Parvovirus: The Fight To Save A Puppy Named Bitsy
By Rachele Baker, DVM – One morning this past week at the veterinary hospital where I was working as a relief veterinarian, a six-month-old Jack Russell Terrier puppy named Bitsy was brought in for diarrhea and vomiting. When I saw Bitsy’s appointment on the appointment calendar, the possibility of parvovirus infection was the first thing that came to my mind.
I went into the exam room to talk with Bitsy’s parent, Steve. Steve had just adopted Bitsy from a private party. He did not know whether Bitsy had received any vaccinations. He had just assumed that Bitsy had been vaccinated and had not requested any vaccine records from the previous owner.
I asked one of the nurses to collect a small sample of stool from Bitsy to run an in-house parvovirus test. While we were waiting for the results of the test, I examined Bitsy. She was depressed and slightly dehydrated. She had some diarrhea around her rectal area which had the characteristic foul smell of parvovirus diarrhea. Steve informed me that he had seen blood in Bitsy’s vomit and in her diarrhea. In about ten minutes, I had the parvovirus test results. Bitsy’s test was positive for parvovirus infection.
I explained to Steve that Bitsy was very sick and would need to be hospitalized with an IV (intravenous) catheter in place, IV fluids, IV antibiotics, and other medications as indicated. I told Steve that I would need to obtain a blood sample from Bitsy and run an in-house blood chemistry profile, a complete blood count (CBC), and an electrolyte panel right away. In addition, I would need to repeat those blood tests on a daily basis to monitor Bitsy’s response to treatment as well as to guide me in adjusting medications as needed.
Steve understood the seriousness of Bitsy’s disease and he agreed to my treatment recommendations. I had the nurses collect a blood sample from Bitsy for the in-house blood tests and had them place an IV catheter in Bitsy’s front leg. I started Bitsy on aggressive IV fluid therapy.
I also started Bitsy on two different IV antibiotics, an IV anti-vomiting medication, an IV stomach acid reducer, and an oral medication for stomach ulcers. The in-house bloodwork showed that Bitsy’s white blood cells were almost completely obliterated by the parvovirus. White blood cells are essential to fight and overcome infections. Bitsy was in very critical condition. I was completely invested in doing my best to help Bitsy survive and recover from her disease.
On the second day of hospitalization, Bitsy’s blood potassium level started to drop below normal levels, so I had the nurses add potassium to Bitsy’s IV fluids. Bitsy’s blood glucose level remained within normal limits even though she was not eating, so I did not need to supplement her IV fluids with dextrose.
Each day of hospitalization, Bitsy’s white blood cell numbers continued to rise until they were up into the normal range. Bitsy continued to have a small amount of diarrhea but it was no longer bloody. By the second day, although Bitsy vomited a couple of times, the vomit no longer contained blood.
On the third day of hospitalization, after Bitsy had stopped vomiting and was much more bright and alert, I asked the nurses to offer her a small amount of water in a bowl and a small amount of a highly digestible, prescription canned dog food formulated for dogs with gastrointestinal disease. Bitsy lapped up a little bit of water but showed no interest in the food. Later in the day, however, Bitsy decided that the food looked pretty good and she ate all of it.
Bitsy’s appetite continued to improve until she had quite a healthy appetite. I had the nurses offer Bitsy a small amount of the gastrointestinal diet four times a day. Bitsy was acting playful and happy by midday on the third day of hospitalization. By the fourth day, Bitsy was getting into mischief and started trying to chew her IV catheter and the IV fluid line.
I sent Bitsy home with oral antibiotics, an oral stomach acid reducer, and an oral medication for stomach ulcers. I asked Steve to bring Bitsy back in for a recheck examination in two days so that we could make sure that everything was going well.
Parvovirus is a very serious disease that can be fatal. Puppies can die from parvovirus infection even with intensive treatment. I was very happy that Bitsy responded well to treatment and that she will go on to live a normal, happy life with her new pet parent. These are the moments that are so gratifying to me as a veterinarian and that make all the hard work worthwhile.
For more information about parvovirus infection in puppies, please read my post entitled Diarrhea In Dogs and Puppies: Causes and Treatment. For vaccination protocols designed to help prevent parvovirus in puppies, please read my post entitled Vaccinations For Dogs And Cats.