Parvo is a scary and painful illness that threatens all dogs who aren’t vaccinated.
Puppies are especially at risk for contracting the potentially life-threatening virus.
As a German Shepherd owner, you want to make sure you are doing everything in your power to keep your dog healthy and happy. If your dog has parvo, don’t feel like you failed as a puppy parent.
Treatment will be effective in the overwhelming majority of cases.
The important thing is to start treatments as soon as possible and make sure you are prepared for every possibility. So in this article, you’ll get information about what parvovirus is, what the symptoms are, how it is treated (including tips for home treatment), and how it can be prevented (including key information about vaccination).
You’ll have all the information you need to know what to do if your German Shepherd gets parvovirus.
What Is Parvovirus?
Parvovirus is a serious and highly contagious illness that targets dogs.
It does not harm humans but you are still capable of carrying the virus and spreading it to your dog. It attacks the digestive system causing your dog to have severe intestinal distress and become unable to retain fluids or nutrients.
It also lowers their white blood cell count so that they are less able to fight off the virus (and any other infection that tries to take hold while your dog is sick).
Parvo is spread primarily through fecal matter and it is very, very contagious. Even a small speck of parvo carrying fecal matter brought in the house on the bottom of your shoe could be enough to get your unvaccinated dog sick.
And if any pet in your house has it, strict quarantine is essential to keep your other pets safe. While it is so easy to spread, parvo is specific to dogs. So if your dog has parvo, your cats (and the humans in your family) are safe.
When left untreated, parvo has an extremely high mortality rate. So it’s extremely important that you know how to recognize the symptoms so that you can start treatments as soon as possible.
Symptoms Of Parvo In Dogs
Symptoms start to become noticeable about 5 or 6 days after the dog has been infected.
If you don’t see symptoms but you are still worried, you can have a stool sample from your German Shepherd tested for the virus.
Aside from that, symptoms include:
- Diarrhea (unusually smelly and often with traces of blood)
- Lack of energy, lethargy
- Lack of appetite
- A drop in white blood cell count (you can't detect this yourself but it can be tested by a vet)
The threat of parvo lies in these very symptoms. If left untreated, vomiting and diarrhea (and the lack of appetite) will become so severe that the dog will dehydrate and starve. And if that doesn’t kill them, the risk of bacterial infection wreaking havoc on their severely weakened immune system will.
Essentially, parvo will weaken your dog until it no longer has the strength to fight the virus. This is a painful and tragic process to watch. We are not trying to scare you but simply prepare you and make sure you understand just how important it is to get treatment for your dog as soon as you notice these symptoms.
Whether or not it’s parvo, vomiting, and diarrhea that last more than 48 hours warrant a visit to the vet. These symptoms indicate a serious illness that might be parvo or might be something else but, in either case, should be treated.
When left untreated, parvo will almost certainly kill your dog.
Untreated parvo has a mortality rate of 91% meaning the chances of survival without treatment are nearly zero.
With treatment, however, most dogs will recover. Treated parvo has a mortality rate of just 20% or even as low as 5%, meaning that the vast majority of treated dogs will recover and survive the virus when they are treated.
So with those statistics in mind, read more about what treatment actually involves.
Once parvo takes hold, you and your German Shepherd will have a tough road ahead of you. However, survival is possible and, in fact, if treated, the overwhelming majority of dogs will survive a battle with parvovirus.
The problems begin when you don’t get treatment or wait too long to get treatment. The biggest health risk is dehydration. With the diarrhea and vomiting, your dog is losing a lot of fluids. They will not be able to drink water quickly enough to replace the lost fluids.
Alongside dehydration, they are losing a lot of nutrients and their lack of appetite prevents them from restoring those lost nutrients. As their body weakens from these things, they become less capable of fighting the virus and they became more susceptible to secondary bacterial infections.
So, with that in mind, treatments typically involve keeping your dog connected to an IV with a saline solution and/or a nutritional supplement that can help keep your dog hydrated and nourished enough to stay strong through the fight against the virus.
Because it requires an IV, most parvo cases are treated by hospitalization which can get expensive. We’re talking bills running into the thousands. It is possible to do this treatment at home. But you will need instructions and training from your vet to learn how to administer the IV and how to care for your German Shepherd properly while it heals.
If you plan to do home treatment, you also need to be prepared to invest a lot of time into caring for your pup while it recovers. Your German Shepherd should not be left alone at any point while it is battling parvo. Someone needs to be with them at all times.
Treatment at home will involve:
- Quarantine. Parvo can’t spread to humans but it can spread very, very easily to your other pets. Keep your sick dog quarantined to a specific room or area of the house until they are virus free.
- Sanitation. You need to be extra vigilant about cleaning and keeping your home sanitized during this period. Thoroughly clean food and water dishes with soap and water daily. Vacuum and mop 2-3 times per week. Wash your hands before and after handling your ill dog.
- Hydration. It is possible to learn to do an IV on your own. Do not skip this. Dehydration is the most pressing threat (followed by nutrient loss and bacterial infection).
- Antibiotics. Your vet will likely prescribe a course of antibiotics that are probably given via injection. Make sure that you administer these as instructed and use the full course of treatment even after your dog appears to be fully recovered.
- Relieve symptoms. Use other medicines (or herbal supplements like the one mentioned below) to help alleviate the painful symptoms of parvo. This will keep your dog more comfortable and help give them the strength they need to recover from parvo more rapidly.
Here is one of our favorite herbal supplements for treating parvovirus:
Prevention is the best way to keep your dog healthy and happy. It is the cheaper and nicer option. Fortunately, it’s also very easy. There is a vaccination that you can get to make your German Shepherd immune to parvo.
The parvo vaccine is very affordable (usually no more than about $20) and it’s very often combined with other vaccinations so that you can protect your dog from multiple potential illnesses in one easy shot.
You can get your dog vaccinated at the vet or buy an injection and do it yourself. Here are a few things to be aware of when you are getting your dog vaccinated:
- Your German Shepherd should be at least 8 weeks old before you start the vaccinations. So if your puppy is still too young to get vaccinated, make sure to be extra vigilant about the other at home prevention methods discussed below.
- The first vaccination will happen in a series of (typically) 3 separate vaccinations. These are given every 3 to 4 weeks.
- After this initial course of vaccinations, you’ll need to get a booster shot for your dog once a year to make sure they get maximum protection from parvo.
- Dogs that are currently sick or pregnant (or suffer an immune system disorder) should not be vaccinated. So if any of those things are possible, see a vet before vaccinating. If your dog has had allergic reactions to other vaccines in the past, talk to your vet before giving it the parvo shot.
Overall, vaccination is the best way to keep your dog safe from parvo.
The at home prevention methods discussed below are very helpful but no matter how vigilant you are, it’s simply not possible to completely control your environment. So the parvo vaccination is your fail safe that will ensure your dog is protected.
At Home Prevention
Whether our dog is too young for vaccination or otherwise unable to get the vaccine, at home prevention is important. Parvovirus is highly contagious and super easy to spread. It can also survive an unusually long time even without a host.
This means it can lie in wait for a long time on food bowls, floors, dirty shoes or dirty paws until it has a chance to enter your German Shepherd’s system and start wreaking havoc.
So the best thing you can do to prevent Parvo at home is to practice proper sanitary methods that keep your home clean and free of parvo. Follow these tips to create a safe, parvo free environment for your pets:
With this information, you are now prepared to protect your German Shepherd from the dangers of parvo. So if they haven’t been vaccinated (or you have a rescue and you’re not sure they have been), go get them vaccinated now if they are able.
And if your dog already has parvo, get them started on treatment immediately. Whether you choose to hospitalize them or treat them at home, it’s important to consult a vet as soon as you notice any suspicious symptoms and be aware of exactly what your dog needs in order to recover and survive this battle with parvo.
It’s a scary illness and it’s hard to watch your lovable pup suffer through it but with your help and support, they can beat it.