Parvovirus is a highly contagious disease that usually infects puppies. It comes on suddenly, and often ends tragically. But there are survivors.
Samantha “Sammy” Cruz (dogs have their owners’ last name, right?) was a gift to my little brother as an early Christmas present. He had wanted a puppy for so long, and it was all he wanted from Santa. I, being the responsible older sister, had explained how expensive dogs can be and that Santa wouldn’t bring something that our mother wouldn’t approve of. I seriously didn’t think he would be able to get one until he was a bit older. Y’know, responsibilities and all that.
I was quite wrong.
On 15 December 2013, my brother walked into his room to see a yellow mesh dog bed with a wiggly, tiny puppy inside. The picture above little does his expression justice, as it was taken long after the fact (and after many takes), but needless to say, he was the happiest boy in the world at that moment.
Officially christened “Samantha” (Sammy, for short!) later that day, Brother was very protective. He wouldn’t even let the rest of us near her if we had chocolate breath! (He loosened up after a few days.) I could still hardly believe it, but Mom said Sammy would be a way for him to learn responsibility.
The kids were on vacation, so there was plenty of time to get used to having an extra animal in the house (in addition to our cat, Milo). She slept in her mesh house in Mom’s room at first, then stayed downstairs. Over the first couple days, we slowly integrated the beginning stages of potty training by taking her outside each morning and throughout the day. (Puppy pads were, of course, scattered all over the house.)
On 20 December, only five days after we had gotten Sammy, I came downstairs to see her lying listlessly in her bed. We hadn’t her for very long, but it was clearly a dramatic change from her bouncy, puppy self.
My first thought jumped straight to her being sick. I was determined not to panic, and tried to get her to move around and walk. Every action was half-hearted, and looked almost painful. She would just crawl back into her bed, which was actually a repurposed box that she liked to sit in, and look very sad.
By then, Sister and Mom had joined me, and we were all pretty worried. I began searching online for her symptoms. Every result screamed “parvo” – especially after she started throwing up.
Parvovirus affects dogs usually between six weeks and six months old, when their immune system is still developing. The vaccination process for parvo is three fold, at eight, 12, and 16 weeks, but puppies can contract parvo at any time between those sessions. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, lethargy, anorexia, fever, vomiting, and severe weight loss. It affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, and the dog will quickly become dehydrated and weak from lack of protein and fluid absorption. (source) Basically, the virus itself doesn’t kill, but the resulting dehydration can.
I read through many, increasingly depressing stories from owners who had lost their dogs to parvo. It was almost always sudden, and the chances for survival were around 50 percent, and largely seemed based on good timing and sheer luck. Some owners paid 1000s of dollars to have their puppies treated in the best possible care, only to still lose them. Others managed to stick it out with home remedies. Most everyone agreed that those who couldn’t afford to take their dogs to the vet shouldn’t have one at all.
I admit, I was very pessimistic. Sammy was lethargic, had no appetite, and just wanted to sleep. As the day went on, she started having diarrhea as well, and would also gag up spit. None of it was bloody, but it was still a bad sign. I thought that perhaps we just weren’t meant to have a dog. It was true that we couldn’t really afford one – though we tried to do the right thing, buying her from a proper adoption agency with all her shots and everything. And we hadn’t yet formed a strong enough attachment for it to be devastating. Of course, we’d all be very sad, and it’d be a terrible, terrible thing if she died mere days after we got her, especially for Brother. I knew I probably shouldn’t’ve been thinking these things, but I couldn’t help preparing myself for the worst. We were gonna take her to the family for Christmas, but I felt like we’d be going empty-handed. It was just bad timing. The vet was bound to be very expensive, and while there were payment plans and family members to help out, if it really was parvo, there was nothing much we could really do.
Given the circumstances, I kept my negative thoughts to myself, and before she went to work, Mom bought some rice cereal, a syringe, and Pedialyte on my recommendation. I had read someone’s account of their dog surviving parvo (a rarity), and unable to afford the vet, they had treated their pet themselves. As stated above, staying hydrated is the main problem, and sick puppies usually can’t keep anything down heavier than very bland foods and fluids.
So every 15 minutes, I would fill the syringe with Pedialyte and shoot it down Sammy’s throat. She would barf some of it up a few minutes later, but most of it stayed down. We tried the rice cereal mixed with Pedialyte every half hour for about half the day, but that would always come right back up, so we stuck with straight Pedialyte the rest of the time. It was depressing work. She did nothing but sleep, only waking up to gag or go diarrhea on the potty pad. The most alarming thing was how utterly sad she looked. Brother was too upset about the situation to help, but Sister and me took turns feeding her the fluids and cereal, and we stayed downstairs with her all day.
And I believe that helped saved her life.
When Mom got home late in the afternoon, we told her what we had done all day, and how Sammy hadn’t gotten any better. Even though I was sure the treatment would leave us surviving on bread and beans for the rest of the week, going to the vet was the only option we had.
The closest facility to us was Vetco, part of the Petco store. We kept Sammy in her impromptu box bed, as we didn’t have a cage or even a leash yet to restrain her. But she was very still and quiet, and it wasn’t a long car trip.
The veterinarian was a very nice woman, who was both professional and sympathetic in how she dealt with us. I was worried we’d get told off for not bringing Sammy in sooner, but the vet said she was actually only mildly dehydrated, which why I believe our home remedies saved her from any worse symptoms. The vet took Sammy away for tests, and came back with the verification that it was indeed parvo. It was what we expected, but still devastating. She explained that Sammy had had only one of the three vaccinations, and it hadn’t been strong enough to block it completely. As she hadn’t been around any other dogs since we’d gotten her, the vet theorized she must’ve contracted it at the adoption place. (We had tried calling, but had gotten no answer; it was an agency that had adoption days at various Petsmarts, and I still have no idea if they ever got our follow-up messages to check their other dogs.)
The vet was quite optimistic about the situation, seeing that Sammy’s current condition was good given the circumstances, and neither her stool or vomit was bloody. She said despite the 50/50 survival chance, out of 100 cases of parvo they’d treated at that clinic, only two puppies had died, but then, one of those was getting the 1000s of dollars treatment in the hospital, and still didn’t make it. So it would just depend on how strong she was.
Everyone at the clinic was kind and complimentary, commenting that such a cute puppy shouldn’t look so sad. Sammy had to get two shots, one of which that apparently burned and she bit at it for awhile. After the vet finished explaining everything to us, a nurse came into the examination room to tell us about the treatment plan for the next couple weeks.
We would have to inject her with an IV drip once a day, force a tablet down her throat (because she wouldn’t want to eat anything), and give her a droplet of medicine from a syringe. The IV thing was awful because she cried so badly when they first did it – they had to restrain her, grab the scruff of her neck, and insert the needle into that stretched fold of skin , creating a bubble of liquid underneath that would be absorbed by her body (it made her look a bit like Quasimodo). It would keep her hydrated, and the tablet and liquid medicine were to reduce vomiting and nausea.
The nurse was a little too despondent when he first looked at her and was told her symptoms. Looking sympathetic, he said it was only going to get worse before it got better, with bloody stool and vomiting. Learning all this information was very helpful, though his pessimism didn’t help. I still had a feeling it was all going end badly, but by the time we got home, Sammy had already perked up a little.
By the next day, she was still very sleepy and sad-looking, but she kept the Pedialyte down (which we still kept doing just to make ourselves feel better), and neither her diarrhea or vomit ever got bloody. Doing the IV thing every morning was absolutely terrible, and I couldn’t do it alone. I would hold her down, and Mom would jab the needle into her and let the liquid fill up into a bubble. Once I held the skin too tightly, and the needle went through both folds, and she bled a little. Despite that, after the first day, she never cried when we did it to her, and she even took her medicine without much fuss.
At Christmas, Sammy was well enough to travel, and we took her with us to our family gathering. She slept most of the time, and I think she was overwhelmed by all the noise and excitement, as she went very quiet and sad again. But by the next week, she was practically back to her old self, even eating normal food and drinking water again. We gave her the medicine and IV drip for as long as we were supposed to, and when it was finished, Sammy was our playful, happy puppy once more.
The reason I’m writing all this is to have more success stories out there for dog owners to read. The odds are against puppies with parvo, but there is hope to be had with fast action and good treatment. And I’m not trying to say we saved her single-handedly with Pedialyte and baby cereal; we would have undoubtedly lost her without veterinarian assistance. But we certainly helped, and we were fortunate the medicine wasn’t that expensive. As she had very likely gotten parvo at the adoption agency, if she hadn’t been adopted, she might’ve died without the proper treatment; or if she had been, then the family who took her in might not have been able to afford a vet visit. It’s impossible to know what might have happened, but in this situation, Sammy lived.
Sammy is now over a year old, and doing just fine. She doesn’t like other dogs or humans besides us, but she is otherwise very loving. Most of the time, she just likes to snuggle in our blankets – and steal our napkins when she thinks we’re not looking.
She and Milo don’t get along very well, but that’s to be expected. She loves playing outside in the backyard, barking at other dogs and the neighbor’s gardener. She loves rawhide sticks and her squeaky porcupine toy (which she also likes to disembowel).
Sammy has become an integral and wonderful part of our lives, and nothing makes me happier than coming home to see her greet me, wiggling her entire body out of excitement. She loves Brother the best, of course. She’s quite tolerant of us pampering her, too, even when we got her a little sweater for when the winter got very cold, too much so for her chihuahua genes.
We love Sammy very much, and are grateful every day that she survived parvo, and is now a permanent member of the family. Again, I do not endorse home remedy treatments, as veterinarians know best how to treat your sick dog. The point of this whole story is that there is a chance they will survive. Sammy is proof of that.
Here are some of my favorite pictures of Sammy, being the lovable dork that she is.