As a dog owner, the word I dread the most is parvo. It has been over thirty years since I held my dying, parvo-stricken dog in my arms, after several days of confinement and using up my student’s allowance, but the memories continue to haunt me to this day.
Since then, there have been major advances in the veterinary field, most important of which are vaccines. Unfortunately, parvo continues to be a problem for dog owners worldwide, including the Philippines. In almost every visit to the vet, I would see dogs confined for parvo. Some of these dogs have in fact had their parvo shots – mostly incomplete.
Just this weekend, I received a call from a relative who lives in the province, heartbroken because her granddaughter’s puppy had lost its battle to parvo and the child was totally devastated. A second puppy was beginning to poop blood. Their vet put the odds of the second puppy’s survival at 50-50. I also learned that the two five-month old puppies were littermates and had two 5-in-1 shots.
Around six years ago, I had a close brush with parvo. A six-month old dog I imported from Europe with 4 5-in-1 shots lost his appetite for food around a week after his arrival in Manila. When he refused food on the second day and had rather slimy stools, I took him to the vet for a quick check. He tested positive for parvo and was confined and put on IV. He never pooped blood or had bad diarrhea, except that his stools smelled fishy, he wasn’t very playful, and he refused to eat for a third day. On the fourth day, his appetite was back, his stools were solid, and he was sent home in the evening. The vet said that his test results could have been a false-positive, or maybe he did get infected but his immune system was strong enough because of the vaccines he had received. He also theorized that he may just be adjusting to his environment, as he pointed out that Metro Manila definitely has a higher bacterial load than the country my dog came from. He also shared his theory that there may be new parvo strains not covered by the vaccines. Long story short, my dog went home uneventfully, no other dog in our household got sick, and he remains an active and happy dog at home.
Considering that parvo remains a problem for dog owners worldwide, and especially in the Philippines, let me share some lessons and tips that I’ve learned from my own experience and that of fellow dog owners, experienced breeders, and vets. Note that these are especially geared towards those in the Philippines, where parvo remains a day-to-day challenge for dog owners.
Don’t skip vaccines. Vaccines are your shield and they can save your dog from death and you from huge veterinary bills. Be mindful of the schedule that your vet provides. Some would start vaccinating as early as six weeks while some prefer to start at 7-8 weeks. Also don’t forget to revaccinate as scheduled a year after the initial set of vaccinations.
Make sure your pup was vaccinated by a real vet. Let me take this opportunity to stress the importance of having your puppies vaccinated by a real vet. Vaccines have to be handled properly and at controlled temperatures, as improper handling can make them ineffective. Good vets would know the importance of handling, and would get their vaccines from reputable suppliers who pay attention to this. Some enterprising and unethical breeders cut costs by buying vaccines from unverified sources, sometimes from poultry shops, and administer these themselves. Some even go as far as forging the names and signatures of real vets. No wonder that their puppies are also the ones that end up getting parvo. Ask your puppy’s breeder to give you the name and the number of the vet who administered your puppy’s shots. This information should actually be in the puppy’s vaccination card.
Keep your dog indoors. It’s very important to socialize your dog, but you have to balance this with the need for safety. For instance, if you know that a neighbor’s dog died of parvo, then don’t let your puppy play in the area frequented by that dog. Remember that vaccines can fail, and that younger puppies are at greater risk for disease. In my observation, the immune system of dogs (mini schnauzers, if I may) reach a turning point at around 10 months to one year old. Until then, I prefer to minimize and closely monitor their exposure outdoors. If my puppy’s feet touch the soil, I also make sure to clean his feet with soap right away.
Avoid places with too many dogs, especially strays (including cats). This requires some research on your part if you’re not familiar with your neighborhood. In my case, I know where most people walk their dogs, and I also know the areas that strays consider as their territory. (For a long-term solution, I actually took part in a rescue operation so that the strays in our subdivision would find homes and would no longer pose as a health threat to our dogs, but that’s a topic for another blog.) These areas are bound to have residues of fecal matter, and considering that parvo is passed on through the fecal route, bringing your pup to these places poses a big risk to him.
Use strollers or carry your dog. If you have suspicions about the cleanliness of the place but you need to take your puppy, just carry him or use a stroller. Puppies enjoy this too.
If your puppy has parvo:
Take him to the vet. Don’t delay. Your puppy will need fluids to restore electrolyte balance and prevent his organs from shutting down. Dogs can and have survived parvo, but this depends a lot on his immune system and other factors. Older puppies and those with shots have better chances of surviving than younger puppies without any shots, according to most vets.
Keep an eye on the rest of your dogs. By the time you learn your puppy has parvo, he would have shed the virus that could infect other dogs in your house. Depending on their immune system, they may or may not be infected. Just the same, it pays to be vigilant so that you can catch the earliest signs in a possible second case. Remember, time is of the essence.
Clean your house thoroughly. Use soap and disinfect thoroughly so that the virus won’t spread to others. Remember that even if you have no other dog, you can spread the virus through your shoes. Don’t bring heartbreak to others.
Don’t bring another puppy into your house within six months. The parvo virus can stay alive for as long as six months. In fact, there are some articles that say that it can survive some disinfectants, bleach, and sunlight. For your own peace of mind, don’t get a new puppy within this time period. It may seem too drastic a move, but better safe than sorry.