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Can a Puppy Survive Parvo Without Treatment?

Canine parvovirus first became a problem in the United States in the late 1970s to early 1980s. The virus is a major cause of death and disease in dogs worldwide. We have come a long way in our ability to prevent and treat the disease but can a puppy survive parvo without treatment? 

In puppies infected with parvo who receive no treatment, the survival rate is somewhere around 10%. That means 9 out of 10 untreated parvo puppies will die. In-patient parvo puppies have a survival rate of 80-90% and out-patient treated pups survive about 75-80% of the time.(3, 4)

What Is Parvo in Dogs?

Canine parvovirus (CPV) is a highly contagious virus that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea in susceptible dogs. The virus is transmitted when an unvaccinated dog breathes in or ingests virus particles passed in the body fluids of an infected dog. 

Do Worms Cause Parvo?

Parasitic worm infestation does not cause parvo in dogs. However, it can make a dog more susceptible or make their parvo symptoms worse if they do contract the virus. (2)

It is difficult to know if a dog’s vomiting and diarrhea are caused by worms or parvo without testing. A parvo antigen test will have a negative result if your pup’s symptoms are caused by worms. A fecal test for parasites is the best way to detect a worm infestation. Your vet will probably want to run both tests if your puppy is sick. 

Parvo Symptoms

The most common symptoms of parvo are lethargy, refusal of food, vomiting and diarrhea (often with blood). Just because a puppy doesn’t have all of these symptoms does not prove it doesn’t have parvo.

Many of my clients believe that if their pup doesn’t have bloody diarrhea, they don’t have parvo. That is not the case-pups with bloody stool may or may not have parvo and pups without bloody stool may or may not have parvo.

The best way to diagnose parvo is in your vet’s clinic with a parvo test that detects viral antigen in the stool. These usually require a small, fresh stool sample and the test takes about 10 minutes to produce a positive or negative result. These tests have a high degree of accuracy. 

German Shepherd pup (Can A Puppy Survive Parvo Without Treatment)
German Shepherds have an increased risk of getting sick with parvo.

Do Dogs with Parvo Eat?

Very poor appetite or complete refusal of food is a consistent symptom of parvo in dogs. Some dogs might still eat a little during the early part of their infection. Most dogs who are still eating normally without vomiting test negative for parvo. 

In terms of feeding a dog with a confirmed parvo diagnosis, it is recommended to assist-feed them easily digestible, high-calorie food even if they vomit afterward. The food helps the damaged intestinal cells heal, so even the little bit that they keep down is beneficial. During hospitalization, vet techs often syringe-feed a canned puppy food gruel every few hours. 

Canine Parvovirus Treatment Options

Hospitalization

Hospitalization of parvo-infected dogs and puppies delivers the highest chances of survival. The mainstay of treatment is supportive care with intravenous fluids, anti-nausea medication, antibiotics and assisted feeding or parenteral nutrition. Survival rates for hospitalized patients is 80-90%. The big drawback is the cost of several thousand dollars and no guarantee of survival. 

Outpatient Treatment

In the last decade or so, veterinarians have found that outpatient treatment of puppies with parvo has a pretty good success rate of 75-80% survival. Although treatment protocols vary, they center on the same concepts used to treat hospitalized pups: hydration, preventing vomiting, antibiotics to control secondary bacterial infection and assisted feeding. 

Owners usually need to take a large role in delivering these treatments at home. Costs for outpatient parvo treatment depend on how sick the pup is and how long the symptoms last, but you can expect it to run a few hundred dollars to the low thousands of U.S. dollars. 

Home Treatment without a Vet

Home treatment without help from a veterinarian is expected to have a much lower survival rate, perhaps as low as 10%. The problem is puppies with parvo can’t keep any food or liquid down for vomiting, plus they lose more fluids via severe diarrhea. 

I’ve had people tell me they managed to save a pup with parvo by force-feeding it small amounts of electrolyte drinks very frequently. Older, larger puppies would probably be more likely to survive but I wouldn’t recommend this option to anyone! Even giving subcutaneous fluids alone would improve the chances of survival without costing a lot of money.

How Long Does Parvo Last?

Most dogs have symptoms of parvo for 5 to 7 days.(1) A few dogs start eating and get back to normal in a shorter time and I’ve seen a few take up to 14 days to start eating again. 

How Long Till Parvo Kills a Puppy?

Puppies are most likely to die in the first few days after they start showing symptoms of parvo. However, a few will die several days later even if they seem like they’re doing OK. The younger and smaller a puppy is, the more likely they are to die. 

One study from a large animal shelter found that 80% of parvo fatalities occurred in the first 5 days after diagnosis. If puppies survived the first 5 days, they had a 96.7% chance of recovering from parvo. (Honecka)

How To Prevent Parvovirus Infection

The number one most effective way to prevent parvo from infecting your dog is vaccination with the proper vaccine at the proper time. If you give a vaccine too early or if it has been stored improperly, your pup might not mount enough of an immune system response to be protected from the virus. 

Avoidance is another important aspect of preventing CPV infection. This is especially true for puppies under 5 months of age. The reason has to do with their mother’s parvo antibodies that circulate in their system, preventing a good immune reaction to the vaccine. 

This maternal immunity wears off sometime before a pup is 5 months old, but we don’t know exactly when. That’s why we give multiple injections of parvo vaccine-one of them will hit at the right time so your pup can develop their own immunity to CPV.  

It’s important to protect an unvaccinated puppy from exposure to parvo. I tell my clients not to take a pup to any public places until at least a week after their final puppy vaccine at 16-20 weeks of age.

Public places include anywhere that another dog could possibly have gone in the last few months. The parvo virus can remain viable on the ground for months, so just because you don’t see any dogs there right now doesn’t mean there is no parvo in the area. And if you absolutely must have your puppy in a public area like a pet store, hold them in your arms and don’t let them wander around on the floor!

Conclusion: Can A Puppy Survive Parvo Without Treatment?

The survival rate for puppies infected with parvo is around 10% without treatment. We have anecdotal reports of some puppies surviving with only oral hydration and no veterinary care, but the survival rate is expected to be only slightly higher than dogs who get no treatment. 

Hospitalization with aggressive therapy gives the best chance for a good outcome but might be too costly for some budgets. Outpatient veterinary treatment of parvo dogs also gives a high chance of survival but costs a fraction of full hospitalization.

References

  1. Horecka, K., Porter, S., Amirian, E. S., & Jefferson, E. (2020). A decade of treatment of canine parvovirus in an animal shelter: A retrospective study. Animals, 10(6), 939.
  2. Mylonakis, M. E., Kalli, I., & Rallis, T. S. (2016). Canine parvoviral enteritis: an update on the clinical diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. Veterinary Medicine: Research and Reports, 7, 91.
  3. Prittie, J. (2004). Canine parvoviral enteritis: a review of diagnosis, management, and prevention. Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, 14(3), 167-176.
  4. Sullivan, L. A. (2016). In Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care 2016 Spring Symposium. Cabo San Lucas; Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society. Retrieved January 28, 2022, from https://www.vin.com/members/cms/project/defaultadv1.aspx?id=7244566&pid=14212&.

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