Treating a puppy with canine parvovirus involves providing supportive care to help the dog fight off the disease. Adequate nutrition is an important part of this care but often difficult to do as parvo puppies suffer from frequent vomiting and upset stomach.
Feeding Puppies With Parvovirus
The first step in feeding a puppy with parvovirus is figuring out how to get the puppy to eat. Veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber relates that, "A lot of these dogs don't want to eat so it's a matter of getting them to eat and controlling the vomiting."
- In some cases where your puppy will not eat or is beset with chronic vomiting, your veterinarian may want to hospitalize the puppy so it can be fed via a tube.
- Your veterinarian may suggest using a syringe for feeding the puppy at home if the puppy can keep the food down.
- Another method of coaxing a puppy to eat is sitting with them and hand feeding them.
- Feed the puppy small meals several times a day rather than fewer, larger meals as this makes it easier for him to digest the meal and control vomiting. As the puppy gets better, they will want to eat more, and it's important to keep meals small and frequent during the recovery period to prevent gastrointestinal upset.
- Never try to force feed the puppy as the gastrointestinal tract is likely already stressed and irritated from the stomach upset and vomiting.
- Do not "free feed" as you need to be able to know when the puppy is eating and when it is not.
Medications for Low Appetite
A veterinarian may prescribe medication to help stimulate the puppy's appetite. Mirtazapine is an antidepressant that is known to help improve appetite in dogs. Entyce, or capromorelin oral solution, is a medication that can increase hunger in a dog that is refusing to eat. In addition to appetite stimulants, your veterinarian may prescribe medications to control nausea and vomiting which can also help with increasing their desire to eat.
Diet for Puppies With Parvo
Dr. Werber states that there is "no particular parvo diet." There are however foods that are recommended by veterinarians that can be more attractive to a sick puppy with a poor appetite. Whether it's a prescription diet or a home-cooked meal, Dr. Werber says dog owners should be open to using what works with their sick puppies and do, "whatever you can do to get them to eat." Diets during treatment and recovery are much the same although the treatment diet may need to be more bland and mushy in order for your puppy to digest it comfortably.
Prescription and Over-the-Counter Diets
Dr. Werber says some veterinarians prescribe "highly palatable, high caloric food" such as Hill's® Prescription Diet a/d®. There are also over-the-counter high calorie canned food diets that your veterinarian may recommend like Purina ONE® SmartBlend® Classic Ground Healthy Puppy Lamb & Long Grain Rice Entree or Blue Wilderness® Turkey and Chicken Grill for Puppies. Dr. Werber says to look for the "mushy pate kind" of canned food that is easier to eat than wet food with meat chunks and slices, and of course more palatable than dry kibble.
High Calorie Supplements
Your veterinarian may suggest providing your puppy with a high calorie supplement such as Under the Weather Ready Cal or Tomlyn Nutri-Cal. These are nutritional supplements that come in a gel in a tube or syringe and are designed for getting food into a dog that is sick and badly needs to gain weight.
Dr. Werber says, "One of the winners for me is when I get little jars of baby food. I get chicken, beef or turkey flavor baby food and puppies seem to like it." Since the food is soft, it's easy for sick puppies to eat with minimal effort. Make sure that you check the ingredient label prior to feeding to ensure there is nothing harmful in the baby food, such as onion powder.
A bland diet is often advised for a variety of medical conditions in dogs and can work well for puppies with parvo, both during the treatment and recovery periods. Feed these in small amounts several times a day, such as one teaspoon to one tablespoon depending on the size of your dog. Bland foods include:
- Boiled chicken, skin and bone removed, chopped or shredded into small pieces
- Bone broth or low-sodium chicken broth
- Canned plain pumpkin (do not use pumpkin pie mix!)
- Chopped, diced or mashed hard-boiled eggs
- Cooked white rice
- Cooked pasta, such as spaghetti or macaroni, diced into small pieces or mashed
- Cottage cheese, fat free, in small amounts
Feeding egg yolks can help a puppy with parvo as they are not only palatable and easy to eat, but have been found to have added benefits. Egg yolks contain vitamins and minerals that can aid in digestion and fight infection in dogs with parvovirus.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is known to help bolster the immune system for a variety of conditions, including parvo. It can aid with digestion which is critical for puppies that need to take in badly needed nutrients to fight off the virus. It also is known for its antibacterial benefits and can give your puppy's immune system a much-needed boost.
Some puppies will respond better to a home cooked diet made from fresh ingredients. Dr. Werber says he finds, "No reason not to do it as long as you get them to eat. That's the most important thing." If you decide to make the puppy's meals, consult with your veterinarian to make sure your recipe is appropriate for your puppy. One well-known recipe for helping dogs gain weight used by breeders and shelters is "satin balls" which is a high-calorie formula using ground meat, eggs and fiber.
Feeding a Parvo Puppy
Caring for a puppy with parvo can be devastating, especially if the puppy cannot eat and continues to weaken. Work with your veterinarian to find a course of action that gets nutrients into your dog to help him fight off the virus and gain strength. You may need to try several food strategies before you find one that works and gets him on the mend.