By, Christine M. Irvin
Three days after we brought her home, Black Velvet, a healthy-looking 9-week-old sheepdog/pointer mix, started vomiting and had diarrhea. I noticed long, skinny worms in her stool. The vet treated her for roundworm. The next day, she was still vomiting and had diarrhea. Another trip to the vet, and a stool test, showed the dreaded diagnosis: parvovirus. She had only a 50-50 chance of survival.
I didn't know much about Parvovirus then, but I do now! It's a highly contagious viral disease infecting the dog's lymph nodes and small intestines. Parvoviruses are carried and spread on shoes, hands, tires toys, other inanimate objects, and through dust particles in the air. The disease is transmitted when dogs come in contact with the feces and/or body fluids of infected animals. Your pet can get parvo from about anywhere.
Black Velvet's initial symptoms were vomiting and diarrhea. She also showed little interest in either water or food, and what she did eat, she couldn't keep down. Vomiting and diarrhea are the most common symptoms; the vomiting usually begins first. Your pet may act depressed or run a fever. Check the area where your pet spends most of his time. Look for signs of vomiting and/or diarrhea. A watery or bloody stool is a definite sign of the virus. The stool can also be brown or yellow or somewhat gel-like. And, it smells awful!
There is no treatment to kill the virus once it infects the dog. However, the virus does not directly cause death. Death comes either from dehydration or through the loss of the intestinal tract lining. Treatment for parvo is called support therapy and is intended to keep the dog alive long enough for its own immune system to fight the virus. This includes giving fluids, controlling body temperature and vomiting, and preventing secondary infections.
And, treatment for parvo is expensive. Costs between $300-$1000 are common, and there's no guarantee the dog will survive. Our vet recommended hospitalization for Black Velvet, estimating the cost of treatment between $300-$500, minimum. We chose home treatment, which is somewhat less expensive (Our total costs were just over $200). Home treatment isn't recommended because death rates are higher for home-treated dogs. But, we decided to try it. The vet injected her with antibiotics and vomit-control medicine. He also injected an IV solution under her skin (subcutraneous injection) to prevent dehydration. We took home oral doses of the medications.
If we had known ahead of time how time-consuming and stressful home treatment would be, we might have opted for hospitalization. We weren't prepared for what Black Velvet (or we) would have to endure. The first day's ordeal began with a continuation of vomiting and "normal" diarrhea. About midnight, Black Velvet experienced a bout of bloody, foul-smelling diarrhea. I was afraid she would die, but somehow she made it through the night. For the next three days, we made daily trips to the vet for more medicine and fluid injections. The third day, the vet showed us how to give the subcutraneous injections at home. We took home an IV bag and a handful of needles. After five days of intensive home treatments, Black Velvet showed signs of recovery, but she was still very sick and weak. She weighed only 11 pounds before the illness started. She dropped to 8 lbs and looked like a walking skeleton.
If your puppy gets parvo, don't panic. There is hope. But, be prepared for a long, costly illness, or a stressful ordeal if you choose home care. Disinfect your dog's food and water bowls with a 1:30 ratio of chlorine bleach and water, rinsing thoroughly. Wash your dog's bedding in the bleach solution and hot water. Also, disinfect other areas that the dog has been, i.e., linoleum floors, concrete kennels, crates. Keep your pet isolated from other dogs for at least one month after recovery, and clean up all the dog's stools in your yard.
There is some good news. Only dogs can get canine parvovirus. And, it can be prevented by vaccine, in a series of three shots given before exposure. Our vet's best advice: VACCINATE, VACCINATE, VACCINATE!!
Survival tips if you choose home care: If you have a pet crate, use it to confine your pet. Line the bottom with newspapers, changing often. If not, limit your pet to one room, preferably with linoleum flooring. Spread several layers of newspaper on the floor, changing when needed. Have a bottle of diluted bleach and water ready to spray on infected surfaces. Wash your hands each time you handle your pet. Keep a running record of treatments along with stool and vomiting reports. If you've been up half the night with a sick dog, it's difficult to remember when you last administered medication and when the dog last vomited or had diarrhea! It's important to know; write it down! When the vet says give solid foods, try a 3:1 mixture of rice and boiled hamburger. If your puppy can't tolerate this, make a separate 1:1 mixture of the rice and hamburger and water. Puree in a blender. Black Velvet preferred hers warmed in the microwave!!