Having a sick dog is no fun, but these tips can help get him on the fast track to recovery.

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By the American Veterinary Medical Association

“Parvo” is the common term for canine parvoviral enteritis. The canine parvovirus causes severe intestinal damage, which can result in vomiting, diarrhea (often bloody), depression, dehydration, and death. Puppies and unvaccinated dogs are at the highest risk of infection and illness from parvo.

Prevention is Key! Vaccinate Your Dog

There are vaccines that can dramatically reduce your pet’s risk of becoming infected with parvo, and preventing your pet from being infected with parvo is much better for your pet than treating them after they’re infected and very ill. Consult your veterinarian about a vaccine program that’s appropriate for your pet based on their lifestyle and risk of exposure to disease.

Recognizing the Signs of Parvo

If your dog is vomiting, seems depressed or lethargic, and/or has diarrhea, consult your veterinarian immediately. These signs don’t always indicate parvo, but usually need treatment anyway and a “wait and see” approach could put your pet’s life at risk.

Take Your Pet to the Vet as Soon as You are Concerned

If your pet develops parvo, immediate veterinary care is critical to your pet's survival. And the longer you delay that care, the lower your pet’s chances of survival become. Because parvo can cause such severe illness, most deaths from parvo occur within the first 2-3 days after the first signs of illness are observed.

Even with 24-hour intensive care, some dogs do not survive because the damage caused by the virus may be too severe. Pets with parvo need to be constantly monitored because their medical conditions can quickly change for the worse, and your pet’s chance of survival is much higher in the hospital than it is at home.

Treating Parvo

Pets with parvo often require intravenous fluids to keep them hydrated; antibiotics to treat infections that can occur as a result of the damage to the intestines; and plasma transfusions to replace protein lost in the vomit or diarrhea and to provide immune support. They may need constant nutritional support as well, to provide them with the nutrients they need to fight off the disease and heal their intestines.

Keeping Other Pets Safe

Canine parvovirus is highly contagious and survives in the environment – including your home and yard – for a long time (years). Pets infected with parvo are kept in quarantine areas when hospitalized in order to prevent them from infecting other pets. Keeping an infected dog in your home puts your other dogs, and any dog that may come in contact with them, at risk. And once you’ve had a dog with parvo in your home, don’t bring an unvaccinated dog into your home or you risk infection and illness of that pet; only bring vaccinated and protected dogs into your home.

Parvo can quickly become a deadly disease, but your pet has a better chance of survival if the illness is recognized early and treated appropriately. Don’t be afraid to call your vet clinic if you have any concerns or questions about your pet’s health. For more information about canine parvovirus, view the American Veterinary Medical Association’s free brochure (available in English and Spanish).