Diarrhea is one of the most common symptoms of canine parvovirus (parvo) infection in dogs. Parvo is a highly contagious and potentially fatal viral disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract and causes severe vomiting and diarrhea in dogs.
What is canine parvovirus?
Canine parvovirus (CPV) is a highly contagious viral illness that affects dogs. The virus attacks rapidly dividing cells in a dog’s body, most severely affecting the intestinal tract. Parvo is spread through direct contact with infected feces and can live in the environment for months or even years. All dogs are at risk of contracting parvo if not vaccinated, especially puppies between 6 weeks to 6 months old.
What causes parvo diarrhea?
The parvovirus targets cells in the intestines, causing inflammation and cell death that leads to gastrointestinal symptoms. The virus also impairs the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients, resulting in the following:
- Severe diarrhea due to inflammation and impaired absorption
- Vomiting as the intestines try to eliminate the virus
- Bloody diarrhea as the intestinal walls start to break down
- Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances due to fluid loss
The diarrhea can range from mild and intermittent to extremely severe with profuse watery and bloody stools. Dehydration progresses rapidly in dogs with parvo diarrhea, which can become life-threatening.
How long does parvo diarrhea last?
In dogs with parvo, the diarrhea typically lasts for 5-7 days. However, the severity and duration can vary depending on factors such as:
- The dog’s age – puppies tend to have more severe symptoms
- Vaccination status – unvaccinated dogs are more affected
- Overall health status
- How early treatment is started
- Development of secondary infections
Here is a breakdown of the typical timelines for parvo diarrhea:
|Acute phase||2-4 days||Severe watery bloody diarrhea, vomiting, high fever|
|Subacute phase||Days 5-7||Diarrhea starts improving, becoming less bloody|
|Recovery phase||Week 2 onwards||Diarrhea continues to improve and resolve|
Without treatment, the diarrhea and dehydration can persist for up to 2 weeks in dogs with parvo. With prompt veterinary treatment, dogs normally start showing improvement within 3-4 days.
How is parvo diarrhea treated?
There is no specific antiviral treatment for canine parvovirus itself. Treatment focuses on supporting the dog through the infection by:
- Fluid therapy – Intravenous or subcutaneous fluids to correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
- Anti-nausea medication – To control vomiting.
- Nutritional support – Highly digestible diet once vomiting stops, or feeding tube if needed.
- Antibiotics – To prevent secondary bacterial infections.
- Intestinal protectants – Medications to coat and soothe the intestinal tract.
- Blood transfusions – If the dog has become severely anemic.
Hospitalization for intensive support care greatly improves recovery and survival chances. At home care is possible for mild cases under a vet’s guidance.
What is the prognosis for parvo diarrhea?
With aggressive veterinary treatment and supportive care, the intestinal damage from parvo can fully heal in most dogs. However, the prognosis depends on factors such as:
- The dog’s age. Puppies under 16 weeks have a poorer prognosis.
- How early treatment was started. Dogs have the best outlook if treated within 48 hours of symptom onset.
- Severity of symptoms. Dogs with prolonged diarrhea or bloody stools have a more guarded outlook.
- Overall health status. Weak or unvaccinated dogs tend to fare worse.
With prompt veterinary treatment, around 80-90% of dogs can make a full recovery from parvo infection. However, recovery can take 2 weeks or longer depending on severity. Relapses may also occur in some dogs.
How to prevent parvo diarrhea
Vaccination is the best way to protect dogs against parvo infection and diarrhea. Puppies should receive a series of parvo vaccinations starting at 6-8 weeks of age and repeated every 2-4 weeks until 16-20 weeks of age. Adult dogs need booster parvo shots per their veterinarian’s recommendations.
Other tips to prevent parvo transmission include:
- Proper cleaning of areas used by infected dogs
- Quarantining infected dogs during illness and recovery
- Avoiding taking unvaccinated puppies to high-risk areas
- Washing hands and disinfecting shoes after contact with questionable areas
Parvo diarrhea usually lasts for 5-7 days in dogs starting 2-6 days after exposure to the virus. Severe watery bloody diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration and rapid weight loss are characteristic. With intensive veterinary treatment, most dogs can make a full recovery within 2 weeks. Preventing parvo through proper vaccination is critical, especially in high-risk breeds and environments.
Contact your veterinarian immediately if your dog develops symptoms of parvo. The sooner treatment is started, the better the chances of recovery and survival.