Canine Parvovirus (CPV)

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Canine Parvovirus (CPV), or incorrectly called ‘cat flu’, is a very serious, very contagious viral disease in dogs. On the south coast, CPV is one of the major killers of dogs. The main signs are vomiting and diarrhoea, but in rarer cases, the heart muscle can also be affected.

The disease is mainly transmitted from infected dogs through contact with faeces. CPV is a vaccine-preventable disease. Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated dogs, especially puppies and young dogs are mainly at risk. Humans are not affected. Early recognition of the symptoms and prompt treatment can be lifesaving.

Symptoms & diagnosis

Common signs are the quick onset of lethargy, vomition, inappetence, bloody diarrhoea, dehydration and collapse. In the case where the heart muscle was affected, sudden death can also be seen.

The fairly accurate diagnosis of Canine Parvovirus can be made on a stool test. Strong indicators, such as an unvaccinated puppy, severe vomition and diarrhoea can be very indicative. Due to the financial implications, its severely contagious nature and because there are some other common, less dangerous diseases that can look very similar, it is better to make an accurate diagnosis before treatment is instigated.


Apart from being very contagious, the Canine Parvovirus is also a very stubborn virus and can survive in the environment for weeks to months! In some reports, it was proven that the virus can survive in the environment for close to a year. This virus is excreted in the faeces of affected dogs, where an at-risk dog then ingests it through the mouth (licking, eating, sniffing, etc.). Canine Parvovirus can also be, and very often is, ingested from an indirect source such as in contact clothes, hands, the fur of other dogs etc.


Early recognition of the symptoms and prompt treatment can be life-saving. Important factors to be aware when it comes to the treatment of CPV are dehydration, electrolyte correction, anorexia, septicaemia and a weak immune system. Almost all these cases should be hospitalised for intensive treatment including intravenous fluids, antibiotics, immune boosters, anti-emetics and some sort of assist feeding. There is no known medication that can kill CPV.

The treatment is aimed at keeping the patient alive until the immune system is once again strong enough to suppress the virus. In successful cases, complete treatment can take anything from three to about ten days.

Untreated dogs will almost invariably die, but intensive treatment increases the average success rate to about 80%. Reports say that black and tan coloured dogs, such as Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers and Pitbull terriers are more at risk of dying.

Because there is no guarantee that treatment will be successful and the treatment is very costly, the decision to treat instead of euthanasia should be taken very seriously. Many clients opt for euthanasia instead.


The best way to prevent this disease is by vaccinations. The routine Canine Parvovirus vaccine should be given early and boosted regularly. Puppies should be vaccinated at six weeks, nine weeks and then 12 weeks of age. Adult dogs should then be vaccinated once every year.

At Vet Hospital Port Shepstone, the CPV vaccine is given as a single injection with all the other routine dog vaccines. Note that the yearly state vaccinations only include the Rabies vaccine and not the CPV vaccine.

In order to prevent the spread of CPV, all affected dogs should be isolated immediately!

Strong disinfectants containing a chlorine or Quaternary Ammonium (QACs) base are proven to be effective and can be used to minimise the spread of CPV. The F10 disinfectant range (containing QACs and Biguanidine) is available from veterinarians and vet shops.

About the author
About the author
Renier is a qualified, experienced companion animal veterinarian whose main interests are animal health and strengthening pet-owner relationships.
View all posts by Dr Renier Delport (BVSc.)

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