It’s 6:30 PM and I’m waiting for someone from Monette, Arkansas (who didn’t even call until after 5:30, and yes, we close at 5:00 today, thank you). They think their puppy may have Parvovirus. I think so, too. It was "just fine yesterday", meaning a sudden onset of illness. It’s a puppy less than one year old. It has vomiting and watery diarrhea. Also, it hasn’t been vaccinated! That will be the fourth puppy in 24 hours with that history, and I’m sick of it.
Of course, I’m preaching to the choir, here. If you’re reading this blog, you are a pet-owner who cares enough to get informed about the health-care needs of your animals and get them taken care of. It’s not like these people don’t care about their puppies, they are just in the "too little, too late" mode.
The problem is that we don’t have any kind of great treatment for Parvovirus. Once the live virus enters the body, in about seven days the puppy is going to get sick. If he’s a tiny puppy, it may attack his heart muscle and kill him outright. Most will begin to vomit or have diarrhea, progressing to both. The diarrhea becomes watery, and usually bloody. The virus also attacks the bone marrow, where the white blood cells are made. Now the body’s first line of defense is gone, as well. That means that other germs can just walk right in. Countless virus particles are spewed out in the diarrhea, and they will live in the environment for months, providing a source of infection for other puppies. Disinfection with chlorine bleach is necessary to kill the virus on floors, sidewalks, kennels, bowls, etc. [5 ounces of bleach diluted in one gallon of water is used to disinfect.]
Treatment of the puppy is limited to treating symptoms and keeping the patient hydrated with fluid therapy,either I.V. or subcutaneously (you hook things up like an I.V., but the fluid is dripped under the skin in about twenty minutes, where it is slowly absorbed over the next six to eight hours. Maybe not as ideal as I.V. fluids, but works well in less severe cases, and costs about a fourth as much, and you can go home for nursing care instead of staying in the hospital.) You give anti-vomiting drugs and sometimes they work pretty well and sometimes not so well. Antibiotics are given to help combat the secondary invaders, though they do nothing to kill the parvovirus. It’s basically a supportive care situation.
In the early days (1980’s) we gave a lot of anti-diarrheals. They didn’t work so well, and it was a bad idea. The body is trying to get rid of a lot of nasty stuff in that diarrhea, and corking it up would be bad. In the last couple of years, we tried the anti-viral drug in Tamiflu. It looked promising, but didn’t pan out.
The devil of it is that I should never be having to treat these. The vaccine works so very well to prevent the disease. I have not seen a properly vaccinated puppy get sick in years. You just start the vaccine at weaning, repeat a couple of times at four-week intervals (or 3-week, if you’re a little paranoid, and you can add an additional booster dose at 18 weeks if you want to be doubly sure they have lasting protection). Three puppy-care visits, preventing LOTS of diseases, getting started on heartworm preventive and flea control — total cost is less than the first day’s attempted treatment of Parvovirus.
If I had a more successful treatment, this wouldn’t bug me so much. Fifty percent of these puppies will die, no matter what I do. This is so preventable, so unnecessary, and so frustrating.