Our heart broke for Oprah. Last week one of the sweet little Cocker Spaniel puppies she adopted this month passed away. The cause? The deadly Parvovirus virus (“parvo”). As a precaution, Oprah’s other pup, Sadie, is being treated for the virus. But like many of Oprah’s viewers, the Woof Reporters wondered: What exactly is parvo and how can I protect my dog? So we got to work. Here are the facts from the top dogs in veterinary medicine, the American Veterinary Medical Association.

What is Parvo?
Officially known as Canine Parvovirus type 2 (CPV-2), this very serious and highly contagious virus attacks the gastrointestinal tract and in some cases the heart muscles of puppies, dogs and other wild canids such as wolves and coyotes. All dogs are at risk, but puppies under four months of age and dogs that have not been vaccinated against parvo are at increased risk.  

What are the Symptoms of Parvo Infection?
Dogs with parvo become lethargic, refuse to eat and become very ill with fever, vomiting and severe, often bloody diarrhea, causing rapid dehydration. Most deaths from parvo occur just 48 to 72 hours after the signs appear. That’s why it’s critical that dogs receive immediate veterinary care to treat the virus.

How Does Parvo Spread?
Parvo makes it’s way around from dog to dog through direct contact with other infected dogs, and contact with contaminated feces and surroundings like kennels, food bowls, collars and leashes, and the hands, shoes and clothing of people who interact with infected dogs. The virus is resistant to heat, cold, humidity, and drying, and can survive in the environment for long periods of time.

How is Parvo Treated?
First, a veterinarian will confirm the diagnosis with a fecal test. Since there is no specific drug available to kill the virus, the treatment is intended to help the dog’s immune system fight the virus. This includes replacing fluid loss and electrolytes, controlling diarrhea and vomiting and preventing further infection. Dogs with parvo are kept isolated to avoid contaminating other dogs, and all blankets, beds, toys, and items the dog had contact with are disinfected to help control the spread of this contagious disease.

How Can Parvo Be Prevented?
Vaccination and good hygiene are essential in preventing canine parvovirus. To protect adult dogs, be sure your dog’s parvovirus vaccination is up-to-date. For puppies, make sure yours receives his complete series of canine parvovirus vaccinations. Until then, use caution when bringing your pup to places where dogs congregate and do not allow him to come into contact with the fecal waste of other dogs while walking or playing outdoors. (Many vets advise not to put your puppy down on the floor anywhere outside your home to avoid contact with infected dogs or feces). Since this is a critical time for puppy socialization, carry your pup in your arms to see the outside world and only socialize him with healthy dogs that you know are vaccinated. Reputable training or puppy social classes are fine too since they reduce exposure risk by requiring vaccinations for participation and maintain a sterile environment.

For more information on preventing and treating parvo, check out the links below for an overview and consult with your veterinarian.


The Scoop:

American Veterinary Medical Association’s brochure: What you should know about Canine Parvovirus

Frequently Asked Questions about Canine Parvovirus type 2c


Thank you to Sally and Punkin for the photo.