Surviving Parvo

This Article is in its entirety, from a Blog entry posted on April 8, 2015

It has been a disgracefully long time since I’ve touched this blog. A lot of my writing plans, intricately plotted out along a timeline, have been pushed into hiatus for one reason or another. And please don’t get me wrong, many of them – such as work crises that include going into the office on weekends and skipping lunch breaks – are quite legitimate reasons. Not the least of which is the reason I’m choosing to write about here, because it affects another living being I have grown to love dearly, and almost lost because of it.

That is, parvo.

The canine parvovirus is a stealthy, insidious, diabolical disease. Upwards of 90 percent of dogs who are infected with it, and are left untreated, will die. It turns your healthy one-year-old fuzzy fireball of energy and sass into a bag of bones and skin, with barely the energy to lift her head. It is devastating for young puppies who contract it, puppies that haven’t completed their vaccination series. My healthy one-year-old fuzzy fireball of energy was fully vaccinated, received her vaccines on schedule from our veterinarian. And she contracted parvo sometime within the past two weeks.

She started refusing her food last Thursday. Vomiting everything she tried to keep down. I took her to our regular vet on Saturday, who ran a full blood workup and did an X-ray to check for obstructions (Layla is a chewer). The X-ray was clear. With no obvious immediate danger, and blood results due Monday, I took her back home.

All of Saturday night and Sunday morning, she worsened. Could barely lap at her water bowl. Curled tight into that nose-to-hindfeet position dogs go into when they’re really not feeling well. It was when she looked at me with her big brown eyes that, for the very first time, were full of this immeasurable sadness and fright that I can only comprehend as a canine sixth sense, that I knew we couldn’t wait for the blood results. She knew something was very, very wrong. And I trusted her, and my gut. Sunday afternoon, I brought her into the animal ER for tests.

Sunday night… well, actually, very early Monday morning… I received a call from the vet at the animal hospital where I’d taken Layla. I couldn’t move for a full 60 seconds while I faintly heard her talk about the positive test, what next steps would be, how they would contact the vaccine manufacturer and press them to cover most, if not all of the cost… the cost… and could only think about my sweet baby girl, scared and sick and isolated in a hospital without her mama. The tears wouldn’t stop.

Parvo is not a cheap illness to treat. For a severe case, upwards of $3000-$5000, best estimate. Days of hospitalization, because for a while the dogs are too weak and sick to take any oral medications or fluids. I was panicking when our vet told me that for a mere 24 hours, I was looking at $1200-$1400, easy. True panic. My heart in my stomach. My hands shaking so hard I had to put the phone down. And of course, the tears kept coming. And the disbelief and anger quickly followed. We had done everything right. I had done everything I could have done to protect my girl against one of the worst nightmares a dog owner can dream up, and here I was, caught directly in the middle of that nightmare come to life. And what was I going to do if the vaccine company didn’t pay up? If she took a turn for the worse? The what-ifs paralyzed me.

Monday afternoon, and with mixed emotions, I received several different sets of news. The vaccine manufacturer was going to pay $1500 up front for Layla’s treatment. But she’d suffered a setback and was not doing very well. Still reeling, I found myself in Home Depot, purchasing a gallon pressure sprayer, a gallon of germicidal bleach, latex gloves, several plastic spray bottles, and a plastic tarp. I’m sure it looked quite suspicious to the cashier. I had to disinfect the house to try to kill off as much as the virus as I could, but my real thought was what would happen after the $1500 was used up, and if she wasn’t any better.

She would come home… and I would take care of her, as long as she was here with me. Even if that was only days.

Parvo is a survivor. It can live on most surfaces for weeks, if not months. It can survive in ground soil for up to one year. I tried not to think too much about the fate of my landlord’s fruit trees as I doused the yard with 1:10 bleach/water solution. I tried not to think about what my clothes would look like when I pulled them out of the laundry, as I grabbed everything I’d worn the past week and dumped it in the washing machine with bleach and turned on the hot water. I tried not to think about whether Layla would sleep on my bed again, as I pulled the cover sheet, doused it in bleach, and threw it in the wash. Every inch of my house had been sprayed or scrubbed with bleach by the time I tried to sleep Monday night. “Tried” being the key word.

Sleep was long in coming. I stared at the ceiling and whispered, over and over, “I’ve only had one year with her. I’m not ready to let her go. Don’t you dare take her. Just don’t.” I don’t even know who I was talking to. The villain parvo, someone’s god, the Universe, the operator of the rainbow bridge… I don’t know.

Tuesday morning, I answered my phone on the first ring. “She’s turned a corner. She’s eating solid food, keeping it down, and barking at all the vet techs. You can pick her up today. As long as she keeps doing what she’s doing, she’s going to be fine.”

Going to be fine.

It took me forever to get there. Her little wiggly puppy butt scampered out the side door, dragging the vet tech in full protective covering behind her on the slip lead. Headed straight for me. Relief.

Layla is an incredibly lucky dog, in that her age is on her side (the worst cases of parvo occur in under-vaccinated puppies under six months of age) and she had a full year of digging in places and eating things off the sidewalk that she shouldn’t… that is, her immune system has had a full year to develop. Also, even though her vaccine failed, she probably still had a few antibodies in her to help her during the initial few days of symptoms, which tend to be the worst, until her own immune system could take over.

Parvo is a lingering disease that will infiltrate every part of your life for a little while. Every time I interact with my attention-craving puppy, afterward I must spray bleach solution on my hands, feet and clothing. I now have regular shoes and “parvo” shoes, clothes I can wear outside the house and “parvo” clothes that need a bleach wash every time. Layla is quarantined to our kitchen, and has a small run just outside, to avoid spreading any more virus through our house and yard during the period she is still contagious (10-14 days). No walks for awhile. We’ll see how sassy she gets when she figures that one out.

She is still eating solid food, but her appetite waxes and wanes, as is to be expected. Parvo attacks the ciliae in the small intestine, vital for absorbing nutrients, so until her gut heals, Layla’s appetite will fluctuate, and she may still lose more weight. We celebrated a small victory this morning when she scarfed down a full bowl of kibble, and another when she successfully ate pieces of boiled chicken breast from my hand this afternoon. Each day forward, each meal, is a victory.

We’re on a medication schedule now, and she gobbles down her pills, carefully tucked inside an ingenious little treat, with gusto (Greenies Pill Pockets®… thank you for tricking my dog into thinking she’s being a good girl for no good reason!). She is still very tired and sleeps a lot… her body needs it, to fight this thing. But each time her old personality bubbles up a little bit from behind the sickness – when she tried to chase some pigeons in our yard this morning, when she barked at the mailman, when she wags her tail and busts out her puppy grin – I know she’s coming back.

I want to call Layla a parvo survivor, but we are not out of the woods yet. Each day of improvement gets us closer.

In Arizona, parvo is endemic. My heart breaks for all of the puppy parents who are dealing with this monster as I write this. I wish you love and strength and healing, and know that you are not alone. If… no, when… we make it out of this tunnel and back into the light, I will do everything I can to help fight parvovirus, including the possibility of getting Layla on some plasma donor lists (there have been some cases where plasma from parvo survivors can be used to treat animals with severe symptoms). The silver lining out of this entire shitty situation is that Layla will never suffer parvo again. So I think it only fair we do what we can to help others.

Right now, I’m going to sign off and spend some time snuggling with this little fuzzface I love so much, and could have lost. Please keep us in your thoughts, friends. Our journey just started.

Layla, on the mend. 4/7/15

Layla on the mend, 4/7/15

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