How Do Dogs Get Parvo?

Dr. Joe Alcorn, M.S., D.V.M.

Dr. Joe Alcorn is founder of Care Animal Hospital in Temecula, California. He has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and his advice has been featured in large publications like Bustle and Martha Stewart.

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Parvo is the short form for Canine Parvovirus. It is a deadly and highly infectious virus that attacks a dog’s internal system. While all dogs are at risk of catching this virus, puppies and unvaccinated dogs are more at risk. This virus is so severe and dreaded it brings up the question, how do dogs get parvo?

How Do Dogs Get Parvo?

The spread of the parvovirus happens through direct contact or indirect contact with an infected dog. Indirect contact includes a contaminated environment or objects such as collars, leashes, hair, and dog feet. A human can also be a source of indirect contact through their shoe soles.

Dog lethargic after being diagnosed with parvo

Parvovirus is highly contagious mainly due to its resilient feature. The virus can survive in any outdoor environment for a rather long time. This is because it is resistant to dry, cold, humid, or hot weather. It can also withstand most cleaning solutions. However, you can kill it off with household bleach, or parvo disinfectant. 

How Is Parvo Diagnosed in Dogs?

Parvo in dogs can sometimes be confused with other canine viruses. The best way to confirm if your dog has parvo is to visit the vet with the dog and a bagged stool sample. Your vet can run tests with this and diagnose your dog accurately. If the presence of parvo is confirmed, then treatment should follow immediately.

What Are the Signs Your Dog Has Parvo?

Symptoms of parvo spread quickly once a dog is infected. If you notice any of the signs below in your dog, you should visit a vet as soon as possible. The signs to look out for include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea, with our without blood
  • Lethargy
  • Fever 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration

Each of these symptoms is severe enough to get any dog owner worried. Depending on how severe the parvo infection is and what type it is, your dog could be in danger of extreme dehydration, shock, or in worse cases death.

How Can You Prevent Parvo in Dogs?

While adult dogs are also at risk of catching this virus, puppies are much more susceptible to it. There are several steps you can take as a dog owner or breeder to ensure your dog is less at risk of catching this virus. They include:


Getting your dogs vaccinated can greatly reduce their chances of catching this deadly virus. Make sure your puppies and dogs are fully vaccinated against parvovirus, before taking them out in public. Adult dogs should be taken for regular checks and given booster shots too.

Veterinarian and nurse doing tests on a dog

Since puppies depend on antibodies from their mother’s milk for the first few weeks, you should make sure your female breeding dogs also get fully vaccinated. 


Despite proper vaccination reducing the chances of a dog catching parvo, it doesn’t completely eliminate it. That is why it is important to keep your vaccinated dogs away from the unvaccinated ones. Be careful when you take your dogs outdoors too. Reduce their risk of exposure, especially within a busy environment or shared environment with several other dogs.


If you have a sick dog or notice one around your environment, make sure to keep your dog away from them. If your dog is unvaccinated, try to keep them away from sick dogs as much as possible. Avoid spending time at dog parks, kennels, showgrounds, or the outdoors generally if you notice any symptoms of sickness in your dog.


Keep your dogs clean at all times. When you are outdoors with your dogs, keep them away from eating random things, especially fecal waste from other dogs. Whether you have a vaccinated or healthy dog, make sure you clean up after them every time they pass fecal waste outdoors. 


Household bleach is one of the uncommon substances that can kill off the virus on external surfaces. Mix some bleach with water and clean with it. You can also clean their toys, food plates, and other objects with diluted bleach water.

How Is Parvo in Dogs Treated?

Once parvo is diagnosed in a dog after the right tests have been carried out, treatment can follow. There isn’t any dedicated drug to directly target and destroy this virus. So, the treatment works by strongly supporting and encouraging the dog’s immune system to fight off the virus. Treatment procedures often include: 

Intravenous Fluids 

This is to keep the dog hydrated. A common symptom among infected dogs is the inability to keep down solid or liquid substances. While these fluids will keep a loss of electrolytes and dehydration at bay, they can also contain other medications. The dog can also be injected with pain relief and other medications to help them get better and keep them comfortable. 

Veterinarian checking a dog's mouth


Parvo is known to weaken the immune system in canines. Giving them antibiotics can help with building their body’s resistance to other illnesses and infections. 

Other medications may include: 

  • Feeding Tube: If the dog is unable to swallow or chew
  • Transfusion: Blood transfusions for severe cases. Medications can also be induced into the body by transfusion.
  • Anti-sickness Medications: This is to control and reduce nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

Do not attempt to treat an infected dog at home. Parvo can attack rather quickly and lead to death when left untreated or treated wrongly. Always take your dog to the vet for hospitalization and appropriate treatment, Care Animal Hospital provides exceptional care and services for pet owners.

Related Questions

Can a Vaccinated Dog Catch Parvo?

There have been rare cases where vaccinated dogs end up catching parvo. However, it is unlikely that a fully vaccinated dog would catch parvo. The parvovirus vaccine is highly effective and provides enough protection against catching the virus.

Can a Previously Infected Dog Catch Parvo?

For dogs who have previously had parvovirus, the likelihood of catching it again is very low. The immunity tends to last for a rather long time. However, if you have a dog that has dealt with this virus previously, you must stay up to date with their vaccination and boosters.

What Dog Species Are at High Risk of Catching Parvovirus Infection?

Dog breeds such as Dobermann, Rottweilers, and Labradors are at high risk. Puppies under four months and unvaccinated dogs are also at increased risk.


Parvo is a contagious virus that can spread rather quickly and can be deadly to dogs. Having a working knowledge of the virus can help you answer the question of how dogs get parvo. It also helps you understand preventive and treatment methods.