Treating a puppy with canine parvovirus involves providing supportive care to address the symptoms as your dog fights off the virus. Adequate nutrition is an important part of this care, yet it is often difficult to achieve as parvo puppies suffer from frequent vomiting and nausea.
Feeding Puppies With Parvovirus
The first step in feeding a puppy with parvovirus is determining the best way to get the puppy to eat. Veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber reports 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 is very dehydrated or experiences profuse vomiting, your veterinarian may recommend hospitalization. Supportive care with IV fluids, anti-nausea medication, and possible tube-feedings will help them get back on their feet before returning home for continued care.
- Your veterinarian may suggest using a syringe to feed your puppy at home if they can keep food down.
- Another method of coaxing a puppy to eat is sitting with them and hand-feeding.
- Feed the puppy small meals several times a day rather than fewer, larger meals, as this makes it easier for them to digest the meal and control vomiting. As the puppy gets better, they will want to eat more, yet it's important to keep meals small and feed your puppy frequently during the recovery period to prevent gastrointestinal upset.
- Never try to force-feed a puppy, as this could cause food particles to travel down the trachea into the lungs rather than the stomach, which can lead to aspiration pneumonia.
- Do not "free feed" your puppy -- or provide unrestricted access to food -- as you need to know when and how much they are eating.
Fasting vs. Feeding Parvo Puppies
For many years, veterinary professionals and pet owners alike took a different approach to feed parvo puppies -- that is, they didn't feed them. This traditional method involved withholding food for up to 3 days, under the assumption this would allow a puppy's gastrointestinal tract to recover. Unfortunately, this strategy resulted in numerous undesirable consequences, such as intestinal discomfort, known as "hunger pains," decreased digestive motility, or even sepsis.
Based on several studies, experts have determined that feeding puppies suffering from parvovirus right away is the best course of action. Prompt feeding reduces inflammation, minimizes vomiting, and decreases pain, among other benefits. This evidence means it's even more important to get your puppy eating through one or more of the described methods.
Medications for Low Appetite
A veterinarian may prescribe medication to help control nausea and stimulate their appetite. Cerenia is a very effective medication that halts nausea in dogs. It also contains mild analgesic properties, which can help your pet's belly feel more comfortable. Your veterinarian may also prescribe an anti-diarrheal medication, antacid, or probiotic, depending on your pup's condition.
Parvo puppies can become dehydrated very quickly. Therefore, your vet will probably recommend you give your puppy fluids subcutaneously -- under the skin -- at home. Always follow veterinary advice. However, the veterinary staff can do this for you in the hospital or train you to perform the procedure yourself if you're not comfortable poking your pet with a needle.
Diet for Puppies With Parvo
Dr. Werber states that there is "no particular parvo diet." However, veterinarian-recommended foods can be more appetizing to a sick puppy with a poor appetite. Whether it's a prescription diet or a home-cooked meal, Dr. Werber states that dog owners should be open to using what works for their sick puppies and do "whatever you can do to get them to eat." Diets throughout treatment and later during recovery are much the same, although the treatment diet may need to be blander and more digestible to accommodate your puppy's sensitive gastrointestinal system.
Prescription and Over-the-Counter Diets
Dr. Werber mentions 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 diets that your veterinary team may recommend, such as Purina ONE® SmartBlend® Classic Ground Healthy Puppy Lamb & Long Grain Rice Entree or Blue Wilderness® Turkey and Chicken Grill for Puppies. Dr. Werber suggests looking 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.
Your veterinarian may suggest providing your puppy with a high-calorie supplement such as Vetoquinol Nutri-cal or Tomlyn Nutri-Cal. These nutritional supplements come in a tasty gel form and are designed to provide pets with additional calories and vitamins.
A common strategy used in the veterinary hospital is tempting patients with chicken- or beef-flavored baby food. Since the food is soft, it's easy for sick puppies to eat with minimal effort. It's also highly digestible. Be sure to check the ingredient label prior to feeding to ensure there is nothing harmful in the baby food, such as onion powder or garlic.
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 daily. Start with one teaspoon to one tablespoon, depending on the size of your dog. Bland food options include:
- Boiled chicken, with the skin and bones removed, chopped or shredded into small pieces
- Very lean ground beef or turkey, cooked
- Bone broth or low-sodium chicken broth
- Cooked white rice
- Cooked pasta, such as spaghetti or macaroni, diced into small pieces or mashed
- Cottage cheese, fat-free, in small amounts
Evidence suggests that feeding egg yolks can help a puppy with parvo, as they are not only palatable and easy to eat but may have other benefits. Egg yolks contain vitamins and minerals that may aid in digestion and fight infection in dogs, such as those caused by parvovirus.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is known to help bolster the human immune system for a variety of conditions. Some people believe that it can aid in digestion and offer antibacterial benefits to a pet's immune system. Check with your vet before feeding your dog apple cider vinegar, and always dilute it in a large amount of water, as concentrated ACV could be harmful to your puppy.
Some puppies may 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 your puppy's meals, consult with your veterinarian to ensure your recipe is appropriate for them. Do-It-Yourself homemade kits are available with nutrient blends designed to provide your puppy with all the vitamins and minerals they need. A popular recipe used by breeders and shelters to help dogs gain weight is "satin balls," a high-calorie formula consisting of 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 decline. Work with your veterinarian to find a course of action that gets nutrients into your dog to help them fight off the virus and gain strength. You may need to try several food strategies before finding one that works.