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Sick pups, overwhelmed veterinary staff and the vaccine that could have changed it all . . .

Black cat, veterinarian, vaccination
Veterinarian vaccinating a cat

Almost everyone has heard the old adage about how "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". In other words, it's ALWAYS less expensive to prepare and prevent issues when compared to dealing with the consequences of failing to prepare. In this story, you will see how failing to use a $15-20 vaccination has turned into a drama of families losing litters of puppies, a veterinary hospital stepping up and donating thousands of dollars in supplies, and the dedicated, compassionate teams trying their best to keep dogs alive as well as their own spirit.

Husky mix pups
Two puppies in cage

It started over the 4th of July weekend as a local veterinary hospital received a call from the local shelter. Ten six-month-old Husky mix pups were surrendered to the shelter after an 11th pup had tested positive for canine parvovirus. The family simply had no means to care for the pups and their only option at the time was to give up their pups in the hopes that some could be saved. Compounding the issue, the local shelter was, again, at maximum capacity and taking in this many infectious, large dogs (each pup was around 35-45 lbs) would tax their ability to care for all other pets. The potential for a serious outbreak was very real and euthanasia of the pups was considered. Knowing the toll that euthanasia takes on team members, the shelter director called her contact at the local veterinary hospital. Within a day, the veterinary hospital was able to re-open an unused building and provide isolated housing for these 10 dogs that had been exposed to parvovirus. Almost immediately, two of the dogs broke with bloody diarrhea (one of the most common signs of the disease) and needed to be sent to a 24-hour facility. On day two, four more broke with the disease and were sent to a second 24-hour facility. By now, the costs were really adding up as extra shifts of employees were needed to care for the sick pets in addition to the piles of laundry needing to be done, the isolation gear required, and, of course, the medication costs. To add insult to injury, a second rescue group arrived at one of the veterinary hospitals with another five puppies exposed to parvo from a different family unable to care for them. That's 15 dogs exposed to this very deadly disease and as of the writing of this blog, 11 had tested positive!

Canine parvovirus particles
Electron micrograph of canine parvovirus

Canine parvovirus destroys cells in the intestines, making it very difficult for the pup to absorb nutrients as well as maintain proper hydration. The resulting diarrhea can dehydrate a patient very quickly if we can't get fluids into the animal to counteract the losses. In addition, this deadly virus also destroys the progenitor cells of the dog's white blood cell line in the bone marrow. This opens up the pet to opportunistic bacteria, causing systemic sepsis (infection), and the animal feels very poorly, often vomiting, compounding the dehydration. Parvo pups die from fluid loss and infection, so the best care includes IV fluids, IV medications to combat infection and nausea, nasal/gastric tubes to encourage nutrient intake, and constant monitoring. All told, most parvo pups need $1500-$2000 worth of supplies, medicines, and care before they are considered recovered and ready to go home. In some cases, costs can exceed $3500 for a single dog!

The sad truth in all of this is that a series of $15-$20 vaccines could have prevented all of this chaos. Now, I am realistic enough to know that 10 puppies needing a $20 vaccine adds up to a fair amount of money for a family and not all families can handle that. I don't know the financial or social circumstances of these families or why the pregnancies couldn't have been prevented. What I do know is that, at least here locally, resources are available for people who have pets but might struggle financially to provide the right preventive care.

Viszla puppy
Viszla puppy

Canine parvovirus is deadly, it is contagious, and it CAN affect adult dogs who have not been vaccinated properly or who may not respond properly to the vaccine. Whether you are considering a new puppy, rescuing an adult dog, or if you are expecting a litter of puppies, you NEED to consider the costs of preventive care. As you can see from the story above, the costs of failing to do so go far beyond the impact on you and your family. Employees of shelters, rescues, and, of course, veterinary hospitals are affected. Their families are affected as hours and hours of care go into these patients, leading to long shifts and tired, exhausted team members. Resources that could go to help others in non-preventable situations are being used up treating a preventable disease.

Bottom line . . . VACCINATE!

On a happier note, while many of the pups mentioned here are still very sick, the local hospitals received financial assistance from Anna's Pet Care Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to minimizing economic euthanasias and focused on keeping pets with their families. Information on how you can help Anna's Fund help these pups can be found at their website.


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