In my career I have been witness to many things; some beautiful and some tragic. I remember in 1997, fresh out of school performing my first c-section and delivering seven healthy dachshunds (which by the way may be the cutest puppies I’ve seen.) And there was the time, while on-call, I rushed into the clinic to find a sweet, elderly lady cradling her precious poodle she had just witnessed get struck by a large truck. It died moments after I arrived. However, in my fifteen years of practice and hundreds of memories, none are as prominent as the repeated offense caused by Parvo.
Parvo in simplistic terms is like the plague to puppies.
Parvo is a virus that has evolved very cleverly. As I often say, “it has no brain but is much smarter than us.” It is extremely hardy and able to live for years in the environment—even some of the harshest chemicals and detergents do nothing to stop it. It is very contagious and spreads easily to puppies that have no immunity to it. And, maybe its smartest feature, after infecting a dog it can remain quiet in “stealth” mode for up to 12 days. During this period your unsuspecting puppy is not showing any symptoms but is contagious to others as the virus is replicating quickly preparing to rear its ugly head. Typical symptoms include a loss of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting. Frequently, the first thing noticed by an owner is their once playful puppy suddenly becoming tired or lethargic.
As a vet, our most difficult moments are those when we lose a patient.
Puppies are especially difficult. They are so energetic, full of life and the hold promise of a long, healthy life with a loving owner. But Parvo exists only to destroy this. It sits and waits, hiding in dark places, looking for a small window of opportunity. In my fifteen years it has killed more puppies than everything else combined. If you added up all the puppies that have fallen to injuries, accidents, poison, organ disease, diabetes and every other contagious disease that exists it would not equal one half of the puppies that I have witnessed die because of Parvo! It has caused me to lose sleep, have nightmares, cry in frustration and even contemplate leaving my current post at the shelter. As a shelter vet I see much more parvo than the average vet. There have been weeks at my shelter that upwards 25 puppies die from the disease.
I still hold out hope…
In any kind of war there is always a defense or counter offense. Although it’s not the bunker-busting, fool-proof weapon we would all like, it is effective and the best we have. It’s immunization. When you vaccinate your puppy in a timely fashion and follow through with boosters you are providing shelter in a hurricane. But puppies obviously can’t vaccinate themselves. Without an educated and motivated owner a young puppy will be defenseless.
Surprisingly, it’s not often financial reasons that people don’t get their puppies vaccinated. Every single year (multiple times a year) I cross paths with a well-intentioned owner who just failed to “make the time.” I’ll never forget the four month old Doberman (I love Dobies) that came in gasping for air, nearly dead from a bout with parvo. The new owner—a young, well-dressed, business woman—was exasperated. She was in tears as she tried to explain that she was so busy with work and travel she couldn’t find the time. She new the importance of vaccinations, but she didn’t know they were THAT important.
The Take Home Message
I’m still optimistic—maybe now more than ever, since we’re in the high access Information Age—that the word will continue to spread and more puppies will be spared. The more people that seek vaccines, the more the virus must sit and starve. Eradication may not be possible, but that doesn’t mean we don’t stop pushing for that goal. It’s said often that knowledge is power. However, in this case, it’s almost worthless…without action!
Before getting a new puppy seek advice online, from your veterinarian, or even friends that may be knowledgeable. I implore people to become proactive in their pets’ health care. In many ways its fun and almost empowering when you’re armed with current 21st century medicine. I love it when owners can come in and rattle off what DHPP (the core puppy vaccine) stands for. Distemper, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza and Parvo. There you go…you’re on your way!