You’ve brought home your new puppy and after a few days, you notice he’s got diarrhea. You’ve heard how susceptible puppies are to parvovirus so you immediately jump to the conclusion that he’s got parvo.
To give you peace of mind, first let’s look at some other reasons for puppy diarrhea. Then we’ll take a closer look at parvo symptoms in dogs and what you can do.
But in any event, if your puppy’s diarrhea is serious then you definitely need to contact your vet. If parvo is a possibility, you need to begin aggressive treatment immediately as the first 3 or 4 days are crucial to your puppy’s chances of surviving parvo.
Diarrhea In Puppies
It’s common practice to send puppies to their new homes as young as 8 weeks of age. That little pup is going through a lot of changes in his life … and those can lead to bouts of diarrhea. You’ll want to pay attention to the color and consistency of your puppy’s stool. It can tell you a lot about what’s happening inside your puppy. And if you need to contact your vet about the diarrhea, that information will be helpful, along with a sample.
If your puppy has had a few loose stools and seems happy and full of energy, he’s probably fine … it could just be anxiety from being removed from his mother and siblings. But this should clear within a few days once he settles into his new home. If he has more serious diarrhea and doesn’t feel well, it’s a good idea to contact your vet anyway.
But, in case your pup has something more serious than regular diarrhea or digestive upset, here’s what you need to know about parvo symptoms in dogs.
Parvo Symptoms In Dogs
Here are parvo symptoms you might see:
- Severe diarrhea, sometimes bloody from an irritated digestive tract
- Feces with signs of blood and a very unpleasant smell
- Frequent vomiting – can be clear, yellow or brown
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Rapid heartbeat
- Extreme lethargy and weakness
- Noticeable abdominal pain with tenderness
- Possible drooling
In other words, instead of an active, curious, always hungry puppy, you’ve got a puppy who isn’t moving, doesn’t want to eat or drink, shows no interest in anything and is wasting away in front of you.
If you suspect parvo, get your puppy to the vet right away to confirm the diagnosis. But be sure to tell your vet that you suspect parvo. It’s highly contagious and they need to prevent your puppy from spreading the virus to other patients in the clinic.
What Is Parvovirus In Dogs?
The Merck Veterinary Manual defines parvo as a disease of the stomach and small intestines. It’s a fast-acting viral infection that destroys cells, stops nutrient absorption, and disrupts the gut barrier. The small intestines become inflamed … leading to infection, diarrhea and dehydration. Parvo in puppies can also affect the bone marrow and lymphopoietic tissues in white blood cells, and in some cases it can also affect the heart.
There are some breeds that seem to be more susceptible to parvo. They include Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, American Pitbull Terriers, English Springer Spaniels and German Shepherds. Parvo is more common in puppies under 6 months of age with undeveloped immune systems. But any dog can get parvo … including adult dogs, immune-compromised dogs and senior dogs.
How Do Dogs Get Parvo?
Puppies and dogs will contract parvo through infected feces. The incubation period is 4 to 14 days so you might not even know your dog is contagious. He could be shedding the virus in his feces. Or a recently vaccinated dog (1) can also shed the virus and infect an unvaccinated dog. And the parvo virus can survive on contaminated surfaces or clothing for 6-12 months.
Parvo is a very contagious disease. Your puppy can get it from an infected dog or indirectly from contaminated objects like …
- Food and water bowls
- Leashes, collars and harnesses
- Someone who’s handled an infected dog
Kennels, veterinary offices and dog parks are a high risk for puppies.
Diagnosis Of Parvo
Your vet can confirm a case of parvo within about 10 minutes using a SNAP test. Your vet might also run blood work to measure your puppy’s immune cells and hydration level. That will determine the seriousness of his condition.
Parvo Treatment In Dogs
When your puppy gets parvo, you need to act quickly. Dehydration is the major factor that often leads to death, not the virus itself. That’s why quick action and treatment are the key to your puppy’s survival.
You may opt to have your puppy admitted to the hospital during the initial emergency stage. Then he’ll get intravenous fluids (for hydration), antibiotics, pain and anti-nausea medications, and round-the-clock supervision. (Not all clinics have overnight supervision, so ask about this – it may be better to bring him home if nobody will be there to monitor him.)
Natural Parvo Care At Home
It’s possible to care for your parvo puppy at home … but don’t do it alone. You’ll need to work closely with your holistic vet to guide you through the process. It’s a big commitment as you’ll need to monitor your puppy very carefully around the clock and give him remedies as often as hourly if needed. You’ll need to provide supportive care while managing the symptoms of parvo.
Keep these 5 things in mind to help you manage parvo at home.
- Maintain Hydration
- Control Diarrhea & Vomiting
- Control Blood Sugar
- Manage Secondary Infections
- Homeopathic Remedies
1. Maintain Hydration
You can check for dehydration by pinching the skin on the back of your dog’s neck. If it doesn’t bounce back immediately, your dog is dehydrated and needs fluids immediately. You can use Pedialyte to replenish electrolytes lost from vomiting and diarrhea.
Your veterinarian can also provide you with subcutaneous fluids to give at home. They’ll advise you on how often he should be given fluids to keep him properly hydrated.
In more severe cases, your puppy may need to get IV fluids … and you’ll need to take him to the vet clinic for that. Again, stay in close touch with your holistic vet and follow her guidance.
2. Control Diarrhea And Vomiting
Diarrhea and vomiting lead to fluid loss and dehydration. But you can avoid pharmaceutical medications with this approach.
You can use a herbal blend like Paxxaid by Amber Naturalz (formerly Paxxin or Parvaid). The company provides detailed instructions on how to use it. Other companies offer herbal products too, so do your research.
Once he can keep food down, your vet may suggest giving bone bone broth to provide liquids and nutrients. Try this chicken soup recipe:
- 3 to 4 chicken thighs
- 6 cups of water
- Optional: include some vegetables like celery, carrot, yam and cauliflower
Boil chicken in water and simmer for 1½ to 2 hours. Discard the skin and bones and save the meat and broth. Cook the chopped veggies in broth for 20 minutes. Give your dog small amounts (a few teaspoons for very small dogs, up to ½ to 1 cup for larger dogs). Wait a few hours between meals to ensure diarrhea and vomiting don’t return. Continue with this for a few days until he’s noticeably better, before returning to his normal diet.
3. Control Blood Sugar
You can see low blood sugar by looking at the color of your dog’s gums. Normal is pink, and even dogs with brown or black gums have some color. White or pale gums mean his sugar level is low. You can rub molasses on the gums every hour and watch for a change in gums and energy level.
Or you can use this purée:
Beef Liver Purée
- 2 slices of beef liver
- Electrolyte fluid (such as Pedialyte)
- 1/4 ripe banana
Boil the liver and blend with enough fluid to thin it so you can suck it into a syringe. Add the banana and more fluid if needed. Squirt it in your pup’s mouth every 3 hours if he’s keeping food down.
Use these amounts. Don’t overdo it or it can lead to more diarrhea.
- 11-20 lbs – 1 tsp
- 21-30 lbs – 2 tsp
- 31-40 lbs – 1 Tbsp
- 41-50 lbs – 2 Tbsp
- Add 1 more Tbsp for every 10 lbs over 50 lbs
4. Manage Secondary Infections
Parvo is a virus, so antibiotics won’t help. But if your dog develops secondary infections, natural antibiotics will help without depleting your dog’s gut health.
Some natural antibiotics to consider are …
Ask your holistic vet to help select the right remedy as well as how to dose it.
5. Use Homeopathic Remedies
Homeopathy is extremely effective in managing parvo. But unless you’re a professional homeopath, you can’t do it alone … so you’ll need to work with your homeopathic vet. He’ll prescribe the correct remedies for the specific parvo symptoms in your dog … and they can change frequently, so stay in close touch.
Only choose this route if you already work with a homeopathic vet. A parvo emergency is not the time to be trying out a new vet you’ve never worked with before.
Other Things To Do
Above all, you want to ensure your puppy doesn’t spread the virus or get re-infected while he’s healing. When you’ve got other pets, your parvo puppy needs to be isolated to stop the virus from spreading. Even after he’s better, he’ll need to stay away from others for 4 weeks as he can still be contagious. Keep his bedding clean and keep your own clothing and footwear clean.
But that’s easier said than done. It’s not easy to kill the parvo virus by cleaning. It can survive in the environment for 6-12 months. Neither direct sunlight nor freezing temperatures will kill it.
The best defense is to wash everything you can in high-temperature settings in the washer or dishwasher. Wash things like towels, blankets, clothing, curtains, dog toys, and food bowls. Other surfaces like mattresses, furniture, and carpeting need to be steam cleaned.
You can wipe down surfaces and clean with a solution made up of 2T castile soap and 15 drops of tea tree and lemon essential oils in 1 ¾ cups water and ¼ cup white vinegar. It’s a non-toxic alternative to bleach. But don’t use tea tree oil on anything that will come into contact with your dog, as it can be toxic to dogs.
Your yard can also be infected with the virus so extra watering (or rain) can dilute the virus, and sunlight also has sanitizing effects.
Of course, the best thing is to avoid having to deal with parvo at all.
4 Ways To Prevent Parvo In Dogs
When you practice good health you build a strong immune system in your dog from puppyhood through to his senior years. Here’s how.
1. Feed A Whole Food, Raw Meat Diet
A raw diet is the healthiest for your puppy, as soon as you get him. You want to avoid foods with fillers like corn and wheat, or synthetic vitamins and minerals that aren’t well absorbed. Your puppy needs naturally occurring nutrients that his body can digest easily.
2. Use Natural Dewormers
When your puppy has a healthy immune system, he’s not a good host for worms. If he does get worms, there are natural dewormers like raw, hulled pumpkin seeds. Medicating him with toxic chemicals creates an additional burden on his immature system and puts him at a higher risk for parvo. Then his body has to detox as well as fight disease.
3. Monitor Your Puppy’s Social Network
Just leaving the house means your puppy is exposed to small amounts of viruses and germs. And that’s okay because it allows him to build his immunity naturally. Go slowly before you expose him to large amounts of the parvo antigen from busy areas like a dog park, boarding, daycare or the vet’s office. Places with high dog traffic can can overwhelm your puppy’s developing immune system.
4. Don’t Over-Vaccinate
If you give your puppy the parvo vaccine, he doesn’t need repeated shots every two weeks as a puppy, plus annual boosters as many vets recommend. Vaccinating your dog more often doesn’t make him “more immune” … and repeated vaccination sensitizes the immune system, making him more susceptible to disease.
Research by veterinary immunologist Ronald Schultz PhD and others shows that puppies vaccinated once, between 12 and 16 weeks old are better protected from disease, and that protection lasts for several years (2, 3).
Unfortunately, vaccination isn’t a guarantee that your dog is 100% protected. In the case of parvo, research shows more than a quarter of vaccinated dogs (4) will still contract the disease. So you always need to be aware of parvo symptoms in dogs just in case.
At the end of the journey, the advice remains the same. If you maintain your dog’s health from puppyhood throughout his life, he’ll have a strong immune system that can ward off deadly diseases like parvo … and enjoy a long, healthy life.
1. 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.
2. Schultz RD. Duration of immunity for canine and feline vaccines: A review. Veterinary Microbiology. 2006;117(1):75-9.
3. [Presentation to veterinarians ] Schultz RD. What everyone needs to know about canine and feline vaccination programs. 2008 Conference of the AHVMA.
4. Decaro N, Buonavoglia C, Barrs VR. Canine parvovirus vaccination and immunization failures: Are we far from disease eradication? Vet Microbiol. 2020 Aug; 247:108760.