If you’re like most dog parents, you’ve probably only heard of the “Parvo virus” or the canine parvovirus (CPV) from your veterinarian. But if you’re one of the unluckier parents, you’ll have had firsthand experience of how much suffering this virus brings to a dog. You’re probably also wondering if your dog can fall ill with it again.
So after recovering from a canine parvovirus (CPV) infection, can a dog get Parvo more than once? Yes, it’s possible. But if you take certain precautions, it’s a relatively rare phenomenon. Here’s why.
- 1 How parvovirus infections occur
- 2 What we know of the parvovirus itself
- 3 Your dog’s chances of reinfection
- 4 How to prevent reinfection
- 5 The bottom line
How parvovirus infections occur
The canine parvovirus (CPV) is a common and highly contagious virus that primarily attacks dogs. Commonly called the “Parvo virus,” this pathogen causes a disease that vets call “canine parvoviral enteritis” (or “Parvo,” for short). It affects a dog’s gastrointestinal tract, inducing painful symptoms and bringing serious damage to the intestines and immune system.
According to current research, infected dogs begin showing the following clinical signs or symptoms anywhere within three to seven days after contracting Parvo:
- Appetite loss and lethargy
- Severe or bloody diarrhea
- Low body temperature (much like hypothermia) or (conversely) fever
- Dehydration or extreme fluid loss
If a dog isn’t treated within 24 to 48 hours from the appearance of these external symptoms, it quickly leads to anemia, septic shock, and death. And if the dog does get timely treatment, these symptoms may still linger for a few more days.
While Parvo is most often seen among puppies and young dogs, the disease can strike any canine at any age.
The survival rate for infected dogs that are given early parvovirus treatment and proper supportive care is at 90%. However, 10% of dogs that do survive the disease suffer lifetime health complications and weakened immune systems.
What we know of the parvovirus itself
The “Parvo virus” or CPV is typically spread via direct contact with infected feces or an infected animal (i.e., a dog sniffs, licks, or paws at the infected material or the other dog).
Microscopic bits of contaminated feces can also make its way to any surface or environment, including:
- Any part of a dog’s body, including fur
- Human skin (especially hands)
- Human shoes and clothing
- Dog collars or leashes
- Food and water bowls
- Garden soil, tree bark, and stones
- Outdoor pavements and indoor flooring (e.g., concrete, tile, wood, carpets)
The virus can survive on the surface of any contaminated object for days. “Viral particles” (or particulates carrying a viable virus) can resist the typical range of heat and humidity or cold and dryness that both dogs and humans live in.
And like any virus, the “Parvo virus” can mutate. There are two general types of CPV – the less severe “canine minute virus” or CPV1, and the more damaging variant called CPV2. The CPV2 variant causes the most fatal or severe cases of Parvo among dogs.
Under the CPV2 variant, there are also three identified sub-strains: CPV-2a, CPV-2b, and CPV-2c. Each of these strains has a somewhat different antigenic pattern.
Your dog’s chances of reinfection
So, given all these facts, how will your dog fare against canine parvovirus reinfections?
For previously unvaccinated dogs
If your dog survived a parvovirus infection that occurred before he could be vaccinated for CPV, he has natural immunity. But it has its limits. There’s still a risk for reinfection, however tiny.
Natural immunity to CPV isn’t permanent. A dog’s body typically retains antibodies for several years. Beyond those years, your dog could again be reinfected with the canine parvovirus if he is exposed to it.
With or without complications?
If your dog is among the 90% of dogs who’ve made a full recovery from the disease (with no clinical signs of long-term side effects), then his chances of reinfection are low.
But what if he’s among the 10% of survivors that developed long-term health complications (like chronic diarrhea, chronic gastrointestinal disease, or cardiac disease) from an acute CPV infection? Once that immunity fades, there’s a higher risk of him getting reinfected with CPV and dying from it.
Limited to type
Moreover, the natural immunity your dog has built up is based on antibodies designed for the particular CPV type and strain that made him ill.
Studies have shown that current vaccines provide adequate protection across all CPV2 strains. But there’s no conclusive proof that the same is true for naturally-acquired immunity. If your dog gets exposed to a different CPV strain, he may fall sick with Parvo again.
Age during the first Parvo infection
How old was your dog when he got infected? Was he only a puppy? Or was he one of the more adult dogs?
If a dog that’s aged anywhere from 5-10 years acquires an infection at that time and survives, the natural immunity he has will last for the rest of his life. Reinfection will therefore be unlikely.
But if all that occurred while he was relatively young, the dog’s natural immunity will last for practically half of his life. By the time immunity fades, he’ll be a middle-aged or elderly dog — making him all the more susceptible to the virus and its deadly symptoms.
Specific dog breeds
What breed or breed mix is your dog? You also must take that into consideration when assessing your dog’s risk of reinfection.
While any dog can get canine parvoviral enteritis, veterinarians, breeders, and researchers have noticed that Staffordshire terriers, Dobermans, Rottweilers, and similar mixed breeds seem to have a higher risk of CPV infection as puppies. This means that, once natural immunity dissipates, dogs of these breeds will again be extra-susceptible to reinfection.
For vaccinated dogs
What if your dog never caught the parvovirus, and was instead inoculated as a puppy? Nowadays, you rarely get a Parvo vaccination by itself. Typically, your vet will use the DA2PPC multivalent vaccine on your puppy or young dog — which already covers for canine parvovirus, distemper, parainfluenza, and adenovirus.
Inoculating your dog is nearly the same as getting him infected (albeit with weakened viruses). This gives him “artificial” immunity and greatly lowers his risk of “reinfection.”
This isn’t 100% guaranteed. If your vaccinated dog gets exposed to a situation with a high viral load for CPV, there’s still a chance he can come down with Parvo.
How to prevent reinfection
But as mentioned earlier: you can prevent CPV reinfections. Here are several ways on how you can do that — and it’s best to adopt them all.
1. Maintain regular veterinary inspections.
Nothing beats professional medical advice. A good veterinarian knows about the latest medical knowledge on CPV, as well as the latest news on local Parvo outbreaks (which you can then avoid!). So be consistent with your visits to the vet, and value his or her advice about your dog’s health.
2. Get periodic titer tests.
An antibody titer test is a type of blood test that a medical laboratory can perform to detect the presence of antigens or antibodies that are specific to a particular disease. There are canine titer tests specific to certain types or strains of CPV, which your vet clinic and an associated veterinary lab can perform on your dog. Whether it’s an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test or chemiluminescence immunoassay (CLIA), your vet can recommend the right test and the right frequency to adopt for your dog.
Titer tests are useful for determining the CPV antibody level currently present in your dog’s bloodstream. Your vet can then gauge the strength of your dog’s immunity and when it’s time to get a booster shot of the vaccine.
3. Avoid outbreak hotspots.
If you hear from the local news media, your social media network, or your vet about a suspected canine parvoviral enteritis epidemic, take note of where it is — and avoid that place like the plague! Don’t even think it’s safe for you to visit that place without your dog tagging along. Without knowing it, you could come home with a viral load hanging onto your shoes, clothes, hair, car, and personal effects. It could find its way to your dog.
4. Don’t let your dog touch, sniff, or lick the feces of other dogs or animals.
Fresh or dried up, you never know when that little mound of animal poop your dog found outdoors could be carrying CPV. Train your fur baby well to walk with you on a leash and to stay by your side when you command him to, “Leave it!”
5. Clean and disinfect.
Keep everything clean and do regular proper disinfection at your home, garden, car, office, and every other place you own or control, which either you or your dog frequent. Keep separate shoes or slippers for the outdoors, for the indoor areas of your home, and even for your bedroom. After each walk or romp outdoors, wash and wipe your dog’s feet and nose. Keep your dog’s bed comfy and clean. Wash and dry his feeding bowls often. Let him play with toys that are easy to launder or disinfect.
6. Carefully choose where your dog can go.
Be picky with which kennel, dog park, playgrounds, pet stores, grooming parlors, clinics, and pet stores you bring your dog to. If it’s not a place you’re already familiar with and you aren’t sure of the health of the other dogs and animals that go there, don’t let your dog linger or loiter there more than he has to. And if we’re talking about similar places in suspected CPV outbreak hotspots, avoid them altogether!
7. Do quarantine.
Whether it’s your pet or someone else’s, it’s important to keep a Parvo-stricken dog quarantined or isolated. (And treat that dog’s feeding bowls and waste as biologically hazardous.) The same goes for a dog that’s already recovered from CPV. This is because a dog remains infectious even six weeks after he gets well.
If every pet owner with a recovering dog kept him in quarantine for at least six weeks, we would see fewer CPV outbreaks. And fewer outbreaks mean fewer opportunities for your dog to get reinfected.
To sum it up: while CPV reinfections are possible, they are near 100% avoidable if you take the right precautions. Regular visits to the vet, booster shots, and proper hygienic habits are key to your dog’s continued safety.