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Medically Reviewed by Veterinarian Angela Dwywer, DVM on May 17, 2018
Table of Contents
I have a sad story to tell you this time around. Regular readers know how careful I’ve always been about choosing adoptive parents for the puppies that Janice and Leroy have blessed me with, and I’ve pretty much always gotten it right – choosing outstanding owners for my outstanding puppies. However, with Janice’s last litter, in one instance, I got it horribly wrong.
It seems as though my approach of demanding a criminal records check, references and home visits wasn’t enough to keep Kane safe. I was doing my usual semi-annual check-in with the adoptive parents, and having lost Natasha’s phone number, I attempted to message her on Facebook, only to discover that I’d been unfriended and blocked. I couldn’t imagine why Kane’s mom would have done such a thing, so I messaged Michelle, who had adopted a puppy at the same time and friended Natasha since they had puppies in common, and asked her if she knew why Natasha had blocked me.
“I think it’s because she’s afraid you’ll be mad at her,” Michelle responded.
Further messages were exchanged, and I learned that Kane had contracted canine parvovirus. But how was that even possible? Natasha knew the importance of getting Kane his parvo vaccines. So I got her number from Michelle and phoned her, and she assured me that Kane had been vaccinated, but her vet (who was also my vet, Dr. Stephen) said that the shots might have been spaced too far apart – she’d been short of money and hadn’t adhered strictly to the timetable.
Something in her tone raised alarm bells, so I (sneakily, I admit), asked her if she’d mind if I talked to Stephen. I claimed to be worried about others out of the litter – could something have been wrong with Janice that led to immunization problems in the puppies?
Of course, that was a bold-faced lie on my part – really, I just wanted to get at the truth. Natasha must not have known that authorizing Stephen to talk with me about Kane meant that she was allowing me to have all the relevant information, because she agreed, and Stephen wasted no time in telling me that Kane had had no parvo vaccines other than the initial shots I arranged for the puppies before handing them off to their forever homes.
The shots hadn’t been spaced too far apart – they hadn’t been administered at all.
In the material that follows, I’ll acquaint you with the facts about parvo, and the parvo vaccine. If you’re not worried about the possibility of your dog contracting parvo, I hope that this will serve as a sort of “whack upside the head” that will demonstrate beyond any shred of doubt that you absolutely must protect your dog against this deadly disease.
Here’s your first fact about the parvo vaccine: If it’s not administered, you can bet your ass that your dog will not be protected against canine parvovirus.
I’ve stressed the importance of regular vaccinations in other posts, like 11 FAQs About Puppy Vaccinations and 6 Dog Vaccination Q&As. I’ve emphasized over and over that shots are essential, and not all that costly.
Oddly enough, around the time that Kane was diagnosed, it seems that Natasha had $100 to spend on a new tattoo, but didn’t have $30 for Kane’s parvo vaccine.
If you think I sound angry, it’s because I am.
2. Parvo Kills at Worst, and Disables at Best
Even if a parvo-infected dog lives, he will probably never be 100% healthy. A dog that has not had the parvo vaccine, and has contracted and survived he illness, will typically never enjoy full health, and will most likely die before the average life expectancy for his breed or breed mix. For the sake of a very inexpensive shot, you could be dooming your dog to the need for constant medical care and a shortened lifespan.
Parvo is also fast – it strikes like lightning. Your dog can appear perfectly healthy one day, and the next can be horribly ill or even dying. He will require emergency veterinary treatment that could have been avoided if you’d gotten him the parvo vaccine.
3. Parvo is Costly
Treatment is not cheap. Natasha’s Kane required $1500 in immediate medical treatment, several days in the animal hospital, and weeks of aftercare. And as I’ve suggested in the previous paragraph, he will likely never be the same. The parvo vaccine would have been considerably cheaper. But hey, that tattoo sure looks great on Natasha!
Yes, I know what I sound like. And I’m okay with that.
4. There Are Myths About Parvo
You may have heard that adult dogs are not all that vulnerable to parvo, so you don’t have to worry about parvo vaccine for adults. You may also have heard that if an adult dog contracts parvo, he will just get very ill, but he won’t die.
Well, let me just ask you this – if you have a way of preventing your adult dog from becoming very ill, why wouldn’t you? Is there anyone out there who actually thinks it’s okay to neglect their dog’s health? Besides, it’s not true that adult dogs won’t die of parvo – they’re less likely to die, if treated, than puppies, but the risk is still extremely high. And if the illness isn’t treated, death is pretty much inevitable.
Another parvo myth is that you don’t need parvo vaccine for your dog if you keep their environment clean and keep them away from other dogs. The fact is, the parvo virus lives everywhere. Your perfectly healthy dog could pick up canine parvovirus at the dog park, at the veterinary clinic, on the sidewalk and just about anywhere else that any other dog could have been. The virus can also live for up to six months, so how confident are you, really, that your dog will not be exposed?
5. Vaccinations Are Not Foolproof…
…At least not early on. I’m not cutting Natasha any slack here – she didn’t have Kane vaccinated, and Kane’s illness is indisputably Natasha’s fault. However, it’s important to remember that vaccinations take time to work, so even if your puppy has had his initial parvo vaccine, that doesn’t guarantee immunity. Those boosters that Natasha didn’t get for Kane are essential, and that means that until your puppy has had a full series of parvo vaccines, you should keep him away from places where other dogs congregate.
6. Big Dogs Have a Higher Risk
Oddly enough, large dog breeds seem to be more susceptible to canine parvovirus than small breeds. Some of the dog breeds most prone to contracting parvo include German Shepherds, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Labrador Retrievers, Huskies and American Staffordshires.
Having said this, it’s important to note that hardly any dog that has had his parvo vaccine will contract canine parvovirus.
7. Parvo is Everywhere
If you believe the experts, there is no such thing as a dog that has never been exposed to canine parvovirus, and an exposed dog can potentially infect any number of other dogs. Just an ounce of feces from an infected dog contains no fewer than 35,000,000 viruses – and it only takes 1,000 to infect your dog.
8. Parvo is Sneaky
Given that the virus can be so easily carried, if your dog is infected, you can expect that your veterinarian will strongly recommend that your dog be isolated. However, sometimes the symptoms (in the early stages) are almost impossible to recognize. A dog could be shedding the parvovirus for up to two weeks before any symptoms become visible.
9. Parvo is Hard to Kill
Even if your dog is isolated, and his immediate area is disinfected, the virus can still live for a long time. Steam, sunlight, and bleach are commonly used in an attempt to kill canine parvovirus, but there’s no guarantee that these methods will be 100% effective. Even if the area appears to be perfectly clean, re-infection is always a possibility.
So now you know the facts about canine parvovirus and the parvo vaccine. Now, let’s talk about the disease itself.
Symptoms and Treatment
Pretty much any dog is going to vomit from time to time, and dogs will also get “the runs” occasionally. But if your dog is vomiting copiously, has diarrhea, seems lethargic and has a rapid heartbeat, he could have parvo.
Parvo is usually treated using antibiotics and intravenous fluids. An antiemetic may also be administered to ease the nausea. It’s important to note that these treatments are not cures – they don’t kill the virus. Instead, they stabilize the dog to the point where, if the treatment is successful, his immune system will get to work fighting the virus.
This is why it’s so important that if you think your dog might have parvo, you act quickly. Every day that your dog’s immune system isn’t working properly is going to reduce his chances of survival. Even a suspicion that your dog might have parvo should be enough to send you running to the veterinarian.
I really can’t say it often enough and loud enough – the best way of preventing parvo in your dog is to get him the parvo vaccine. In very rare cases, though, a dog can still contract canine parvovirus even after having the vaccine administered – you may have taken a puppy whose initial shots weren’t looked after, or were badly spaced, for instance. If that happens, there is nothing other than veterinary treatment that will cure the illness. There are, however, various products that can work to enhance the healing process and ease the symptoms. PetAlive ParvoK is one such product, but I need to caution you that some sellers will claim that it prevents parvo in dogs – it doesn’t. It may ease the symptoms, but it will not prevent the illness. Another good product is the AmberK Combo Pack of Paxxin and Vibactra – it will stimulate your dog’s immune system and ease the vomiting and diarrhea if your dog does contract parvo, but again, it will not prevent parvo.
If you doubt that parvo can kill your dog, I’d also recommend this publication: Parvo in Your Dog is Deadly! (Natures Answer Reports Book 4). You can get it for just 91 cents at Amazon.
I remember when I was growing up that my mother had a platitude for just about any situation you could imagine. Sometimes she used to drive me crazy with things like “What’s done in haste can be repented at leisure” and “Wishes, like chickens, come home to roost,” and “Be careful what you wish for; it just might happen,” and so on. But I think that when it comes to dogs and canine parvovirus, she would have hauled out “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and she’d have been right – a $30 shot is much, much better than more than a thousand of dollars in treatment when it comes to canine parvovirus – in other words, get your dog the parvo vaccine. If you don’t, you’re risking your dog’s health in a huge way.
Parvo is usually deadly, and when it’s not deadly, it’s debilitating. Natasha’s Kane is never going to enjoy the quality of life that he had the potential for when I first handed him over to her. He will always have medical issues, and he will most likely not live out the normal 9-year life span that most Boxers get.
I ache for Kane, and oddly enough, mad as I am at her, I ache for Natasha too. With an inexpensive parvo vaccine, Kane could be enjoying a long, happy, healthy life. Now, chances are he won’t, and Natasha knows that it’s her fault.
Please, please, don’t neglect this vital shot for your dog. Natasha’s tattoo is going to last forever. So is her grief when she buries Kane prematurely. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. It’s a $30 shot. Get it done. Now.