A Puppy That Doesn't Want To Eat Or Play Is An Emergency: Aurora's Story

by  Krista Magnifico, DVM

The first day that I met these girls was a Sunday. The newest puppy Aurora was not acting normally.

A puppy who is not playful, not eating, and not acting like themselves is an emergency.

Two adorable 8 week old puppies who should be bouncing, nipping, playing, and curious about being in a new place with the new smells. But Aurora, who had just been adopted 5 days ago, was instead quiet, withdrawn, and depressed.

Parvo will show up as this before the tell-tale signs of vomiting and diarrhea arrive.

Every single puppy between the ages of 6 weeks and 4 months old who is acting tired, reluctant to eat or play needs a parvo test immediately. 

The faces of parvovirus can look like this.
If your vet doesn't have the test in-house I would recommend that you find a vet who does, or ask your vet to call around to neighboring clinics to see if they can buy one from another vet.

I think that waiting can be the difference between life and death and potential exposure of other dogs. 

This disease is not as likely if the puppy has been vaccinated, and even less likely if they have been vaccinated within the last two weeks. BUT, stress, high volume, high traffic, sheltered, or transported dogs are at highest risk. Even though these two had been vaccinated, parvo was the first thing on my list, and the first thing I tested for.

Aurora was adopted 5 days after her family had adopted Cinderella, her sister, from a local rescue.They had intended to only adopt one, but 5 days of heart-tugging and they returned for Aurora. (My best piece of advice is to adopt two together, everybody needs a buddy). It seems that that 5 days was all it took for Aurora to get exposed and sick. I had a long, difficult, emotional, tear jerking talk with these puppies parents. It went along these lines;

The family had wanted to do the right thing;
  • They wanted to rescue a puppy in need. They went online, (like so many of us do), and found what they believed was a rescue. The rescue's address was listed as being close to our office, but I had never heard of them?. I mentioned this to the family. After making a few phone calls I learned that this rescue, (good intentioned as they might be), is shuttling puppies, (appeared to be just puppies as their mom was still in the high kill shelter these girls had come from. What are her odds of survival?) from the South, where they are advertised on a site called Adopt.com (not Petfinder.com which I highly recommend!). The puppies are sold as soon as they arrive. No quarantine, no vet visits, a fee and they are yours. Aurora got sick at the rescue, she got parvo. The rescue had taken part in this puppies dilemma but when Auroras parents called they were met with an accusatory, patronizing, angry woman who tried to blame them for her illness. They acted and sounded much like a puppy mill owner does. "You must have taken her someplace that got her sick!" "You can return her, we will give you a new one." Her parents were not asking for money, or blame, just help in understanding who this rescue was and if other puppies were also sick. They were met by threatening harassment and more shady questionable answers. After two phone calls the rescue wouldn't even answer the phone. I called the vet who was listed with the adoption papers. I told him that I had a sick puppy from this rescue and he only said three words back to me, "run a parvo."
Too many puppies, too much stress and adopted within the 2 week incubation period of parvo. Aurora had been the victim of all of my worst case scenarios.

Here is what you can do to minimize exposure to parvovirus:

  • Get references on the rescues you adopt from. If the rescue is local ask your neighbors, ask your vet, ask for other adopters information to get their reference. Look at their Facebook page and reach out to adopters that have adopted before. These days you can find almost everything you need there. I am happy to recommend a good rescue, and there are lots of them.
  • Keep the pets out of a shelter. There is a huge movement to try to catch the unwanted pets BEFORE they end up in the shelters. It saves tax-payer money, saves exposure to disease, and death from euthanasia because many will be put down if they get sick. Behavior issues as a result if being placed in shelter, and better socialization because foster pets get better individual care if in homes.
  • Vaccinate by a strict two week protocol.
  • Pets that see vets regularly are more likely to be healthier. We can also catch and cure disease faster.
  • Exercise strict quarantine protocols. No new pet leaves quarantine for 2 weeks. No pet stores, no rec fields, no schools, no parties, no other pets coming and going. No boarding, no grooming. Quarantine.
Treating for parvovirus is managing the puppy while their immune system clears the infection. 

There is not a cure for it, there is only providing care as they fight the infection. The keys to success are as follows;
  • Be aggressive early on. Waiting a day, or more for them to get sicker will cost you significantly more money and worsen the chance of survival.
  • Keep every other pet away from where the sick puppy was. Clean everything, or throw it away.
  • Make sure every other dog that was in contact with the puppy is current on their vaccines.
  • Incubation period for signs of infection are about 5-10 days. Keep your other pets away from any other pets for this time period.
Any person caring for a suspected parvo pup should be using strict quarantine protocols. Think ebola. All clothing, items, food bowls, anything that was in contact with the sick puppy is washed immediately or thrown out. Do not keep dirty items around. Bag them and remove them.

Aurora was just quiet, no vomiting, no diarrhea, just not playing anymore, not even with Cinderella.

I spoke to her family about her options;
  1. Go immediately to the ER. She needed to be quarantined to protect her sister, and she needed i.v. fluids and antibiotics. She also needed 24 hour care. This could cost between $1,000 to $4,000. And with parvo there is never a guarantee they will survive.
  2. Take her home and start at home medical therapy. Antibiotics, anti-emetics, and SQ fluids. Cost of treatment about $200. Prognosis significantly poorer. These pups are usually not interested in eating, and/or vomiting so oral medications are not possible. The longer you wait to provide aggressive hospital care the poorer your chances, and the more expensive your puppies care will be.
Aurora went to the ER. She stayed for three days on i.v. fluids, i.v. antibiotics, and a plasma transfusion.

For the examination, and two parvo tests at my clinic the cost was about $100.

The cost for three days at the ER was about $700. Which I think is incredibly fair and would have probably cost about two to three times what it did if they had waited another day or more.

There is no greater gift than health, although a loving sister and family are close seconds.

Pawbly.com is a resource for pet people to ask questions, share information and help pets find the help and resources their parents need. It is free to join, use, and open to everyone who loves pets. Please visit us and share your pet stories, experiences, and lend a hand to a pet in need.

If you need help from me you can find me at the clinic, Jarrettsville Vet, or on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.


Krista Magnifico, DVM owns a small animal hospital in northern Maryland, where she practices everyday. She wants to make quality veterinary care available to everyone, everywhere at any time; trying to save the world 1 wet nose @ a time.  Her blog is a diary of he day-to-day life & the animals and people she meets. 

Dr. Krista is also the founder of pawbly.com, free pet advice and assistance.

To contact her, you may leave a comment on her blog, email her or catch her on Twitter or Facebook.

Articles by Dr. Magnifico:
Don't Make This Mistake: Ruby's Death To Heat Stroke 
Parvo: Cora's Story 
Jake's Laryngeal Paralysis
The Tip Of The Iceberg: The Unexpected Dental Dilemma
The Ear Ache That Wasn't Going Away: Tottsie's Story
Cody's Eyelid Tumor
Ruger's Mysterious Illness
The Day The Heart Stood Still: Timber's Story 
Different Definition Of Comfort Food: Levi's Story 
Savannah's Pancreatitis  
Histiocytoma: Rio's Mysterious Bump
Von Willebrand's Disease: Greta's Story 
Alice's Heart Murmur  
Jekyll Loses His Tail Mo-Jo 
Pale Gums Are An Emergency: Bailey's Story 
To Amputate Or Not To Amputate: Heidi's Story
Lessons From A Real-Life Veterinarian 
Charlie's Life Saving Lipoma Surgery  
Understanding and Diagnosing The Limping Dog, Why To Probe The Paw 
Angus' Dog Fight And The Consequences
When To Induce Vomiting And When It's Not A Good Idea  
Abby's Survived Being Run Over By Car But Sucumbed To A Mammary Tumor 
Palmer's Hemoabdomen: Nearly An Unnecessary Death Sentence 

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