Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is a puppy's life worth $24?

In this day and age, it is almost inconceivable to me that an 8 month old puppy could show up at the clinic with parvo, but it happened two days ago. And this is not a rare occurrence. Sometimes the owner is not aware of what parvo virus is, but more often than not, they tell stories of a relative's puppy or a friend's puppy or even a puppy they owned years ago that died of parvo.

So what is parvo virus? Well, it's a virus that showed up in the late 1970's and causes primarily severe vomiting and bloody diarrhea although the heart can be affected too mostly in young puppies. Sometimes owners will just find their puppy dead with little or no symptoms. Up to 90% of unvaccinated puppies and dogs will die if left untreated. Even with treatment, some dogs will die. Treatment can be expensive depending on how severely the disease attacks the puppy. I've seen treatment cost over $1000. This is a nasty virus! I have seen puppies die from this disease and it is horrible.

Enter the vaccine. Although no vaccine is 100% protective of a disease, I can honestly say that in my 23 years as a veterinarian, I have never seen a properly vaccinated dog get parvo. Oh I've heard about cases, but never actually had one myself. I have seen puppies that have received 1 or 2 vaccinations (but are not done with their entire series of vaccinations) get parvo virus. That is something that does happen sometimes and of no fault to either the owner of the puppy or the vaccine (there is a good scientific explanation why this happens, email me if you really want to know). So in a nutshell, there is a good vaccine and it needs to be used PROPERLY!

So this 8 month old puppy that had parvo had its "puppy shot". Hmmmmm? It had one shot before it was 4 months old. Not good enough. It bugs the heck out of me when a breeder sells an 8 week old puppy and tells the buyer that the puppy has had "all of its puppy shots". Well, yeah, it may have gotten a vaccination at 6 weeks old and that's all the shots it needs, uh, until it is 9-10 weeks old and then it needs another AND then another after that AND another after that. So I guess technically the breeder is correct in that the puppy has had all the shots it needs at that moment in time. They neglect to educate puppy buyers about the need for a complete series. Now, before the breeders out there get on my case, most breeders are very good about telling buyers about needed follow up shots, but you would be surprised how often this part is neglected.

About now, some of you may be asking, what about the $24? I'll get to that in a moment. I think everyone knows it costs more than $24 to take a puppy to the vet for 3 to 4 visits and get the proper vaccinations. I also hope that most people know there is way more value to the veterinary visit than just getting "shots". Oh let me count the ways...............
  • the physical exam (the most important part)
  • making sure the puppy gets vaccinated with the correct vaccine, the right number of times and the correct number of weeks apart. (all VERY important)
  • discussing what us veterinarians call "non-core" vaccinations, for example, Lyme Disease vaccination and Kennel Cough vaccination. Is it right for YOUR puppy or not?
  • counselling on keeping human family members safe from diseases that they can get from their puppy (zoonotic diseases, a favorite discussion of mine. more on this in a future blog)
  • counselling on behavioral issues (training, play biting, chewing, housebreaking, this list is nearly endless)
  • counselling on nutrition (obesity now affects between 40-60% of our pet population)
  • preventative health care for heartworms, fleas, roundworms, whipworms, hookworms, tapeworms, etc.
  • why microchipping is a good idea
  • information on pet health insurance (this is the future of veterinary health care as owners want more sophisticated diagnostics and treatments which all cost money)
  • spay/neuter counselling
  • care of the teeth (85% of pets will develop dental disease in their lifetime)

See there really is some value. Never ever be afraid to ask us questions. We don't have all the answers, but if we don't know, we usually know where to find the answers.

By now, you are all saying "would you PLEASE get to the part about the $24!". Ok, I will. You see, a parvo vaccine costs around $6 at the local feed mills. A 6 week old puppy will need a total of 4 vaccinations given once a month over the span of 4 months. $24. So if you want your puppy vaccinated in the most correct and safest way possible and have access to a professional that can answer a billion and one questions on pet health care, please have it vaccinated by a veterinarian. There is value there. But if you REALLY can't afford vet visits, spend the $6 a month for 4 months and then I won't see your 8 month old puppy showing up at my clinic with parvo. It just should not happen. End of sermon.


  1. Diane,
    I have been meaning to tell you what an awesome blog you have created!!!!!!!

    Very professional, neat, and fun. This is a real asset to the Country Doctor, and just one more testimony to your commitment to the practice and Veterinary Medicine.

    Thank you very much!!!!