Parvovirus and getting a new puppy


I occasionally receive e-mails asking for help to resolve problems with rescue groups, or to seek ways to shut down a group, that has sold puppies with Parvo.  While there is not much that I can do to “shut-down” these groups I can certainly provide information about the Parvovirus and steps that should be followed when considering buying a puppy from a breeder or rescue group.

What is the Parvovirus?

“Parvo” is a devastating and highly contagious disease attacking dogs, most usually puppies.  A newborn will receive antibodies from the mother’s milk and then via a vaccine administered by the breeder 6 weeks after birth with booster vaccinations for a specific period of time afterward, usually until the puppy is 16 to 20 weeks old.  If this vaccination is not administered the puppy will be highly susceptible to the disease.

How is Parvo spread?

Its usual manner of spreading is through feces or soil infected from the feces.  It remains active in these areas for long periods (sometimes up to 6-9 months) unless the area is thoroughly sanitized.  That is why it can be so prevalent at puppy mills and rescue organizations that accept puppies.  Once an infected dog is moved to another area that area will also become contaminated and the disease can pass to other dogs.  If you have a dog that is diagnosed with Parvo your home and yard are contaminated and the virus can spread to any dog that enters your premises, or any other place the Parvo infected dog has been.  You can see how dangerous this disease is especially in kennels, rescue organizations, and vet offices.

How deadly is Parvo?

The younger the dog the more deadly the virus.  Older dogs have a better chance of recovery, but only after an intense treatment regimen.

What are the symptoms of Parvo and how does the vet diagnosis Parvo?

Symptoms of Parvo can appear quickly but the incubation period is usually between 3 to 14 days.  So, when you buy a puppy that has not been given the vaccine the Parvovirus may not be immediately evident but can show up shortly after you get your puppy home.

Symptoms of Parvo will be bloody stools with a strong order, lack of appetite, vomiting, and overall lack of puppy energy.  This leads to dehydration and malnourishment which are the actual killers.

The vet performs an ELISA (Enzyme Linked ImmunoSorbant Assay) on a stool sample to determine if Parvo is present.

Not all case of diarrhea and vomiting in puppies are caused by Parvo.  However, the previously described symptoms plus a positive ELISA and low white blood cell counts will usually indicate that Parvo is present.

One of the problems of getting a puppy from a rescue is that there may not have been time from the date of the rescue to the adoption to suspect Parvo, and it is strongly suggested that you control your urges to take the puppy home immediately.  Give adequate time for observation.  If the puppy is coming from a breeder get evidence that the vaccine was given to the dog at 6 weeks, and then follow up with the boosters.

How do I help to keep my puppy safe from Parvo?

Do not take the puppy to public areas where it can come in contact with other dogs, or where other dogs have been present (parks, dog shows, boarding kennels, vet office, etc) until the last booster has been given.  Because you will need to go to the vets during this time carry the dog and hold it on your lap in the waiting area.  Don’t let it roam, sniff and lick.

How do I sanitize my home and yard if my dog has/had Pravo?

Chlorine bleach is probably the best product for disinfecting your home and yard (NOT animals!).  A 32 to 1 dilution will work.  Make sure to clean all surfaces, bedding and bowls thoroughly.  Any where the puppy has been.  Cleaning the yard will be more difficult but some suggest that a strong application of bleach may help.  If the yard has been infected (if your Parvo infected dog was in the yard, especially if it had a bowel movement), you may want to wait at least 6 months before allowing another dog to use the yard.  Your vet can test a dog to determine it’s resistant to the virus.

Can Parvo occur in older dogs?

Yes.  Any dog can contract the virus but it is more deadly in puppies.

What are the cures for Parvo?

The main cure is prevention.  Vaccines for Parvo must be administered within 6 weeks after their birth with several subsequent booster shots. In puppies it is almost always fatal.  As there is no cure available once the dog contracts Parvo you can only treat the affects.  Anti-nausea meds to stop vomiting and prevent further loss of fluids and nutrients; intravenous fluids to rehydrate the dog and keep its electrolytes in balance; antibiotics to prevent other infections; and/or blood transfusions to prevent anemia.  Older dogs will handle these treatments better than a new born.

What can I do to lower the risk of buying a dog with Parvo?

First, never buy a dog over the Internet!  Use the Internet to find a rescue or breeder near you and then visit the rescue or breeder.  Make sure you are happy with the facility, its cleanliness, professionalism, recordkeeping, health of the dogs, and their willingness to provide information.  Don’t sign any sales agreement that you do not feel is fair to you, the dog, and the agency.

If the rescue agency notifies you that they rescue dogs and/or puppies from puppy mills be very careful.  Investigate their methods for ensuring that the dogs are healthy and have been tested for Parvo or vaccinated (remember it can take up to 14 days for Parvo to appear).  Be aware that there are rescues that take dogs from puppy mills and then resell them without giving warning to the adopters.

When buying from a breeder make sure that the puppy has received the Parvo vaccine and that there is a schedule for you to follow for boosters.  Check out the breeder by using the breeder checklist found at Kennel Visit Checklist.

If you buy from a pet store, which PGAA does not encourge for many reasons, make sure they provide documentation about Parvo vaccinations and instructions for follow on booster shots.

Written by Ron Lueth, Pet Guardian Angels of America.  This work may be shared through the Creative Common License only if attributed to Pet Guardian Angels of America at

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.