreme temperatures as well as common disinfectants. This means that when there’s an outbreak, it can spread quickly.

Parvo is transmitted through the vomit and faeces of an infected dog. It survives in faeces for around two weeks, but can survive for months on floors, cages, clothes, and more.

So, if you touch an object, ground surface (grass and soil too!) or something else contaminated with the parvo virus, your hands or shoes could carry it for a long time thereafter. Especially as it’s a very difficult virus to kill.

The same goes for your dog. And we all know dogs like to sniff, lick and rub themselves up against a ton of stuff on walkies…

sick dog lying in bed under duvet

How serious is it?

Parvo can be very serious and even fatal for dogs. Prompt treatment is necessary to help your puppy or dog fight the virus off.

Our PD Insurance Chief Operating Officer, Michelle Le Long, says, “Parvo is an incredibly contagious killer in dogs. It is a hard, expensive and distressing road to recovery for those that get treatment in time. And a sad and painful death for those that don’t.”

If your dog or puppy contracts parvo, there is treatment available. The earlier you catch it, the better their chances of survival. Parvo isn’t an automatic death sentence. With prompt veterinary treatment, survival rates are often as high as 90%.

However, any suspected parvo cases should be taken very seriously. As mentioned above, a significant number of dogs who sadly pass away. A delay in treatment times can make a huge difference to your dog’s chances.

Which dogs are likely to catch it?

A dog of any age can get parvo, but it’s more prevalent in puppies and young dogs. There’s a particularly high-risk window between 8 and 16 weeks of age. That’s why you’ll often see posts about sick puppies on social media.

Unvaccinated dogs are also high risk. That’s why the canine parvovirus vaccine is one of the core vaccines for dogs. It should be part of your vaccination schedule anyway, but it’s more important now than ever given the parvo outbreak in NZ.

Healthy Pets NZ chair and vet Dr. Cath Watson says, “A parvovirus vaccine has been available for a long time and is one component of the main vaccine all dogs should receive as puppies. Vaccines will need to be repeated at regular intervals starting from as early as 6 weeks of age until the puppy is around 14-16 weeks of age, for best protection, with boosters required during adulthood as well for ongoing protection.”

“Parvovirus in particular can kill up to 50 percent of unvaccinated dogs during an outbreak, so vaccines are a really important preventative tool. An up-to-date vaccine is the best chance of preventing illness; though if a vaccinated dog does get sick it is much less likely to die.”

this brown and white puppy is showing lethargy, one of the first parvo symptoms

How expensive is parvo treatment?

When it comes to battling parvo symptoms and associated illness, one of the most devastating realities of parvo is that treatment – while thankfully available – is often expensive.

One claim we had this month was over $4,000! At the lower end of the scale was a claim for almost $1,500.

Imagine if these pet owners hadn’t been insured … that’s quite a financial blow.

What parvo symptoms should I look out for?

A dog who has parvovirus will usually display parvo symptoms 3-7 days after infection with the virus. One of the very first signs is lethargy and a lack of appetite. Fever is commonly (but not always) seen in the early stages too.

Other parvo symptoms include:

  • Diarrhoea (sometimes bloody)
  • Bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Dehydration

In very severe cases, the dog or puppy might collapse. They sometimes also display a very high heart rate and hypothermia, due to severe dehydration and sepsis. Watch the PD Pet Care Vlog with Dr Cath for more parvo insights:

If a dog displays parvo symptoms, what should I do?

If your dog or puppy displays parvo symptoms, you need to act quickly. Visit a vet as soon as possible, and alert them to the fact that you suspect parvo.

This will enable them to not only treat your dog quickly, but warns them to put infection control measures in place so if parvo is confirmed the spread can be contained. They will want to avoid putting other animals at risk.

Your vet will likely want to hospitalise your furkid and use IV fluids to help nurse them back to health. This is expensive, but means they can be monitored 24/7. Most dogs with parvo struggle to keep oral medications down, so a drip can help to hydrate them again.

After your dog has been diagnosed with parvo, you’ll need to clean your environment to try to kill the virus. Bleach should be used on any surface which can withstand it, such as floors, crates, and counters.

For lawn, fabric, and other surfaces that can’t be bleached you should steam clean wherever possible. In shaded areas, the virus could survive for more than six months. Warm or sunny areas may be safe within a month or so.

It’s so important for dog owners to understand just how contagious it is and what they need to do to keep their pets safe, especially during a parvo outbreak.

Can you prevent parvo?

As mentioned, the parvo vaccine is considered a core vaccine for dogs. The vaccine is highly effective in significantly reducing the risk of contagion to dogs that are fully vaccinated. Due to the parvo outbreak in NZ, the vaccine is even more important now than ever before.

Fully vaccinated adult dogs are also likely to have better immune systems than young dogs and puppies, so their chances of survival are better if they are unlucky enough to catch it.

Vaccinating your dog is not a guarantee, but it is your best chance of keeping your fur baby safe from parvovirus. If your pup or dog isn’t fully vaccinated do not take them to a public area or street where other dogs are likely to have been and toileted.

Keeping them in your bubble is not enough to protect them from parvo in NZ. Even if they have no direct contact with other dogs, the virus is extremely contagious and they can pick it up through indirect contact with objects or surfaces that have been contaminated with infected faeces … even your shoes!

If your pup looks subdued, is vomiting or has diarrhoea (especially if there’s lots of blood), isolate your situation. Call your vet immediately. They should make time for you and if they’re too busy to help, call another. There are many success stories about dogs surviving parvovirus, especially if treated early.

This brown haird lady holding a terrier in a park is worried about it catching parvovirus

Parvo and pet insurance

Unfortunately, we’ve heard of uninsured dog owners making the heartbreaking decision to euthanise due to the expense of treating parvo in NZ. This is where pet insurance can be invaluable, allowing you to get the lifesaving treatment your dog or puppy needs in an emergency.

View our dog insurance plans here, and read our article “How Expensive Is Pet Insurance? for a better understanding of the costs associated with a pet insurance policy. You may also want to read “Pet Insurance for Cats and Dogs – Why Kiwis Want It”.

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