It started Monday morning at 8:00 a.m. with two black lab/Weimaraner puppies, Tucker and Tank. They were coming from the ER, where they had been diagnosed with parvovirus. Parvovirus is a very common, highly contagious viral disease that is very resistant to the elements, so it is basically everywhere.  The first time an unprotected dog comes in contact with the virus, it gets sick in 3 to 10 days. Some dogs get very sick, others not as much.

Tucker had a very, slight cough in the exam room, so I cautioned the owners about other diseases like canine distemper and influenza in combination with the parvovirus. A CBC (complete blood count test) gives us some idea about prognosis. A standard or only slightly decreased white blood cell count is a good sign. Parvovirus affects all rapidly dividing cells. These are usually the gastrointestinal cells (which turn over every seven days), the bone marrow (which turn over every 3 to 10 days) and in very young puppies heart and other tissues.

The dying gastrointestinal cells are what cause the classic vomiting and diarrhea. The disease usually starts with not eating, then progresses to being sick with vomiting and diarrhea. The diarrhea is secretory diarrhea where the body secretes fluid to make diarrhea. The intestines bleed or slough off chunks of mucosa or inner lining. The bacteria of the GI tract starts to putrefy (rot) the dead intestine and the smell is extremely foul. Parasites just damage the GI tract even more.

La Rue comes in next and is a cute little fluffy German Shepard puppy that is not eating and has diarrhea. La Rue’s parvo test is strongly positive, his CBC is moderately depressed, and his fecal was negative. Like the other two puppies, La Rue is started on IV fluids, IV antibiotics, dextrose, electrolytes, anti-vomiting medicine, and vitamins. He is the third patient to join the intensive care isolation.  Each of our parvo-cages has a separate drain and separate ventilation.  Gowns, gloves are worn in the room and changed between patients.

Poppy arrives on Wednesday morning and is the next patient. Poppy is the little brother to Tucker and Tank. His owner is right on top of Poppy.  Poppy is indeed positive for parvo-virus. (If the test is not enough proof of this, Poppy has a blow out of bloody squirty diarrhea all over Josh’s pants.) Poppy’s diarrhea may be impressive, but his CBC is just moderately depressed.  We now have four puppies in isolation.  Our record is thirteen at one time. There were 6 to 7 in a litter of Dalmatians and then various other dogs. All of these pups now have IV fluids, IV antibiotics, dextrose, electrolytes, anti-vomiting medicine, and vitamins. All are on an IV pump to make sure that they get their fluids promptly. We see them through windows, routine checks and on the security monitor.

(But wait, there is more!) Thor is the next puppy to come in.  He is an older yellow lab pup and cute as a button, but sick.  He looks miserable. Money is an issue, but the owner promises to pay.  It is too soon since Ranger died and I relent on an adequate deposit. Money is often an issue in parvo cases because veterinarian vaccinated dogs rarely get parvovirus. In fact, Tucker, Tank, Poppy, La Rue, and Thor, all have had vaccinations from an over-the-counter place. Sometimes the vaccine is not handled correctly, sometimes it is not given correctly, or the correct schedules and vaccines are not used.  People think they are saving money on the same thing, but it is not the same vaccine, and they are not. Because these pups are not protected, their owners will spend far more on treatment than they would have on veterinary vaccines. Of course, many probably couldn’t afford veterinary vaccines, which is why they try OTC vaccines. Then they really cannot afford parvo-virus treatment.

La Rue is the first to go home. He started looking good and then we slowly introduced bites of special bland prescription food. La Rue and Tank both ate their first bites at the same time, but Tank relapsed and vomited his back up. La Rue and Thor have not been affected nearly as much as Tank and Tucker. Both move out of parvo-isolation-intensive care into step-down isolation-care. Thor can go home on by Thursday, but the owner is unable to be reached at any of the five phone numbers that we have.  It is bad enough that we may not get paid, but to not even answer the phone to find out how Thor is doing seems cold to me.

Caught earlier or not as bad, Poppy will go home on Friday, the same day as Tank. Tucker will be left behind on IV fluids and intensive care. I caution the owner that the greenish snot is not a good sign.  We consider euthanasia, but after force-feeding, he wags his tail. I wish for a crystal ball, so I could know exactly what to do. I fear that we have cured his parvovirus, but his weakened immune system has allowed him to catch an even worse disease. He has enough fluids to last until morning, so we decide to wait until morning to make a decision. By morning, he is dead.  Even without complicating factors, we only save nine out of ten parvovirus dogs.  Some are too sick and do not survive under the best of care. We are proud that Tank, Poppy, La Rue went home. I really wish Thor’s dad would answer our calls. We are all sad about Tucker. It is the way of veterinary medicine that we will always remember Tucker.

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