9 Signs that a Puppy is Dying of Parvo

Parvo is short for canine parvovirus, a contagious virus among unvaccinated dogs. The early signs include lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea, change in body temperature, abdominal pain and bloating, and difficulty breathing. It is also likely that a puppy has parvo if they are younger than 4 months old and haven’t had all of their vaccinations, or they’ve been exposed to other unhealthy puppies recently.

If you’re not sure if your dog is dying of parvo, continue reading to learn about the signs. If your puppy does have any of these symptoms, take it to the vet immediately. Parvo can cause death within only a few days of showing symptoms.

1. Lethargy

Parvo, short for Canine Parvovirus, was first discovered in 1978. It started when a virus among cats transferred to dogs and mutated into a new one. It was found in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Parvo quickly killed thousands of dogs, but only a year later scientists were able to isolate it and develop the first vaccine for it. Two years after 1979 the vaccine was perfected, and scientists are still constantly monitoring the virus and updating the vaccine, paying close attention to modern strands of the virus. (Source)

Parvo is contracted among puppies who haven’t had their full dosage of vaccines yet. It’s most common among younger dogs because they don’t have a fully developed immune system. To keep your new dog safe and healthy, keep their areas clean, don’t let them get near other dogs, and don’t stress them out as stress is known to weaken the immune system, making the body more prone to diseases and viruses.

If you adopted your dog, try to get a full record of their medical history, including what viruses and vaccines they have had. Parvo weakens the immune system, preventing the puppy from properly recovering on its own. There is no treatment since parvo is a virus, but the vet can give proper care and help your dog make a full recovery if it’s caught at the beginning. (Source)

We may think that dog moms are crazy for being overprotective of their furry best friends, but they are just looking out for them in the best way they can. Since we can’t communicate with our dogs, we need to pay extra attention to any abnormalities in their behavior, eating habits, and physical appearance.

Canine Parvovirus, also known as Parvo, is a disease that attacks the gastrointestinal tract. This is a part of the digestive system, so it has many effects. One of them is lethargy, also known as fatigue. Puppies are generally very energetic, so they both play hard and rest hard.

However, if you notice that the puppy is less playful than usual, something may be wrong. Their bodies are fighting the virus so hard that they don’t have the energy to do anything else. Since part of the digestive system is being damaged, the body can not absorb the normal nutrients it needs for energy. This is most times the first indicator of parvo. (Source)

2. Loss of Appetite

If your puppy has parvo, it will also have a loss of appetite. Their digestive tract is not working normally, so their body isn’t sending their brain the normal signals. Therefore they have no desire to eat. This can be a huge indicator since usually, a puppy will take any chance it gets to nurse from its mom. Pay close attention to your puppy’s diet and if it sporadically changes in the first few months of its life.

You can know for sure that they aren’t eating normal amounts of food if the puppy loses weight. Puppies grow a lot in the first few months, so it’s a bad sign if they are losing weight instead of gaining it. (Source)

3. Vomiting

Since the digestive tract isn’t working properly, the puppy will not be able to keep anything down if it is eating. The gastrointestinal tract is under stress and losing healthy cells. The stomach is unable to absorb important nutrients, which ruins the gut, causing the body to throw up what it cannot absorb.

The puppy’s body is just trying to survive, so it doesn’t have much energy to do anything else. Since the immune system is weakened, it is also possible for the puppy to contract a second infection. Contracting a second disease could be catastrophic. (Source)

4. Diarrhea

Similar to vomiting, frequent diarrhea is a symptom of parvo and the digestive system not working. You can definitely tell if the diarrhea is a symptom of parvo if it is bloody and loose. The diarrhea is often bloody because the virus is destroying the inner lining of the intestinal tract.

The worse the diarrhea is, the more likely the puppy has contracted parvo. Both vomiting and diarrhea will cause dehydration, further damaging the immune system of the puppy. (Source)

5. Fever or Low Body Temperature

In response to the virus, the body will try to heat up or cool down to get rid of it. Canine parvovirus can not survive in environments of heat, cold, dryness, or humidity. Fevers in dogs are very hard to spot, but you can buy a dog thermometer.

Their temperature should be between 99.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If your dog’s temperature gets below or above those numbers, keep a close eye on the puppy and maybe take it to the vet. Besides testing the temperature, they may be shivering or exhibit other fever symptoms that we as humans also experience when our body temperatures rise. (Source)

6. Abdominal Pain and Bloating

Sadly, the dogs will be experiencing some pain, especially in their abdominal area. You can test this out by touching the abdominal area and paying attention to their reaction. They will probably whimper or try to get away to avoid further pain. You can also physically see if they are bloating or not. These are both signs of issues within the digestive tract.

These two symptoms are caused by gas being trapped in the digestive system. Since it isn’t working properly, it cannot properly digest everything the puppy consumes, causing gas. The gas then causes bloating, which is very uncomfortable and painful for the dog. The pain that the puppy feels is also what could be causing their lack of appetite. They don’t have as strong of a desire to eat when their stomach is in pain. (Source)

7. Difficulty Breathing

There are two types of canine parvovirus, intestinal and cardiac. All of the symptoms mentioned thus far are signs of intestinal parvo. Intestinal Parvo is the most common of the two. Cardiac Parvo is not very common. Instead of attacking the gastrointestinal tract, it affects the heart.

The dog will have trouble breathing for a few hours and then suddenly its heart will stop. This type of parvo is much more sudden and harder to catch early on, but it rarely happens anymore. This is due to most bred dogs having been vaccinated. Sometimes cardiac parvo affects dogs before they are even born, causing them to be stillborn.

The best way to prevent cardiac parvo is to keep the pregnant mother in a clean environment, free of any viruses. It’s also smart to keep the pregnant mother away from dogs you don’t know, for you never know if they have a virus or not. (Source)

8. Doesn’t Have Vaccines

Puppies are the biggest concern when it comes to Parvo, for there is a vaccine they get as they grow up to prevent it. Most of the time a puppy isn’t fully vaccinated until it is four months old, so it’s important to keep a very close eye on your puppy. For the first few weeks of its life, the puppy nurses from its mom and gets natural antibodies from the milk. As they get older they start to get their vaccines, but the mother’s milk can cancel out the effect of the vaccines and keep them from developing immunity. (Source)

This is why it’s important to space out the vaccines, from about week 6 to 4 months old. During this period when the puppy isn’t fully immune to common viruses and diseases, you need to keep a close eye on it. The puppy is not able to get all of its vaccines at once when it is firstborn, as this would be an overload for the body and possibly prevent the vaccines from fully working.

Once your puppy is fully vaccinated, there’s no chance it can contract parvo as a fully grown dog, as long as it’s only surrounded by other fully vaccinated dogs. (Source)

9. Exposed to Other Puppies

Canine Parvovirus is very contagious and spreadable among dogs, especially since it is contained in their feces. It can be spread either directly or indirectly. A dog could sniff another dog’s feces and contract parvo. So, if your puppy has been around other puppies, it could be likely that all of the symptoms that they are exhibiting are because they have parvo. To prevent that from happening, keep your puppy away from dog parks and other dogs until it’s fully vaccinated. (Source)

You don’t want to take any chances of losing your puppy during only the first few months of its life. Once they are exposed to parvo it can take up to two weeks for symptoms to show. If there aren’t any symptoms you would have no idea. It’s also important to keep their areas clean. Create a clean environment for the puppy, free of any trace of parvo.

You can prevent your puppy from contracting parvo by making sure they get all of the correct vaccines and keeping them away from dirty areas or other dogs in their first few months of life.

Treatment and Care

If your dog has any of these symptoms, take it to the vet immediately. Parvo acts fast, and sometimes you won’t even know they have it when they first contract it. Parvo can cause death within 3 days and the mortality rate is still low even if they receive treatment.

Since Parvo is a virus, there is no real treatment, just intensive care. Once at the vet, the dog will first receive fluid to replace what was lost. Parvo causes a lot of dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea. Doctors will then give them antibiotics that strengthen their immune system and digestive tract, allowing them to fight the virus and quickly get rid of it. (Source)

Even once your dog is on the upward recovery slope, you still need to keep a close eye. It takes them a long time to recover from what they just went through. Their body needs to recover in a safe, germ-free environment. Keep them away from other dogs for at least two months, and keep their spaces clean.

Parvo cannot be spread between humans, just between dogs. However, make sure to wash your hands after being outside, for the chances that you came into contact with parvo yourself. Parvo can survive for up to a year outside on its own. (Source)

If your dog is over four months old, it should have all of its vaccinations and be in the clear! If they still have some of these symptoms, they could have a different virus or disease. Take them to the vet as soon as you can for more information and a diagnosis. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

If your puppy is exposed to other dogs and not vaccinated, and then becomes tired, has a fever, diarrhea, vomit, abdominal pain, heavy breathing, and doesn’t eat, take your pet to the vet immediately. The vet will then give it the proper care before it is too late, and help them recover after they defeat the virus.

Parvo isn’t fully treatable, but it can be prevented by creating a clean environment for your puppy, giving it all the required vaccines, and keeping it away from unvaccinated dogs. Don’t stress too much, just make sure that if your puppy gets parvo, give it time to heal.

Carolina Pieters

I'm Carolina and created this blog, to provide practical advice and emotional comfort for those dealing with pet loss.

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