“Parvovirus Puppy” – Lessons to Learn

Last weekend, I had to deal with a classic example of a “new puppy” crisis. Ms M had bought the pedigree Shih Tzu pup from breeder 9 days previously. The pup had collapsed the previous night, with bloody diarrhoea everywhere. When I saw the pup, his gums were white as a sheet, and he was lying totally flat-out, semi-conscious. Blood tests showed severe anaemia on top of everything else. The pup was dying & it was a Saturday morning. The pup had some type of overwhelming gastroenteritis, perhaps caused by Parvovirus. He needed intensive care to save him: this would will cost €€€€ & the pup might still die. The owner had spent the money on buying the pedigree pup & hadn’t enough to pay for the potential high costs nor had they taken out pet insurance. This situation is common.

How should vets deal with it?

The pup had been sold as “vaccinated”, but he was only 8 wks old, so could not possibly have been fully vaccinated & his vaccine certificates told a story…. there was no owner’s name and address, and no details of the animal. The certificate could be for any puppy rather than this individual. Furthermore, the certificate was not signed by a vet, so there was no certainty that the vaccines had been stored properly or given correctly. This vaccine cert means nothing at all but many members of the public are fooled by this sort of thing – they don’t know enough to realise that there’s a problem here.

So what to do? Ideally, I wanted to transfer puppy to the weekend emergency clinic for 24 hour supervision & care, i-v fluids, perhaps blood transfusion, antibiotics & all sorts of other possible interventions. But the cost of this would be several hundred Euro. And even then, the pup could still die. The owner could not afford this:they had to confront the option of having to have the pup euthanased as the only affordable way of preventing him from suffering.

For me, as a vet, this was also an emotional crisis. How could I euthanase an animal with the potential to live? But that said, I could not afford to pay his costs out of my own pocket. What could I do? I decided to do a deal with the owner: I was prepared to do everything within my own power to save him, taking him home and giving him the best care that I could organise under the circumstances. I would charge them a reduced fee, something which unfortunately is not usually possible, with the owners to pay this whether he lived or died. In return for this offer, they had to agree to allow me to publicise the case on Facebook and Twitter, so that other people could learn important messages from the little pup’s sad situation. This type of challenging case happens every week across Ireland, yet because it’s behind closed doors, no-one knows about it. I decided that it would be useful to share his story, so that others might be able to learn from it, and then maybe fewer pups will suffer the same fate in the future.

Over the weekend, there was genuine drama, as the pup rallied at first, then deteriorated, then after a blood transfusion, he rallied again. He ended up surviving, and will go on to be a healthy adult dog. Over ten thousand people followed his story on Facebook and every day, thousands more are logging on to read about this real life drama.

So what message do I want people to take away?

First, don’t just go and buy a puppy. Do your research first. The UK-based Advisory Council for Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding has launched an excellent web guide to buying a new puppy. The guide uses a simple question and answer format to lead the user through a wealth of information on topics ranging from time, cost, exercise/play and socialisation needs of puppies and dogs, through finding out about dog health, to obtaining a dog from a rehoming centre or finding and recognising a careful and reliable breeder. Visit http://www.dogadvisorycouncil.com/puppy/ to find out more.

Second, if you do get a pup, take him up to your local vet as soon as possible, so that he can be checked over, along with any paperwork that you’ve been given. The vet will be able to give you independent professional advice about what needs to be done to protect your new pup against disease and parasites. This may include basically ignoring any ‘vaccines’ that were given by the breeder if there is not a genuine veterinary certificate and commencing the vaccination course again.If in doubt this is the safest thing to do.

Third, make sure that your pup is insured from day one, so that if you have a dramatic medical crisis like this, you will be covered for the high costs of doing everything to save him. Whilst I was in a position to look after this pup for a reduced price as a one-off it is not possible for any vet to do this for all animals that come in.

And finally, rather than buying a new pup, why not consider taking on a rescue dog? You’ll be giving an unwanted animal a good home, and for less than it costs to buy a pedigree animal, you’ll be taking on a pet that has often been fully vaccinated, neutered and microchipped. So you’ll be getting good value as well as doing an animal a good turn.

Oh, and don’t forget to get your rescue dog insured too. Whatever type of animal you have, it’s worth taking steps to protect yourself against the emotional nightmare of having to consider euthanasia because you cannot afford the necessary vet bills.

Pete Wedderburn
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