Parvovirus in Dogs | symptoms, vaccinations, treatments, and Truth vs Myth


Brief History of Parvovirus in Dogs

The parvovirus in dogs was first reported in 1978, simultaneously in Europe, America, and Australia. So, it’s not peculiar to any nation particularly. It has however given us great problems in several countries all over the world especially, in the last 15 years or more. I lost my very first dog to “Parvovirus”. I was only in Senior Grade 2. This was one of my biggest motivations to study veterinary medicine.

So, let’s start with the facts and the myths of Parvovirus in dogs

1. Can Parvovirus kill a vaccinated dog?

Fact: A lot of people will say, but my dog has a pet book with stickers of vaccination?! Truth is, all vaccines must be maintained at certain optimum temperatures (cold chain). Poor handling of the vaccine is enough to cause vaccine failure! Unfortunately, some vaccines in themselves are even fake. As in, it’s just salt water inside. Imagine someone using this on your dog. Its a waste of time.

2. My dog can get infected in the vet clinic?

Fact: Because of the nature of the parvovirus itself, it stays viable in the environment for a long time, up to 5 months and above. – This means that if a clinic handled a parvovirus case, the virus can infect another dog that might have been okay prior to the clinic visit. In fact, many vets would attest to cases that they know got infected in their clinics. We would talk about sanitary measures later on.

3. My dog doesn’t leave the house, it can’t get infected. Myth!

This is hilarious! The most common means of spread of the parvovirus is indirect. Imagine wearing your designer shoes to that productive board meeting. On your way back home, you decided to go to the supermarket to pick up groceries. As you match triumphantly, you never knew that your shoe has collected some kinds of stuff(viruses, bacteria,etc..). You get back home and lovingly greet your dog, and even play with him a little! A while later, you notice your dog doesn’t eat anymore or is weak. It must be my gatekeeper! He hates dogs!

Or someone has poisoned my dog!  The myths and facts about parvovirus are too numerous to mention. It’s even up to 3 million. Lol!

Let’s now talk about  parvovirus in dogs in full.


This parvovirus in dogs is a DNA virus. This DNA virus present in the parvovirus in dogs gives it quite some genetic stability. Only variants of the virus are in circulation per time. Currently, there are three major circulating strains of the virus in dogs – CPV 2a, 2b, and 2c. All of the strains cause clinical disease.

Now I’ll go straight into;

Why Parvovirus Vaccines May Fail?

Your veterinarian can innocently buy pure water and be using it in his treatments Innocently. Sometimes, the cold chain wasn’t even maintained strictly. Or the vaccine itself was just manufactured fake! The vaccine was a good one but not good enough.

I’ll explain. A good parvovirus vaccine MUST be able to immunize and at the same time be safe to the dog.

To explain this I’ll use an experience I had a couple of years ago.


I was robbed by two guys. But not without a fight! I fought! Till I was able to injure one of them on his chest. They eventually were able to take only one of my phones and escape on their motorcycle. I reported to the police and gave them descriptions of the guys. About two weeks later, the IPO in charge of the case called me to come to identity thieves they caught. I was a bit skeptical. I finally went to the police station. They showed me about 7 guys and asked me if I could identify the perpetrators. Truth is that the main thing I remembered at that point was the clothes they were wearing the day they robbed me. But as usual the police, usually remove the clothes of all suspected criminals. In this case, all the paraded guys were wearing only boxers. How do I describe the clothes? I thought! Then, I remembered that I injured one of them! I immediately told the police guys that the perpetrator would have an injury on his chest. I went on to describe the exact kind of injury it would be. Immediately I said that, one of the guys began hiding his chest. Lo and behold! It was the guy! Of cos he immediately confessed and pointed at his accomplice. Scoreline = Police 1 : 0 Thieves. The purpose of this story is to graphically explain how the nation works. When the thieves attacked me, I gave one of them a mark that helped me immediately identify him much later.

When we administer a vaccine, we’re giving the body a small intro. of the thief (in this case, Canine Parvovirus), so that whenever the body meets him again, it won’t be difficult to easily identify and arrest him as soon as possible.

What does parvovirus do?

The canine parvovirus is mean. It attacks rapidly diving cells in the body, especially the cells of the heart, digestive system, and the bone marrow. This is why we typically see that ugly diarrhea when a dog comes down with parvovirus disease. Other nonspecific symptoms include vomiting, lack of appetite, severe weakness, etc. Truth is that many other conditions can cause similar signs, including bloody diarrhea. Confirmation of the canine parvovirus has to be done by actually testing to detect the virus. Now, there are rapid test kits to check. Mr Dafe(A rottweiler breeder) shared his experience with us earlier on. Someone saw diarrhea in some puppies he bought from him and started insinuating that be sold him a parvovirus infected dog. After a test was done, the culprit wasn’t parvovirus! Although the signs resembled parvo, it wasn’t it.


Here is an experience on parvovirus in dogs:

I got a call this morning at about 6 am. Someone who had picked up a puppy from me he called to say that the puppy was down with parvovirus. This puppy had been vaccinated three times with EURICAN and he said the puppy was vomiting and stooling that it was definitely Parvovirus. I was shocked to hear this information this morning and I spoke extensively asking what the state of the puppy was yesterday not just yesterday but days leading up to this event. He was putting so much pressure on me like I had sold him a puppy that was not properly vaccinated and the dog has come down with parvovirus. I was so stressed up this morning and I had to send a message to my good friend Dr. Mark. Dr. Mark told me to have the puppy tested for parvovirus that he did not think it was Parvovirus and obviously there are several other diseases that mimic symptoms of parvovirus. This was what I had told this person originally but he was adamant it was parvovirus so I asked him to take the puppy to the vet and he was refusing to do so, he said I should come and take the puppy myself. Luckily we have the same day and he was able to go there and pick samples from the dog. Blood samples and fecal samples and took them to test. The results are astounding. The puppy tested negative for parvovirus and had the highest possible cover for hepatitis distemper and parvovirus. In other words, the puppy did not have parvovirus but it was stooling and vomiting so I went back to him and told him his puppy had probably ingested something which it wasn’t meant to ingest and needed to be treated for food poisoning or something else which has affected is gastrointestinal tract. What am I saying in essence? Eurican works!!! There is no way that puppy can contact parvovirus with the cover that it has, it is also covered for distemper and hepatitis. What I am telling people here, in essence, is please use this vaccine not just use them, go and test your puppies after they have been vaccinated to ensure that the pick the immunity they’re meant to pick from the vaccines. Thank you very much.

And that’s a big lesson for us all, including the vets: We must sit up and ensure that our diagnosis is evidence-based. Interestingly, during my brief work with the University of Ibadan Veterinary Teaching Hospital as a resident pathologist, several cases that were diagnosed as Parvovirus turned out not to be! Specifically, many of those cases were confirmed to be Leptospirosis. This is just to let us know that there are so many canine diseases that we overlook that are fatal too and can look like Parvovirus. Some technical issues with parvo vaccination Vaccination shouldn’t be treated as a jab-and-go thing. It is serious. That’s where something called a Vaccine – check comes in. Essentially, a vaccine – check involves taking blood samples from the vaccinated dog and testing it to see if it actually immunized the dog. Mr. Dafe told us of how he did a vaccine – check to confirm the “protection status” of his dogs. Maternally Derived Antibodies also known as MDA are antibodies (soldiers of protection) that puppies get passively from their mother. These MDAs are the first line of defense against diseases. But remember, you can’t give what you don’t have. So if the mother doesn’t have specific antibodies against a certain disease, she can’t pass on that protection to her pups. Let’s assume that the mama bitch has excellent MDAs to pass on, there’s another issue! And this is the part where many of us get it wrong! What’s the issue? These MDAs pose a big problem for vaccines! Especially for the “core” early vaccines (DHLPP, as we call it). Now, puppies enjoy MDA protection for weeks after birth. This MDA eventually begins to decline gradually till about the 16th to 18th week of the pup.

Typically, MOST VACCINES GIVEN AT 8 WEEKS (or earlier. Some people vaccinate at 6 weeks) is most likely going to be NEUTRALIZED BY THESE MDAs! The problem with this is that the vaccine is rendered useless, and at the same time, all the MDAs that participated in the fight also become “sequestered” (let’s just call it unavailable). So, vaccination now appears to have caused a bigger problem. The puppy didn’t use the vaccine, at the same time he eventually loses the MDA that will be used to help protect him from diseases. So should we stop vaccinating our puppies because the MDAs will do more than expected? Of course not! Parvovirus is very powerful and can disarm your MDA. Parvo will attack as early as they can, so we can’t run away from vaccination. So here’s the trick to defeating parvovirus, we need our vaccines to be able to escape this virus!

How can we achieve that?

We need a vaccine that has a high enough viral titer and at the same time is safe. This means that the MDA won’t be able to spoil the market when you vaccinate at 8 weeks And thus the puppy can enjoy protection! That’s about vaccination. We can’t overemphasize the role of good sanitation, at home and at the clinic! But we know that no matter how careful and clean we are, problems may come unannounced. That’s where good vaccination comes in! There are several vaccines in the market or pet shops. Some are good, many aren’t. Some people have handled vaccines for years but have never even heard of the “cold chain” These kinds of people are a problem for us pet lovers. They don’t care about the vet’s reputation, nor the protection of our lovely dogs. They’re only interested in money Sadly some vets are guilty too. They handle vaccines carelessly. Some good vaccines failed just because they were handled badly Some others just don’t contain all the circulating strains of parvovirus so is there any hope? Thankfully, yes! A group of vet researchers with Merial, a French pharmaceutical company began research focused on the parvovirus and other diseases of dogs and cats. They were able to successfully develop a vaccine that is safe and yet very effective against Parvo, Leptospirosis, and others. Several research papers were published showing the amazing results they got. In several experiments, they purposely infected vaccinated dogs with the virus. And consistently ALL the pups never came down with canine parvovirus All. These experiments began the European vaccine revolution, especially as concerns the core diseases (DHLPP). I can’t try me! I know my jazz! My phone is vaccinated! 🥳🥳 Anyway, you see how confident I am about my phone’s protection status? That’s how we should all be concerning our dogs. Prevention is always better and cheaper than cure Except with malaria, where insecticide is more expensive than malaria medicine. 

The solution to Canine Parvovirus in dogs:

What I do if my dog comes down with what I suspect is Parvovirus? 

Well, I think the answer is pretty simple. Seek professional opinion! Ask your vet In my final year in veterinary school, I got a beautiful dog. I overheard the owner complaining to his friend in the Igbo language, that his dog has “Parvo- something”. I quickly took interest and asked him what he would want to do. He wanted to just leave him at home to die. He was already tired. Mind you, this guy never took the dog to the clinic. Long story short, he ‘dashed’ me the dog. The dog is alive and kicking till date and never had “parvovirus”. So, no need for assumptions. Immediately seek a professional opinion. The more I learn, the more confused I get. I don’t even know what to believe anymore why gamble when the odds are against you? If you are unsure about the vaccination status of your dog, then the odds are not in your favor. Vaccination is something we need to have some confidence in. If not, why bother vaccinating in the first place? Since parvovirus in dogs attacks puppies in their early-stage. – out of the box in checkmating it. When the bird learned to fly without perching, the Hunter also learned to shoot without aiming (African proverb). Now, there is a vaccine available for use as early as 4-5 weeks of age! PRIMODOG is a monovalent canine parvovirus vaccine (this just means it only contains the Parvovirus). Remember the MDA issue? PRIMODOG has a very high parvovirus titer and isn’t neutralized by the MDA. This offers a great advantage because protection is attained even earlier that the 8th week when the core triple vaccines are begun. PRIMODOG The pentavalent (DHLPP) vaccine from Merial is called EURICAN. Remember Mr. Dafe’s story? His pups were vaccinated with EURICAN. In fact, he shared a critical piece of information with us. Mr. Dafe is quite a remarkable man. I was opportune to sit with him during a trip to Abuja in September of last year. I was honestly amazed at his knowledge of the medical and nonmedical staff. Shortly after EURICAN came into the country, he purchased it through his vet. Little did I know that he wanted to check if our claims were bogus or not. Only for me to see a series of seroconversion results a few weeks later! He had gone to a reputable laboratory to do a vaccine check. All pups seroconverted after just the first shot! Remember there are three successive shots for puppies. This means that there was no case of MDA neutralization nor vaccine failure. And the pups were already protected after just one shot. I guess that gave him the confidence to tell his client earlier today as he shared with us, that he is 100% sure of his dogs!


In summary

The parvovirus in dogs and indeed several other dog diseases can be vented by adequate sanitation measures and good vaccination protocols. Thanks for reading!


About writer:Dr Chidi Ubachukwu (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), is a graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He holds a Masters in Veterinary Diagnostic Pathology, from the University of Ibadan. His areas of interest are diagnostics, toxic pathology, and nutritional pathology.

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