Obi arrived in the Howarth household when he was only 8 weeks old. He was like a Disney puppy, with soft fur, a small body but a large head, and big brown eyes with long eyelashes. At first he seemed to settle in well, enjoying his food, and playing with Emilia. Almost immediately after his arrival, he was brought to see me for his first vaccination against the serious viral infections that can affect dogs, including Parvovirus, Distemper, Infectious Hepatitis and Leptospirosis. He seemed to be a healthy puppy: the only hint of a problem was that he had a bit of a “runny tummy”. This is common in puppies when they arrive in their new homes – the stress of the move, and a change in diet are often enough to cause this, and it usually settles down within a few days.
In Obi’s case, the mild diarrhoea did not settle down, and in fact, the situation became worse. Around ten days after he had arrived with the Howarths, Obi stopped wanting to play. He slept all day, and was not as bright and cheerful as before. He had been eating well, but when he refused to eat anything at all that day, the Howarths knew that it was time to take Obi back to the vet.
When I examined Obi this time, it was clear that he was seriously ill. He was very dull and dejected compared to his previous visit, and when I took his temperature, there was pure blood on the thermometer. Blood tests confirmed that his mild diarrhoea had suddenly become a serious, life-threatening form of dysentery. Obi was admitted to our veterinary hospital for intensive emergency treatment.
“Dysentery” means a condition where the intestines become seriously diseased, producing unpleasant, bloody diarrheoa. There are many possible causes, but in young puppies, it is most commonly caused by a viral infection known as “Parvovirus”. The virus is highly infectious, and if an unvaccinated animal encounters the virus, the full blown Parvovirus disease is almost inevitable. Many owners are vaguely aware of Parvovirus, but most people do not know the full facts of the disease. “Parvovirus” means “small virus”, because the agent causing the disease is tiny even by virus standards. However, it is also one of the hardiest viruses, and it can live for many weeks in the environment. Normal disinfectants do not always destroy the virus, and special ‘Parvovirus-killing’ chemicals are usually needed to get rid it when it comes into a household.
A highly infectious virus which lives for a long time outside the animal is a very dangerous organism. Any dogs which are infected spread Parvovirus into the environment for up to two weeks before they show any signs of illness. Faeces from these infected dogs is seething with virus particles. Wherever the dog passes a motion, he leaves a focus of infection which could be a danger to any passing dog for many weeks.
It is obvious why it is common to see outbreaks of Parvovirus, often based in housing estates where many dogs frequent the same grassy areas and the same lamp-posts. Everybody has seen how a dog always sniffs an area before they pass faeces and urine. During this sniffing, a dog will inhale any Parvovirus particles within range, and if they are not protected, the Parvovirus disease will follow during the next two weeks. The disease itself is straight forward. The virus causes serious damage to the lining of the small intestine, so that affected dogs pass bloody diarrhoea which has a distinct, unforgettable, foul odour. Dehydration occurs rapidly, and even with intensive intravenous fluid therapy, it can be impossible to save these animals.
When Obi became ill that day, we started him onto a range of treatments to help him. He was given copious fluids with intra-venous drips, antibiotics, multivitamins and other supportive medications. He was kept in hospital, and at first it seemed that he might pull through. Sadly, five days after being admitted, he took a serious turn for the worse, and despite our best efforts to save him, he died. Emilia and her family were devastated. Obi had been such a perfect little puppy, and now he was gone.
After much reflection, the Howarths decided to find another puppy. This time, they chose an older puppy, who at fifteen weeks of age, was old enough to have had all of his vaccinations, including Parvovirus, and to have time to develop full immunity against the disease. The new pup is called Saffy, and although he is quite different to Obi, he is equally adorable.
Hopefully Saffy, will be with Emilia for the next fifteen years or so, until she is in her mid-twenties. But she will never forget Obi, her first puppy, and his short, sad life.
- All puppies, of any age, must have a full course of vaccinations against Parvovirus before being allowed outside their own home.
- All dogs should have a regular booster vaccination against Parvovirus as adult dogs, to ensure that they remain fully protected.
- Vaccinations must be given in the correct way, at the correct age, using the correct product. If in doubt, ask your veterinary surgeon.