Pet owners are being warned over an outbreak of Parvovirus - a severe illness that can prove fatal to dogs.

The warning comes after at least a dozen cases of the contagious virus were reported in Essex within recent days.

The virus attacks the infection-fighting cells inside a dog's bone marrow, weakening its immune system.

Here's everything you need to know about Parvovirus from what it is, and how it is spread to the symptoms you need to be aware of. 

This is why you should never feed chocolate to your dogs

What is Parvovirus and how is it spread?

Parvovirus, parvo, canine parvovirus, or CPV is a virus that damages the lining of a dog's intestines.

The illness can severe vomiting and diarrhoea as well as death in some cases.

Puppies under six months and unvaccinated dogs are particularly vulnerable since their immune systems aren't as well developed. 

Dogs typically pick up the virus when they are out exploring, People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) explains.

The charity added: "It’s shed in the poo of infected dogs three to four days after they are infected, then for a couple of weeks after their symptoms clear up.

"Unfortunately, it can then survive in the environment for months to years – meaning it can be found almost anywhere that dogs go, such as gardens, parks and fields.

"It can also travel in dirt, so can be found on the bottom of shoes, inside houses, on dog leads, collars, bowls, clothes, toys, and even on human hands".

Dorset Echo: PDSA and Vets Now have issued advice to pet owners over Parvovirus. (Canva)PDSA and Vets Now have issued advice to pet owners over Parvovirus. (Canva) (Image: Canva)

Parvovirus signs and symptoms 

Here are the most common signs and symptoms of Parvovirus that pet owners need to be aware of, according to PDSA:

  • Severe diarrhoea (foul smelling, watery and bloody)
  • Vomiting
  • Severely low energy (lethargy)
  • A very high, or very low temperature
  • Pale gums
  • Abdominal (tummy) pain
  • Reduced appetite

These symptoms usually take between three to seven days to appear.

When to contact your vet

PDSA urges pet owners to contact a vet immediately if their pooch is displaying any of the above Parvovirus symptoms.

It added: "Let them know you think it might be parvo, and wait outside the clinic until your dog is called in to prevent spreading it to other dogs in the waiting room.

"There is no need to contact your vet if your dog has simply come into contact with parvovirus, just monitor them closely for symptoms and call your vet for advice if you’re concerned".

However, if you’re unsure whether your pet needs veterinary treatment, you can book an online video consultation with Video Vets Now. 

For more hints and tips, and advice on what to do in a pet emergency, visit the Vets Now website.

Dorset Echo: Here are the symptoms of Parvovirus that you need to watch out for. ( Canva)Here are the symptoms of Parvovirus that you need to watch out for. ( Canva) (Image: Canva)

How to prevent Parvovirus

Dave Leicester, an emergency vet and Head of Telehealth at Video Vet Now service, which is a video consultation service for pet owners run by Vets Now said: “The only effective way to reduce your dog’s risk of contracting parvovirus is to have them vaccinated against the disease.

"Canine parvovirus is extremely contagious and may persist in the environment for over a year. When there is an outbreak, contact with the virus can be very hard to avoid. The virus causes very serious illness, which is often fatal.

"Vaccination comprises an initial course of two or three vaccinations.

"Regular booster vaccinations are required throughout life, as immunity is not lifelong. Vaccines provide a very high level of immunity but they must be given before exposure to the virus to be effective.

5 tips to reduce your dog's risk of contracting Parvovirus

Vets Now has shared five tips pet owners should follow that may help reduce the risk of their dog contracting the virus:

  • The virus is spread primarily through faeces, so extra care should be made to prevent access to any dog mess.
  • Unvaccinated dogs should be safe in their own garden, if other dogs do not have access to it.
  • In public spaces, unvaccinated dogs should be carried.
  • There is a theoretical risk from infected foxes, so, if possible, owners should try to ensure foxes do not have access to their gardens.
  • The virus can be transmitted on contaminated shoes and clothing and dog toys, food/water bowls, and accessories.

There are more than 60 Vets Now clinics and hospitals across the UK that are open through the night, seven days a week, and day and night on weekends, to treat any pet emergencies that may occur

All of Vets Now’s premises have a vet and vet nurse on-site at all times.