Canine parvovirus causes serious gastrointestinal illness in dogs, and the infection can be fatal. Puppies younger than 16 weeks that have not been fully vaccinated face the greatest risk of infection. This highly contagious virus can survive for several months, so if you've received a parvo diagnosis or you suspect the presence of parvo in your home or yard, you should take immediate precautions to prevent a recurrence or spread.
Vaccination is the key to protecting your dog from infection, as the vaccine activates the immune system to fight off the virus before it causes disease. Take special care with more susceptible puppies, and be mindful of the vaccination status and age of dogs they come into contact with. Be extra vigilant with sanitation of your hands, shoes, and clothes, as well as the dog's toys, bedding, and bowls when you bring a puppy home.
Conditions for Parvovirus
This ubiquitous virus can be found anywhere in almost any environment, but it thrives in cool, moist, shady areas and can survive for several months in these conditions. The length of survival depends on many factors, including temperature, humidity levels, and sunlight. Freezing temperatures actually protect the parvovirus, making it more prone to spread in winter environments.
Contaminated feces and soil commonly spread the virus, which dogs pick up when they sniff, lick or ingest the contaminated materials. Dogs can sometimes carry the virus without signs of illness, and pass it to other dogs in social settings such as parks.
Disinfecting the Environment
A diluted bleach solution can effectively disinfect cleanable surfaces (never use it on an animal!). The type of bleach leads to variations in the "strength," but you can mix 1 part bleach to 32 parts water as a general rule of thumb. You can also purchase a commercial disinfectant formulated specifically for parvo.
Wipe down all durable surfaces with the dilute bleach solution (test a small area first for potential color damage), and soak your dog's bowls and hard plastic toys in it. Put bedding through at least one hot wash cycle, with bleach if possible, and use the high heat setting on the dryer or hang items in the direct sun. Anything that cannot be safely cleaned with bleach, such as a porous collar, should be thrown away so it doesn't spread the infection.
You may be able to dilute the virus on your lawn and in other outdoor settings by flushing the area with large amounts of water. Upholstered furniture and carpeting pose a particular challenge; if you can't apply a dilute bleach solution, high-temperature steam-cleaning may be effective. Otherwise, it's best to wait four to six weeks after a known parvo infection to bring another puppy into your home.
NOTE: This article addresses environmental treatment for parvo. If you suspect your dog or puppy has contracted the virus or been exposed to parvo, please see your veterinarian as soon as possible. Early intervention greatly improves chances for survival.