July 26th, 2016

With an increase across Australia of the dreaded Parvovirus, Wendy Bartlett looks at ways you can protect your pooch from this contagious disease.

Parvovirus, a highly contagious disease causing severe gastrointestinal problems like vomiting and diarrhoea, affects puppies under the age of six months, but all dogs are at risk of contracting the illness if they come into contact with a contaminated dog or environment.

There has been an increase in reported cases of parvovirus in recent months across Australia, so Dogs Life asked experts why and how we can prevent our dogs from contracting the disease.

Increase in parvovirus cases

Dr Matthew Miles, executive officer with the Australian Small Animal Veterinary Association (ASAVA), believes the first issue to consider is whether or not dog owners are sticking to suggested intestinal worming advice or the vaccination schedule for their area.

The second issue we have to consider is what type of vaccines are being used as the first line of defence and whether they are appropriate vaccines to be used, he told Dogs Life. There seems to be a market where vaccines are sold over the internet, which were not pleased about.

The third issue is whether underlying factors reduce an animals immunity and therefore place the animal at risk of contracting the disease.

Parvovirus, combined with Protozoan infections or intestinal worms, can be a precipitating reason why the severity of the cases of parvovirus were seeing may be so high, Miles said. He believes coronavirus, a similar disease affecting the gastrointestinal tract, to be another possibility for a rise in parvovirus cases. Combined with parvovirus, this disease is a nasty cocktail and it seems to worsen the symptoms experienced by the animal, but a vaccine is available.

Owners may wish to talk to their local vet about a C7 vaccine, Miles suggested.

The C7 vaccine covers canine hepatitis, canine distemper, canine parvovirus (C3); parainfluenza virus (C4); bordetella bronchiseptica (C5); leptospirosis and canine coronavirus (C7).

More cases of parvovirus are reported during the wet summer months, but Miles says he is seeing a lot of cases throughout the year, regardless of the season.

It’s a very resistant virus which can last in the environment for a long time, he said.

Parvovirus is transmitted through dog faeces and in some cases the virus has been found up to one year later in a contaminated environment.

It’s important to keep dogs away from unvaccinated animals or areas where unvaccinated animals have roamed free, Miles said.

In public places, keep your dog on a lead and away from dog faeces and other dogs. If your dog will be spending time in a kennel, make sure the vaccination schedule includes canine parainfluenza virus (C4). All kennels should ask to see evidence of your dogs current vaccination status before accepting an animal into their care, Miles said.

Unvaccinated older dogs at risk

There’s a misconception that its unnecessary to vaccinate older animals because they have developed life-long immunity to diseases through continual vaccination. Miles told Dogs Life this is not true, although research suggests that over a period of time the parvovirus vaccine may last up to three years.

I’ve not seen a lot of older animals with parvovirus. It appears that the level of immunity over time is definitely there, Miles said. But I certainly have seen serious fatal cases in adult dogs that are unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated.

He says older dogs which have not been vaccinated for a number of years are susceptible to parvovirus because they have a reduced ability to produce disease-fighting antibodies, and recently there has been an increase in adult dog cases reported. Susceptible breeds include the Rottweiler, Dobermann, German Shepherd and Pit Bull Terrier. Toy Poodles and Cocker Spaniels seem to be less affected, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual.

Parvovirus is a very distressing disease for the animal, the owner and veterinary staff. Older dogs thought to be infected often don’t present with the severity of symptoms that young puppies do, but they can still become extremely ill, Miles said.

Disease symptoms & treatment

  •  Miles suggested watching out for a high fever, severe (often blood-stained, foul-smelling) diarrhoea, a loss of appetite, vomiting, lethargy, depression and lack of interest.
  •  Within a 24-hour period and due to severe dehydration, a relatively healthy dog can become very ill and be in need of intense hospitalisation.
  •  The first line of treatment is to admit the animal to the hospital, isolate it from other dogs, keep it warm and administer intravenous fluids, anti-vomiting, anti-diarrhoeal and possibly antibiotic medications.
  •  A faecal test taking 15 to 20 minutes can be done at the veterinary hospital to determine the disease and sometimes x-rays are taken to eliminate other causes of the symptoms.

If an animal survives parvovirus, it usually has a high level of immunity and can lead a normal, healthy life, but in certain circumstances there could be some damage to the bowel, resulting in an intussusception, Miles said. This is where the bowel acts like a telescope and withdraws into itself; immediate surgery is required to fix it.


According to Miles, parvovirus is a preventable disease requiring good vaccination protocols. He encouraged new and prospective dog owners to speak to their local vet about current vaccination schedules for the diseases prevalent in their area. He reminded us that puppies need to be vaccinated for distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus at six to eight, 12, and 16 to 18 weeks of age. An older dog needs to maintain its yearly vaccination schedule until the end of its life.

Ensure your dog is medicated every three months for intestinal worms and discuss heartworm treatment and flea control with your vet as the presence of these can lower the dogs immune system, therefore making the animal more vulnerable to contracting diseases. Keep puppies away from your elderly dog until the puppy is fully vaccinated and wormed, Miles said.

A yearly checkup at your local vet will keep you informed as to the best way to care for your dog, no matter what age. A healthy dog is a happy dog.

Parvovirus symptoms

  •  Fever
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite

A healthy dog can become extremely ill within 24 hours.

Tips to prevent your dog from contracting parvovirus:

  • Maintain yearly vaccination schedule
  • Control fleas, heartworm and intestinal worms
  • Keep your dog away from unvaccinated dogs
  • Avoid contact with puppies under the age of five to six months
  • Keep dog away from dog faeces in public places
  • Avoid places where virus has been known to infect environment
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