Parvovirus is a contagious virus that commonly affects puppies. Puppies from 6 weeks to 6 months are the most susceptible to it, and they’re the most likely to become seriously ill from it.
Older dogs can get parvo. In fact, if you search online just about every article you’ll find makes the case to keep vaccinating your dog against parvo, whatever his age. But older dogs are much less likely to get parvo and cases are unusual.
If an older dog does get parvo, it’s often a mild case because your older dog has built up a stronger immune system. The parvovirus is everywhere, so over time, your dog will build natural immunity to the virus (whether he’s vaccinated or not) by being exposed to it. But dogs of any age who are immunocompromised can be more susceptible to any virus or infection.
Parvo isn’t airborne but can be transmitted from dog to dog and through feces or contaminated soil. The virus survives 6 to 12 months in the environment at moderate temperatures.
Parvo Symptoms to Watch For In Older Dogs
Your older dog will show the same or very similar symptoms of parvo to what a puppy has. But because he’s older, you might not think it’s parvo and may miss it entirely. Fortunately, most cases in older dogs are mild.
Your dog may contract parvo if exposed to parvo in either a sick puppy or a recently vaccinated puppy or dog. The virus sheds for about 2 weeks following vaccination … in the park, pet stores, sidewalk, a kennel, the vet’s office. So, if you have an older dog, he can be infected by the parvo antigens in the shed vaccine … especially if he’s in poor health. But if he’s healthy, you’ve got much less to worry about.
Here are signs of parvo:
- Severe, often bloody diarrhea
- Sudden loss of appetite, weight loss
- Frequent or profuse vomiting
- Extreme and sudden lethargy or depression
- Bloated, tender, or painful abdomen –
- Rapid heartbeat
Diagnosis And Veterinary Treatment For Parvo
When a dog has been vomiting or has diarrhea that doesn’t seem related to digestive issues, it could be time for a parvo test. Then you can begin treatment and care immediately.
Your veterinarian can confirm a parvo diagnosis with a rectal swab or fecal testing within 10 minutes.
Treatment involves supportive care for your dog until his immune system can fight off the viral infection. Veterinary treatment will include IV fluids for hydration, antibiotics for secondary bacterial infection, pain meds and anti-nausea medication and antacids. Depending on the severity, treatment will last from several weeks to several months.
Your vet will often advise boarding your dog at the clinic so he can receive fluids and meds and 24-hour care. The costs can be substantial. You can often care for your older dog with milder symptoms at home.
Natural Ways To Care For Your Older Parvo Dog At Home
Getting your dog through parvo is a matter of supporting your dog’s immune system to fight off the virus. The key is keeping your dog hydrated … especially in smaller dogs who can dehydrate rapidly from fluid loss. (In puppies, that’s the biggest threat … dehydration, not the virus itself.)
Treating your parvo dog at home means you’ll be supporting him with fluids, nutrients, and natural anti-nausea remedies. You’ll want to keep in touch with your holistic vet when you treat your dog at home.
The priorities of care for your parvo dog are just as they are in a parvo puppy:
- Blood Sugar
- Prevent Secondary Infections
Dehydration is usually a bigger problem than actual parvo. To check for dehydration: Pinch the skin at the back of your dog’s neck. It should bounce back immediately. If the fold takes 2 seconds or longer to return to normal, your dog is dehydrated and you need to get fluids into him quickly.
You can prepare an oat water recipe using 1 cup of whole (not instant) oats, 1/2 gallon of filtered water, 1/3 cup of molasses, and 1 tsp sea salt. Bring the water to a boil, add the remaining ingredients, and simmer for 5 minutes. Let it sit for 20 minutes, strain, and use the water.
You can syringe it into your dog’s mouth a bit at a time. Or you can use Pedialyte instead, to replenish electrolytes lost from vomiting and diarrhea.
Your veterinarian can also provide you with a subcutaneous fluid so you can give fluids to your dog at home. Get a schedule of how often your dog should receive these fluids to keep him properly hydrated.
2. Diarrhea And Vomiting
Both can lead to fluid loss and dehydration. It’s important to get a handle on severe diarrhea as soon as possible. But please, avoid drug store medications. Herbal and homeopathic remedies are better options without suppressing the disease.
Because this isn’t simply a digestive upset, you’ll want to use a trustworthy product. Paxxaid by Amber Naturalz (formerly Paxxin or Parvaid) is a herbal blend that’s proven safe and effective. The company has excellent customer service and provides detailed instructions on how to use it.
S. boulardii is a gut-friendly yeast probiotic that is safe for dogs. It stops diarrhea and supports the gastrointestinal system and the immune system. It also addresses diarrhea stemming from antibiotic use. If your dog’s under veterinary care, they may give him antibiotics in case of secondary infection. So if you need to give your dog antibiotics for parvo, give him probiotics with S. boulardii as well.
The vomiting and diarrhea will aggravate your dog’s digestive tract. Even if it looks like the worst is over, you should still withhold food for another 6 to 8 hours. As long as your dog is getting water and vitamins and minerals, he is getting nourishment.
Once he can keep food down, you can start him off with bone broth, and gradually work up to light meals. This chicken soup recipe is a good way to do that.
3 to 4 chicken thighs
6 cups of water
(optional) celery, carrot, yam and cauliflower
Add chicken thighs to water. Heat to a boil and simmer for 1½ to 2 hours. Remove the skin and bones and save the meat and broth. Use the broth to cook 1 to 2 cups of chopped vegetables for 20 minutes. Allow it to cool before serving. Start your dog off with small amounts (a few teaspoons for very small dogs, up to ½ to 1 cup for larger dogs). Wait 4 hours between meals to make sure diarrhea and vomiting don’t start again. and gradually increase the amount. Continue with this food for a few days until he’s completely recovered, before putting him back on his normal diet.
3. Manage Blood Sugar
This is less likely to be a problem in adult dogs, but you should still watch your dog for signs of low blood sugar. Do this by looking at the color of his gums. Normal gums should be pink. Even dogs with brown or black gums should have some color. If his gums are white or pale, it means his sugar level is low.
You can rub molasses on his gums every hour. Watch for a change in his gums and energy level. If not you can make up a beef liver puree:
Beef Liver Puree
- 2 slices of beef liver
- Oat water (as above) or electrolyte fluid (such as Pedialyte)
- 1/4 ripe banana
Boil the liver until cooked. Blend and add enough fluid to thin it. You want it thin enough to suck into a syringe. Add the banana and more fluid if needed. Then give the liver puree by mouth every 3 hours if he’s keeping food down. Don’t give more than what’s recommended or it will cause more diarrhea.
- 11-20 lbs – 1 tsp
- 21-30 lbs – 2 tsp
- 31-40 lbs – 1 Tbsp
- 41-50 lbs – 2 Tbsp
- Add an extra 1 Tbsp for every 10 lbs over 50 lbs
4. Give Natural Antivirals
There are several antiviral herbs you can try. Ask your herbalist or holistic vet how to dose these herbs.
5. Homeopathic Remedies
Homeopathic remedies can be extremely effective in managing parvo. You’ll need to work with your homeopathic vet throughout your dog’s illness for help in selecting the right remedies for your dog’s symptoms. Find a homeopath at theavh.org.
6. Prevent Secondary Infections
Parvo is a virus, so shouldn’t need antibiotics, but some dogs may develop secondary infections. Natural antibiotics will help fight secondary infections without further depleting your dog’s gut health.
Some natural antibiotics to consider are …
- Oil of oregano
- Olive leaf
- Manuka honey
Again, ask your holistic vet to help you with a selection of the right herb as well as how to dose it.
If you have other pets, you’ll need to isolate your parvo dog from the others to stop the virus from spreading. Even after he’s better, keep him away from other dogs for 4 weeks. Keep his bedding clean and keep your own clothing and footwear clean.
Parvo is not an easy virus to kill. The virus can survive on contaminated surfaces or clothing for 6-12 months. Direct sunlight nor freezing temperatures will kill it.
Wash whatever you can in a high-temperature setting in the washing machine or dishwasher, including things like towels, blankets, clothing, curtains, dog toys, and food bowls. Mattresses, furniture, and carpeting need to be steam cleaned.
A safe way to sanitize your home (instead of toxic bleach) is to mix 2T of castile soap and 15 drops of tea tree and lemon essential oils in 1 ¾ cups water and ¼ cup white vinegar. Use this to wipe down surfaces and clean bowls, floors, surfaces, and toys. Add a few drops of lavender and lemon essential oil to the laundry when you wash your dog’s bedding. Don’t use tea tree oil on anything that comes into direct contact with your dog, as it can be toxic to dogs.
Keep in mind your yard can also be infected with the virus. It’s not a good idea to use bleach on your grass or plants, but extra watering (or rain) can help dilute the virus, and sunlight also has sanitizing effects.
Does Vaccination Make A Dog Safe From Parvo?
No, it doesn’t. Vaccinated and unvaccinated dogs of any age can be susceptible to infection if they come into contact with canine parvovirus particles. There isn’t a vaccine that produces 100% protection 100% of the time.
But a healthy dog will build up protective antibodies through natural immunity (as well as any protection from being vaccinated). And there’s another problem with vaccination … and that’s with false understanding. Getting a “booster” every year doesn’t increase a dog’s immune response. In fact, challenge studies by Ronald Schultz PhD showed that the majority of dogs are protected for several years, sometimes for life, after a single vaccine.
Here’s How To Prevent Parvo In Older Dogs
- If your dog has compromised immunity, avoid dog parks and veterinary offices where diseases are transmitted, and minimize contact with puppies and dogs who have recently had the parvo vaccine and may shed the virus
- Support your dog’s immune system by …
- Feeding a whole food, fresh meat diet to provide vitamins, minerals and fiber
- Incorporating fruits and vegetables for their antioxidant content
- Including prebiotics and probiotics to support your dog’s gut and immune health
- Giving minimal vaccinations
- Avoiding pharmaceutical medications, pest prevention and antibiotics
Maintaining your dog’s health from puppyhood through to his senior years is a lifelong practice but you’ll be rewarded with a healthy dog with a robust immune system.
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Decaro N, Buonavoglia C, Barrs VR. Canine parvovirus vaccination and immunization failures: Are we far from disease eradication? Vet Microbiol. 2020 Aug; 247:108760.
Decaro, N. et al. Long-term viremia and fecal shedding in pups after modified-live canine parvovirus vaccination. Vaccine. 2014 Jun 24; 32(30):3850-3.
Freisl, M. et al. Faecal shedding of canine parvovirus after modified-live vaccination in healthy adult dogs. The Veterinary Journal. Vol. 219, 2017, Pages 15-21, ISSN 1090-0233.
[Presentation to veterinarians ] Schultz RD. What everyone needs to know about canine and feline vaccination programs. 2008 Conference of the AHVMA.