Parvovirus, commonly known as parvo, is a highly contagious virus that can affect dogs, cats, and other animals. Understanding what animals can get parvo and how it spreads is important for pet owners to help prevent infection.
What is Parvo?
Parvovirus is a small, hardy virus that can survive in the environment for long periods. It affects cells in the gastrointestinal tract, causing vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and sometimes death.
There are different strains of parvovirus that infect different species. Canine parvovirus (CPV) infects dogs, while feline panleukopenia virus (FPV) infects cats. There are also types that infect raccoons, foxes, and other wild animals.
What Animals Can Get Canine Parvovirus?
Canine parvovirus primarily infects dogs. However, CPV can also infect other canids such as wolves, coyotes, and foxes. The virus is very contagious and spread through contact with infected feces, environments, or people.
Puppies and unvaccinated adult dogs are the most at risk of contracting parvo. Puppies younger than four months old are more likely to develop the intestinal form of the disease, which causes vomiting, foul-smelling bloody diarrhea, lethargy, fever, and dehydration. Older puppies and adult dogs typically develop the cardiac form, which affects the heart muscles and can lead to heart failure.
Dog Breeds at High Risk
Some dog breeds may be at higher risk for parvo due to their genetics and temperament:
- Doberman Pinschers
- Labrador Retrievers
- American Staffordshire Terriers
- German Shepherds
- English Springer Spaniels
Breeds with more curious and outgoing temperaments that come into contact with more environments and dogs may also have increased exposure.
What Other Animals Can Get Parvo?
While dogs are the primary host, CPV can occasionally infect other canids closely related to dogs:
Wolves do not appear very susceptible but there are reports of parvo in wild wolf pups. Transmission likely occurs from contact with infected coyotes, foxes, or domestic dogs.
Coyotes are very susceptible to CPV. Outbreaks in coyotes often happen after contact with infected domestic dogs. The virus can spread quickly in densely populated coyote areas.
Foxes are prone to developing parvo, especially red foxes. Like coyotes, transmission occurs from infected dogs and can spread rapidly among fox populations.
Felines cannot get canine parvovirus. However, they can get their own parvo strains, such as feline panleukopenia virus. This attacks their bone marrow and causes similar gastrointestinal symptoms.
There are no reports of parvovirus infecting humans. CPV is species-specific and currently only infects canids and felids.
Recent research detected parvovirus strains similar to CPV in raccoons in the United States and Japan. The raccoon strains are distant relatives but can infect raccoons and cause disease.
Laboratory studies show mice can be infected with CPV. Mice likely do not play a role in transmission, but they indicate the virus may have the potential to adapt to new hosts.
Other Wild Animals
Parvovirus has not been detected in other wild animals. However, many species remain untested. More research is needed on CPV’s ability to infect other hosts.
Feline Parvovirus Hosts
The feline panleukopenia virus infects cats as well as other members of the feline family. Species susceptible to FPV include:
- Domestic cats
The virus transmits between cats through direct contact, exposure to contaminated environments or people, and infected feces. Younger kittens under 5 months old are most at risk of infection and severe disease.
How Parvo Spreads Between Animals
Parvovirus spreads through direct contact with infected animals or indirect contact with contaminated feces, environments, people, or objects. The main routes of transmission include:
- Infected feces – Parvo sheds in high levels in feces and can contaminate soil, grass, food bowls, floors, etc.
- Nose-to-nose contact – Virus present in nasal and oral secretions.
- Shared environments – Yards, parks, shelters, or homes with infected feces or secretions present.
- People – The virus can be carried on clothing, shoes, hands, and other objects.
- Dog-to-dog interaction – Dogs playing together or sniffing infected feces.
Puppies and kittens are highly susceptible due to their underdeveloped immune systems and greater exposure from nursing, crowding, and exploration behaviors.
Preventing Parvo Transmission
To prevent parvo from spreading between animals, owners should:
- Vaccinate all pets – Puppies and kittens should receive a series of vaccinations starting at 6-8 weeks old.
- Avoid contact with infected animals – Keep puppies/kittens away from unknown or sick dogs/cats.
- Clean environments – Use bleach-based products to kill parvo in yards, homes, shelters, etc.
- Quarantine new pets – Isolate new pets for at least 2 weeks before introducing to other animals.
- Wash hands and change clothes after contact with dogs.
- Pick up pet waste – Promptly dispose of feces in yards or public areas.
Treatment and Prognosis if Dogs/Cats Get Parvo
If a dog or cat becomes infected with parvo, treatment focuses on supportive care to control symptoms and give the immune system time to fight off infection. This includes:
- Hospitalization for hydration, nutrition, and medication.
- IV fluids and electrolyte therapy.
- Anti-nausea and anti-diarrheal medications.
- Broad-spectrum antibiotics for secondary infections.
- Possible blood plasma transfusions.
With aggressive treatment, survival rates are ~68-92% in dogs and ~60-90% in cats if they are treated within 48 hours of symptom onset. However, the prognosis declines the longer treatment is delayed. Survival is much lower for animals who develop sepsis or organ damage from dehydration.
Parvovirus infects dogs, cats, wild canids, and felines. The canine and feline parvo strains are species-specific and spread through fecal-oral transmission. Puppies and kittens under five months old are most susceptible. Vaccination is key to preventing spread between animals. Prompt treatment greatly improves chances of survival in infected pets.