Loss of Appetite in a Puppy: A Puppy That Doesn’t Want To Eat Or Play Is An Emergency—Aurora’s Story

Parvovirus is a serious, highly contagious disease that can be fatal.

Unvaccinated puppies and dogs with compromised immune system are most susceptible. Common parvo symptoms include:

  • lethargy
  • loss of appetite
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • severe and often bloody diarrhea

Thank you, Dr. Krista, for sharing Aurora’s story.

Loss of Appetite in a Puppy: A Puppy That Doesn't Want To Eat Or Play Is An Emergency—Aurora's Story

Aurora’s story

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 But Aurora, who had just been adopted 5 days ago, was instead quiet, withdrawn, and depressed.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 like 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.

Don’t wait

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 the 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 the 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 gets sick

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;

Effort to help Aurora

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, (well-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 Aurora’s 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 helps in understanding who this rescue was and if other puppies were also sick. They were met by threatening harassment and shadier 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.”

The worst-case scenario

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 taxpayer 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 the 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. Avoid pet stores, rec fields, schools, parties, other pets coming and going. No boarding, no grooming. Quarantine.

Parvovirus treatment

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.
  • The incubation period for signs of infection is 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’s symptoms

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 is 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.

Related articles:
Canine Parvovirus

Further reading:
Parvovirus: This Can Kill Your Dog in Less Than 72 Hours

Categories: ConditionsEmergenciesInfectionsLethargyLoss of appetiteParvovirusReal-life StoriesSymptoms

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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