Most new dog owners grow nervous when their puppy has diarrhea since it’s one of the first symptoms of the deadly parvovirus; this is why need to talk about the “parvo poop smell.” While it may be gross, it’s vital that we learn to recognize parvo early to act quickly and distinguish it from other common puppy issues, like colitis, and the smell is one of the first tell-tale signs.
This deadly puppy disease has a low survival rate of 10% if attended to at home. This percentage shoots to 80 to 90% when you take your sick dog to a vet, especially in the early stages. Home after-care with proper diet, vitamin supplements, and probiotics to normalize the gut environment contribute to a smooth recovery.
So the emphasis here is on knowing how to recognize the signs of parvo as early as possible, starting with what parvo poop smells like.
What Does Dog Parvo Poop Smell Like?
Parvo poop smells metallic because of the high-blood content in the feces. As the disease progresses, the puppy’s intestinal lining rips away, causing a sickly-sweet, rotting smell. Parvovirus wreaks havoc on a pup’s stomach and intestines, which is why poop has that bloody, rotting, metallic parvo smell.
Parvo cases escalate quickly, so prompt veterinary action must be taken as soon as you detect parvo poop or other signs. While vaccinations are the best way to prevent the deadly parvo virus, a young, vaccinated dog is still vulnerable as their immune system is not fully developed.
We will talk more about boosting your puppy’s immune system below.
The highly contagious parvovirus is spread by dog-to-dog contact or contact with infected dog poop, vomit, environments, or people. Detecting parvo poop is beneficial to reduce the chances of an infected puppy spreading the disease to littermates by prompt isolation of the sick pup.
Other household pets can be at risk around a parvo-positive dog, even though mammals have species-specific strains of parvo. For example, cats can’t get the original dog parvovirus but can contract some new mutated versions.
Parvo is a hardy disease resistant to cold, heat, drying, and humidity. Once the disease transfers to an environment, it can live up to six months to one year. Even snow won’t completely kill off the virus if it’s not treated using bleach.
What Does Parvo Poop Look Like?
When looking for signs of Parvo, one of the first signs will be in the poop. When looking at a puppy’s poop, always note the three Cs: color, consistency, and coating.
Parvo poop color
The poop should start a pale yellow and gradually become darker as more blood enters the intestines. Parvo poop can go from yellowish brown to dark red, to nearly black in the later stages.
Parvo Poop Consistency
Parvo poop will start with a slightly runny stool and then become more and more watery until it is almost entirely liquid.
Parvo Poop Covering
In the early stages, the stomach will shed its lining, so you may notice a viscous lump of mucus in the poop. This is the lining of the intestines.
What parvo does in the puppy’s body
The disease destroys the microvilli in the intestinal lining, preventing the pup from adequately absorbing nutrients. The sloughing of intestinal cells into the stool gives parvo poop its characteristic rotting stench and mucus in the stool, causing a slimy appearance.
Parvo can also attack the rapidly dividing cells of the heart, Canine Parvovirus-Induced Myocarditis, whereby it takes on a cardiac form, although relatively uncommon. Here, death occurs suddenly without premonitory symptoms like parvo poop and is most common among young pups under eight weeks.
Breaking down the intestinal barrier allows bacteria into the bloodstream, causing septicemia that’s fatal to dogs. The blood loss that causes bloody diarrhea results in anemia which causes pale gums that only turn pink when you press on them.
Dog Parvo Poop Stages: Can you Tell if a Puppy Has Parvo from Their Diarrhea?
Dogs with parvo display acute diarrhea and vomiting, which have a pungent stench that lingers even after you clean the environment. As Parvo continues to attack a dog’s body, diarrhea and vomiting intensify and change through the stages as follows:
Parvo poop is loose or runny during incubation but maintains the usual stool color. Contracting parvovirus in dogs is as easy as sniffing infected poop, which can contain up to a billion virions per gram of stool. Parvo can take up to 3 to 7 days before any symptoms of the disease show.
The symptomatic stage
When signs of parvo start showing, the stool gets more watery, becoming brownish to black diarrhea with traces of blood. After signs of parvo start to show and diarrhea gets bloody and smelly, it’s a race against time because most dog fatalities happen within 2 to 3 days after the symptoms.
Later stages of the disease
Parvo poop gets bloodier and runnier as the disease progresses. Most infected dogs stop eating after the onset of the symptoms, so the resulting stool is more water than waste tinged with blood.
Puppies that survive parvo still have diarrhea, but the stool gets firmer and returns to the normal color as time passes, and they get better. You can see traces of blood in the stool, which eventually disappear as the intestinal tract heals.
What Are the Early Parvo Symptoms in Puppies?
Dogs with the gastrointestinal illness parvo can take more than seven days after exposure to show signs of ailing. Most parvo deaths occur within 48 to 72 hours after the first clinical signs of the disease, so urgency in getting to the vet is crucial to increase the likelihood of survival of an infected pup.
Unlike other illnesses, the window between the early onset of the signs and succumbing is small. Therefore, detecting these symptoms early enough doesn’t assure recovery because much damage has already occurred. However, observing symptoms of parvo enables seeking crucial veterinary intervention.
Can dogs get parvo from smelling poop?
Because parvovirus is spread in feces, dogs can get it when they stop to smell another dog’s poop. But this is a highly contagious disease, so even if poop was picked up in a public area like a dog park, the virus could still be in the ground. If your puppy steps on smell the area, they can catch it.
This is why it’s vital to limit puppy exposure to unregulated public areas.
What does parvo breath smell like in dogs?
The sweet, rotting, metallic smell from a dog with parvo usually comes from their feces, not their breath. But as a do with parvo is wasting away, their breath may smell sour or get a sulfuric odor, as there may be less saliva, leaving bad bacteria in the mouth to spread.
See this article if your dog’s breath smells like metal.
Early signs of parvo
- Lethargy and depression
- Parvo-ill dogs refuse to eat and therefore exhibit a sharp decline in energy.
- High fever that lowers upon advancement of vomiting and diarrhea
- Lack of appetite
- Intestinal discomfort causes dogs to refuse to eat, leading to weakness.
Advanced signs of parvo
- Acute vomiting
- Puppies develop “parvo eyes,” where the moist areas around the eyes (and mouth) turn red with inflammation, a pink eye.
- Parvo-positive dogs have acute vomiting, which is clear, yellow, or brown. Excessive vomiting causes inappetence and dehydration.
- Severe bloody diarrhea
- Diarrhea occurs in serious proportions in young puppies. The diarrhea is inconsistent and can be brown or yellowish with blood. Rapid water loss through intense vomiting and diarrhea causes fatal dehydration, which can lead to death in puppies who don’t receive medical care.
- Pain and discomfort
- Dogs with enteritis (inflammation of the small intestines) exhibit signs of severe pain and discomfort.
- Dehydration due to severe vomiting and diarrhea necessitates constant fluid intake through injections for a parvo-positive dog to survive.
- Low temperature
- Low temperature indicates shock in puppies and is a very advanced sign that often precedes death.
What Can You Do to Help Puppies Survive Parvo?
The best way to help a puppy survive parvo is to take it to the vet immediately. The chances of a puppy surviving parvo with home-based care are 10%, but the number increases to 75 to 90% with timely hospitalization.
There isn’t a treatment for parvo, and infected dogs have to survive as the illness runs its course. Vets administer IV fluids to manage electrolytes, antibiotics to prevent secondary infections, and pain medication. Puppies that survive the first 3 to 4 days recover entirely and gain lifelong resistance against the disease.
While natural remedies like dried egg yolk powder and probiotics strengthen the immune system and give passive protection, they aren’t a substitute for vet care for parvo pups. The supportive care a puppy with parvo receives determines whether it will live or die.
Vaccination is the best prevention against parvovirus. It isn’t entirely effective until a puppy receives all shots at 6 to 8 weeks, when puppies stop receiving protective antibodies from their mothers. Shots should be every 3 to 4 weeks until about 16 weeks bringing the number to three shots.
Home remedies to help your puppy beat parvo
Puppies must see the vet if they have parvo or their chances of survival drop to 10% or less. However, there are still supplements that have been proven to boost a young dog’s immune system and help it withstand exposure to the virus.
- Probiotics stabilize a dog’s gut lining and enhance intestinal health to protect it against parvo
- Vitamin E, Omega-3, and omega-6 fatty acids support a robust immune system
- Herbal remedies like echinacea purpura, which has been studied to boost the number of antibodies against parvo in vaccinated pups
- Zinc to prevent a weakened immune system resulting from a zinc deficiency. Chelated zinc, such as zinc amino acid chelate, absorbs better than non-chelated zinc, like zinc sulfate.
- Glutamine could be excessively used when dogs lose muscle to fuel cells and divide white blood cells to fight infection. Supplementing Glutamine could heal the cell lining in the event of intestinal damage.
- In one study, egg yolk powder helped puppies supplemented with it heal faster and gain more weight post-parvo
- Taurine, which is essential for a puppy’s immune system
Puppies need a proper diet, complete vaccination, and reduced exposure to other dogs in dog parks to prevent parvovirus. Certain breeds, such as Rottweilers, Doberman Pinchers, American Staffordshire Terriers, German Shepherds, English Springer Spaniels, and Labrador Retrievers, have an increased risk of parvovirus.
Canine parvovirus is a preventable but highly transmissible and deadly disease. And paying attention to a dog’s poop is the best way to treat parvo early. Vaccination at 6 to 8 weeks and every 3 to 4 weeks until 16 weeks is the best prevention against parvovirus. Dogs with parvovirus have severe bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and lethargy, and most succumb to dehydration or shock.
The best way for pet owners to save a dog’s life with parvovirus is to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. The percentage of hospitalized dogs that survive 75 to 90% compared to the low 10% of those treated at home. Natural remedies like dried egg yolk, glutamine, and echinacea improve a dog’s immunity but don’t substitute health care for dogs with parvo.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.