Parvoviruses are among the most dreaded, highly-infectious pathogens around. In cats, the feline panleukopenia virus (FPLV/FLV) causes a major drop in the white blood cell count and damage to the gastrointestinal, immune, and nervous systems. In dogs, canine parvovirus (CPV) brings inflammation and significant damage to the gastrointestinal tract and immune system. In both animals, the outcome can be fatal. This is why the standard inoculations vets give to every new pet dog or cat include a vaccine for CPV or FPLV.
But can dogs get parvo from cats — and vice versa? Should we pet parents be worried about this?
That depends on what you mean by “parvo.”
- 1 Scenario 1: Feline panleukopenia virus in cats
- 2 Scenario 2: Cats as carriers of canine parvovirus
- 3 Tips for prevention
- 4 Busting a few myths
- 5 The final word
Scenario 1: Feline panleukopenia virus in cats
If you’re specifically referring to the feline parvovirus, the answer is no. As far as veterinary doctors and researchers can tell, the feline panleukopenia virus (FPLV) is exclusively harmful to domestic cats and all other members of the feline family. It does not affect dogs at all.
And while it rarely happens, the reverse can also be true. Recent studies have shown that a strain of the canine parvovirus (CPV) can infect cats and make them ill — which is a clear case of cross-species transmission (CST).
Note, however, that all viruses occasionally mutate. They sometimes gain the ability to make that inter-species “jump” and infect a new sort of animal. So while the feline parvovirus seems adapted only to cats, the possibility of it one day mutating to affect dogs remains.
Scenario 2: Cats as carriers of canine parvovirus
But the canine parvovirus gets around and can find its way to any gastrointestinal system, be it that of a cat’s or a dog’s. It can survive for a time inside a cat or dog’s body without ever making it sick.
This means that cats can be carriers of canine parvovirus. If a host cat poops and a wandering dog happens to sniff and lick at the cat’s feces or eat something that was contaminated with it, that dog can get infected.
Thus, in that sense, dogs can get “parvo” from cats.
Tips for prevention
Nowadays, veterinary medicine has advanced to a point where doctors might be able to save a dog stricken with CPV (especially if they get to the dog early enough). But medical treatments for parvovirus typically cost $1,000 or more. It makes better sense to prevent infection in the first place.
So how do you prevent parvovirus infections in your puppy or dog? Here are a few tips.
1. Practice good hygiene for yourself and your dog.
Parvoviruses aren’t airborne pathogens. They live on the ground and grass where there’s plenty of moisture and decaying biological matter (e.g., feces) for them to thrive on. So wherever you and your dog are, make sure you regularly keep yourself and your dog clean and well-groomed. Keep your home neat and clean. Have all items and surfaces (e.g., floors, tables, beds, pillows, other furniture, eating/feeding utensils and containers, clothes, shoes) regularly cleaned, laundered, disinfected, and free from accumulated grime. Do as the Japanese do and keep outdoor shoes away from your designated indoor areas. Keep your dog clean and bathe him regularly. Whenever he goes out and comes back inside your home, wash his feet clean. And just as you should wash your hands with soap and water to prevent the transfer and entry of infectious pathogens into your eyes, nose, or mouth, you should wash or wipe your dog’s nose and eyes clean of anything he’s sniffed or gotten nose-deep into outside!
2. Keep your dog away from dogs that aren’t vaccinated for CPV.
Keep your dog away from strays or newly-rescued dogs — at least, until you can be sure they’ve been vaccinated for parvovirus. Don’t let your dog share a play space, living quarters, feeding bowls, beds, or even toys with dogs that haven’t yet been inoculated.
3. Keep your dog from interacting with stray cats or cat poo.
As previously mentioned, cats can still be carriers of CPV. The only cats you should let your dog play or sleep with are either your own pets or those that belong to responsible cat parents.
4. Keep your dog healthy and fit.
Give your dog proper dog food and regular exercise. Make sure to keep complete medical notes on your dog’s health. Schedule regular vet checkups for him. A healthy dog will have a strong immune system that can minimize the threat that parvoviruses give.
5. Have your dog vaccinated.
Of course, the best way to protect your dog from CPV is still a vaccine. Puppies and dogs should get their parvovirus inoculations when they are at least a few months old. Booster shots should be given afterward, all the way to when the dog is at least a year old. Adult dogs may need booster shots every year or so, too.
Busting a few myths
Here now are a few medical myths about CPV (and FPLV as well) which you need to be aware of.
Myth #1. Only puppies and kittens get sick from CPV and FPLV.
Yes, these viruses tend to affect the very young the most. But dogs and cats can get sick from these viruses at any point in their life if they don’t have the antibodies to fight them off. (So if an unvaccinated adult dog sniffs or licks at cat feces that carries CPV, that dog can still acquire enough of a viral load to fall ill.)
Myth #2. You can disinfect or sanitize an area by just “airing” it.
Nope! Both CPV and FPLV are durable and can survive on any ground or surface for months. The only way you can kill them is with proper physical cleaning and chemical disinfectants. So when you want to disinfect a pet’s items, bed, cage, or living areas, don’t just turn the lights on and throw the windows open to get rid of viruses. You need to mop, wipe, and launder things with soap, water, and bleach-based cleaners (with potassium peroxymonosulfate or hydrogen peroxide).
For more “myths” about parvovirus, click here.
To know more about the symptoms of parvovirus in dogs, click here.
The final word
The most important thing to know is this: the more pet parents there are who keep their cats and dogs healthy and properly vaccinated, the less likely it is for dogs to catch parvovirus from cats.