Parvo is a devastating disease that is often associated with puppies, but at some point one may wonder whether adult dogs or older dogs can get parvo too. Chances are, you are taking your dog to the vet for his rabies vaccination and you are wondering whether you should also have your adult dog or older dog vaccinated against parvo. Or perhaps, you are planning to bring a new puppy home and you are worrying if he can give your adult dog parvo. To answer the question, yes, adult dogs and older dogs can and do get parvo too. While the symptoms may not always be as severe as seen in puppies, the parvo virus in adult dog can still cause worrisome symptoms, nonetheless.
A Disease of Puppies
Parvo is a disease that is very common in puppies younger than one year of age, explains veterinarian Dr. Matt. The disease is most common in puppies that have not completed their series of shots.
Puppies should receive their first sets of shots starting at around 6 weeks of age and then every three weeks thereafter, for a total of three, or sometimes four, vaccinations.
Afterward, they should receive a booster shot a year later and then one every three years.
For those unaware of it, the parvo shot is included in a combo vaccine that often protects against serious diseases such as distemper, hepatitis, adenovirus, parainfluenza and more depending on the type. This core combo shot may go by many different names such as the DA2PP, DAPP, or 8-in-1 shot of 5-in-1 shot.
Puppies with parvo tend to develop persistent vomiting, loss of appetite, a foul smelling diarrhea often containing blood, lethargy and a painful belly. Puppies are particularly at risk for dehydration due to severe loss of fluids due to persistent vomiting and diarrhea.
Dogs that are over the age of one, can still become infected with parvo virus too, especially if they have never had any vaccines to protect them from the disease.
A Matter of Low Immunity
It’s a common myth that adult or older dogs cannot get parvo. There are many reports of owners of adults dogs getting the disease. So yes, a 3-year old dog can get parvo, a 5-year-old dog can get parvo and even an 8-year-old dog can get parvo, any dog of any age can get parvo, it’s just not as common as in puppies considering that most adult dogs have completed all the puppy vaccination series and are given booster shots against the disease.
So adults or older dogs can get parvo, but the disease is more commonly seen in dogs who were never vaccinated against the disease (lack of acquired immunity) and that have a compromised immune system. And yes, while adult dogs may be stronger than puppies, they can still get seriously ill and even die from parvo, especially when they get seriously dehydrated.
Many dog owners may think “my older dog doesn’t come in contact with puppies and therefore he should be safe from parvo, no?” Truth is, in order to get parvo, your dog doesn’t have to go to puppy classes or to the dog park.
Parvo is just about everywhere and there are chances you may be carrying the virus on your shoes or on your car’s tires and it can live in the environment for up to a year or more. All it takes is for your dog to lick up these particles (fomites) to get infected. The incubation time (how long it takes for the dog to develop symptoms after exposure) can range from 3 to 6 days but in some cases symptoms may not show until 7 to 10 days.
And for those folks wondering, the treatment for an adult dog with parvo can cost as much or even more (the larger the dog, the more costly medications and hospital stays will be) than dealing with a puppy with parvo. Treatment for parvo in dogs often involves hospitalization with intravenous fluids, antibiotics, anti-emetics and loads of supportive care.
Low Risks For Vaccinated Dogs
If your adult or older dog is current on his parvo vaccination, there are slim chances that he could contract the disease. The parvo vaccination does an excellent job in protecting from the disease, explains veterinarian Dr. Christian K. On top of that, it is rare (yet, not impossible!) for adult dogs to develop the disease, and if they do, the symptoms tend to be milder and less deadly compared to those experienced by puppies.
If your dog is current on his parvo vaccination but is suffering from vomiting and diarrhea, there are good chances that he is suffering from something else such as a ingesting a foreign object, a bacterial infection, presence of parasites or protozoans, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis syndrome, or some underlying organ disorder affecting the liver of kidneys. Don’t do guesswork on your best friend, see your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
“The parvo vaccine is very effective and rarely fails. Dogs become more and more resistant to parvo as they get older.”~Dr. Gene, veterinarian
Vaccinating Adult/ Older Dogs
Should adult or older dogs be vaccinated against parvo? Many veterinarians suggest vaccinating adult dogs, but no longer on a yearly basis as before. More and more veterinarians are now suggesting to vaccinate against parvo every three years.
After dogs reach a certain age though, vaccinating against parvo may no longer be recommended either because of advanced age or perhaps the presence of an illness.
When to stop vaccinating an older dog is often something that should be discussed with the vet on a case-by-case basis, often keeping in consideration individual factors such as health status and age. Often, the choice whether to vaccinate an older dog or boils down to choosing the lesser of two evils.
For example, veterinarian Dr Rebecca suggests vaccinating adult dogs for parvo and distemper every three years until the dog is around 7 to 8 years old. She no longer provides vaccination for older dogs (except for the rabies vaccination when required by law).
For owners of adult dogs who are not comfortable vaccinating their dogs, they can consult with their vet and inquire about having titer tests done. While titer tests can measure the level of a dog’s antibodies, a dog’s levels of antibodies doesn’t necessarily suggest though absolute protection should the dog be exposed to a given disease such as parvo, warns the American Veterinary Medical Association.
“It has been found through titer testing that the initial puppy vaccinations generally provide lifelong (NOT lifetime) immunity in the majority of dogs. By the time a dog may have reduced antibody levels that warrant revaccination, he is generally 10 years of age or older and the vaccination can be more risky and elicit adverse events at that age. The senior dog is also more than likely not in situations that would necessitate it.”~Dr. Jean Dodds
- Schultz RD, Thiel B, Mukhtar E, et al. Age and long-term protective immunity in dogs and cats. J Comp Pathol. 2010;142 Suppl 1:S102–S108.
- Dr. Jean Dodds, A Pilot Study: 1/2 Dose Vaccines for Small Dogs
- American Veterinary Medical Association: Canine Parvovirus