Parvovirus shouldn’t happen!

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.

6 thoughts on “Parvovirus shouldn’t happen!

  1. Bonnie says:

    Don’t forget, a lot of the folks who don’t vaccinate, didn’t vaccinate because it cost too much. So now they have a really sick puppy and no money–and you are stuck working on their limited to non existant budget.

    Parvo, not something I miss being out of veterinary reception work–yeah that’s why I remember *that* part of the equation because I got to work with that side of things for my docs!

  2. Everett Mobley, D.V.M. says:

    At KVC, a new puppy visit (30 minutes), complete examination, behavior consult, fecal direct smear and flotation exam, all vaccines and a first dose of heartworm preventive (Sentinel, Interceptor or Heartgard 30) is $50. Parvovirus vaccine included here is $4.50 per dose. This is far from exorbitant.

    I respectfully submit that owning a pet is a privilege that comes with responsibilities. It is not a God-given right subsidized by the government.

  3. Bonnie says:

    Exactly my point. However, there are all too many pet owners who call, ask prices and then never set up an appointment (waiting perhaps until the “next paycheck” or looking for a cheaper vet) and then suddenly you are supposed to drop everything to see their sick animal. It’s very frustrating.

    When you consider your prices for the preventative versus the pure monetary cost of the parvo (lets not even go into the cost of the pet’s suffering), the preventative is a bargain at twice the price.

    Many people don’t see that until they’ve had the experience and no amount of “selling” it to them over the phone is going to work. The most hated line on the phone to me was “If you weren’t all about the money and you loved animals you would.. “(fill in the blank–but basically absolve them of their responsibility).

  4. anna says:

    Just discovered your blog – love it. I’m a vet assistant at the McDonald’s of corporate vet practices (shouldn’t say which, but I bet you can guess!). We’ve been seeing 3 or 4 cases a week of parvo. The line I always hear is, “well, we heard it was cheaper to buy the vx at the feed store”…maybe so, but you actually have to USE it! Inevitably, the guilty party already knows in the back of their mind what’s wrong, so they usually start out by asking how much parvo tx costs…and all I want to say is, way more than the vx would have cost you. People should have to have a permit to own pets.

  5. Robyn says:

    I recently found this blog, it has been great reading! I was hoping you could give me a little advice, if you have the time.

    We are currently members of the Wellness program at Banfield. We mainly joined in order to save money during the first year of our first dog’s life (now nearly 4yrs), but somehow we were still members by the time our second puppy found us last December… so we stayed for a year with him as well to cover his neutering and shots.

    We have finally reached the breaking point though; we’re so tired of dealing with their wait times and merry-go-round of doctors that never read notes. Both dog’s will be free of Banfield’s plan very soon and we are shopping for a new vet. I think we found one! Yay! And have made an appointment for our 16 month old toy rat terrier’s next round of shots.

    This brings me to my question. What *should* we vaccinate for? Banfield was always pushing every possible shot and test on us, and since we don’t know any better and had already paid for it we just let them do what they wanted. He just had his rabies shot and one other (distemper/parvo maybe) yesterday, and Banfield says he is due for Giardia, Carona, Lyme, and Bordatella in January as well as a heartworm test and annual bloodwork.

    I scheduled the bordatella and heartworm test with the new vet, and asked if the other three were necessary. I was told they were not, and kind of got that slightly disgusted tone of voice I often hear when people talk about Banfield.

    I looked into Carona a little and found that it is a disease that can be so mild an owner wouldn’t notice it, and mainly affects puppies. The article didn’t define ‘puppy’ though… is that a dog that is still growing or a dog under the age of 3? I think if he is out of the age range I feel pretty safe skipping it. And since it “rarely causes death” I think it might be safe-ish to skip anyway.

    We rarely come across ticks except when landscapers are laying pine straw. Should we get the lyme vaccine? We don’t really go wandering in natural areas, we are pretty much sidewalk folks. Although our older dog seems to think straw is the best place to poop. And I haven’t read much about Giardia yet, other than how it affects the intestines.

    Any guidance you have is welcome! We just feel a little adrift right now, since we have always blindly followed Banfield’s plan. It is past time to become educated about this stuff! I just feel better getting an opinion from an experienced vet rather than some faceless website.

  6. Doc says:

    Hello, Robyn,

    Thanks for reading and writing.

    Giardia is a microscopic, one-celled animal, also called a protozoa. It infests the lining of the intestine, resulting in poor absorption of nutrients and eventually even of fluids. This can cause weight loss and chronic diarrhea. It is primarily picked up from the feces of infected animals, but can also be acquired through contaminated water, such as streams and ponds. The most beautiful, clear mountain stream can be full of it. If you have “city-water” that runs through a treatment plant, that would not be a potential source. Sometimes wells in the country do get contaminated and require treatment of the well itself.

    The giardia vaccine is not very helpful. The disease itself is readily treatable, not too hard to diagnose, and I’d just treat it if it showed up.

    Corona virus was once thought to be nearly as bad as parvovirus and we all started vaccinating for it. I have heard one expert describe the vaccine today as a “solution in search of a problem”. I have dropped it from my vaccine protocol. Chances of it the virus affecting an adult dog greater than one year old are virtually zero.

    I would only give the Lyme vaccine if I were in an endemic area where lots of cases are seen. Those areas do exist, and the vaccine is valuable there. There is no Lyme disease in my geographic area. As there ARE other tick-borne diseases in my area (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Ehrlichia), I prefer to concentrate my efforts on preventing tick infestation.

    Bordetella can spread rapidly in a kennel situation, so if you are considering boarding your dog or travel a lot, that is worthwhile.

    Heartworm testing should be done at least once per year if you live in an area that has mosquitoes, even if it’s only for a few months per year. Sometimes the heartworm preventive medicine is not 100% effective, and you want to find out about that as soon as possible, not five years later.

    I’m sorry to hear that your experience with Banfield was not what you hoped it would be.

    Good luck with your new veterinarian.

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