How Is Parvo Contracted?

Puppies suffering from severe vomiting or bloody diarrhea need a veterinarian's evaluation.
Puppies suffering from severe vomiting or bloody diarrhea need a veterinarian's evaluation. (Image: shy puppy image by Marfa Faber from

Parvovirus is a highly infectious canine disease that results in death for close to 80 percent of untreated infected animals. The illness typically affects puppies and has two distinct forms. The most common form of the infection, known as parvovirus enteritis, affects the intestinal tract. Symptoms include vomiting, fever, loss of appetite and diarrhea that is often bloody. Rarely, parvovirus can affect the heart, leading to inflammation of the heart muscle.

Transmission and Vaccination

Parvo is typically transmitted through contact with the fecal material of an infected animal. Direct contact with a dog that has the disease can also result in infection. Vaccinations against parvovirus do exist. Puppies are generally protected against infection once they complete their vaccine series at around 16 weeks of age. All dog owners should be vigilant and aware of parvovirus symptoms, as vaccinated adult pets can contract the disease in cases of vaccine failure.


Highly resistant to most cleaning methods, parvovirus can survive for months in the soil. The virus also can survive on inanimate objects such as shoes, clothing, kennels and food bowls. Parvovirus is commonly found in all environments. Disinfect contaminated surfaces with bleach to protect your dog from infection. Steam cleaning may be an effective way of disinfecting clothing.

Colostrum and Antibodies

Newborn puppies have an immature immune system that cannot create antibodies against diseases. Colostrum, the milk their mother produces for the first few days after birth, protects them from infection until their immune systems mature. Because the virus is so common in all environments, dogs are routinely exposed to small amounts of it. This can lead to the formation of antibodies that make unvaccinated dogs less susceptible to infection.

Protective Measures

Infection typically occurs in the short period of time when a puppy no longer has protection from colostrum and his immune system is too immature to fight off the virus or be vaccinated. Isolation from other dogs and disinfection of surfaces the puppy comes in contact with can protect your companion from infection during this period. Knowing how parvovirus spreads may help you take the necessary precautions for your pet.

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