Parvo positive?


"Please, not the pink stuff." (Photo Credit: West Hills Animal Hospital)

Last night, about 5:30pm, my receptionist said a new client (someone we’d never seen before) called because her puppy was just diagnosed with parvo and she wanted to have it euthanized. Would I be willing to do it? I said yes, and agreed to stay late, for the puppy would be arriving about a half hour past closing time.

I dreaded her arrival and doing what I had already agreed to do. But when the owner arrived, things went quite differently than I had expected. She was upset, understandably, and during her hour-long drive to come see us, she started thinking about alternatives to euthanasia. She was especially upset because the vet who provided the diagnosis gave her no information and no options for treatment. “Is there anything I can do for her?” she asked.

It’s not exactly something to be proud of, but our hospital does have a lot of experience treating parvo, and we have (what I feel is) a pretty good protocol in place. We even have a 3-day “initial treatment of parvo” treatment plan already made up in our computer system. I reviewed this with her, along with key information all owners should know about parvo:

  • It’s a highly contagious virus, and puppies and unvaccinated dogs are at greatest risk
  • The virus attacks the neutrophils, the type of white blood cells responsible for fighting infections
  • It also causes breakdown of the lining of the intestines (I don’t see value in explaining the important role of the villi and how they’re destroyed, even though I find it interesting and relevant–there’s just not enough time to cover all that), leading to severe diarrhea and absorption of “bad” bacteria into the bloodstream, eventually leading to sepsis
  • Dogs/puppies with parvo tend to shed the virus for about 7-10 days, so patients are often treated for a full week
  • We usually know within the first 3 days whether or not the patient is going to survive

The puppy’s presenting complaint at the other vet was related to an episode of bloody diarrhea. She had just bought the puppy on Sunday, and the puppy had diarrhea on a Monday. The other vet performed (I assume) a parvo snap test using a swab of fecal matter. Naturally, the owner wondered if it’s possible to have a false positive, and I said yes, it’s possible. “When was she last vaccinated for parvo?” I asked. Apparently, the breeder had given the vaccines herself, “shortly before” the puppy came home. (We don’t know if that means hours before or days before.)

Normally, I place an IV catheter and get started on fluids and antibiotics right away for these puppies, but “normally”, parvo puppies don’t have much appetite and this puppy wolfed down some Critical Care food I set out for her. (Thankfully, she didn’t throw it up either, which I would have expected a sick puppy to do!) When my initial blood work revealed a normal CBC and no significant changes in the chemistries, and my recheck parvo test was negative (admittedly it didn’t have a lot of stool sample on it, so I couldn’t get too excited yet), I started to doubt whether she was truly sick.

But when I checked on her the next morning, and she was clearly feeling very good (especially those strong vocal cords!), I tried retesting her parvo test again, with a better sample. Weakly positive.

We continued to monitor her throughout the day (and had her on prophylactic metronidazole and clavamox) in our isolation ward, but when she passed a very normal-looking stool in the afternoon, and a recheck CBC was still normal, I pronounced her as normal, with a false-positive parvo test.

And to think, we came soooo close to euthanizing this perfectly healthy baby! Thank God the owner trusted her gut that euthanasia was not the right answer, and was willing to spend $1000+ to treat (the final total was far less than that, of course, but my initial treatment plan was in that ballpark, and we had no idea how things were going to play out). She thanked me again today, as I sent the puppy home, for providing me with the information and options that the other vet had not delivered.



Filed under General medicine

14 responses to “Parvo positive?

  1. I was holding my breath, waiting to see if she crashed or something unexpected.

    Parvo is everywhere anymore and people who don’t at least get the full set of puppy vaccs are nutz.

    • Sorry for the non-climactic ending, sometimes that’s the best though. 🙂 She continues to do great!

      • Deonna Hampton

        Wonderful post and outcome. I too, just bought a puppy from a reputable breeder and on the way home with her, she vomited and would not eat (but drank) I gave her mashed potatoes the second day and she ate that (instead of her puppy food) the third day she vomited up the water and had not eaten that day, so I took her to the local vet and told her, she only has been vomiting, not eating (except for the mashed potatoes the second day), she has been playful, her stools were just fine (not loose and no smell), I also told her she had just gotten her shots days before I took her home (including parvo vaccine). The vet said she believed she had parvo and did a test… the test came back positive and I fell apart and asked was she sure… yes, any time there is a line whether small or long, the dog has parvo. I of course wanted to save her and asked what we needed to do, she said we will give her a shot and put her on IV and keep her in isolation for a few days but she had to have had it when she left the breeder. So I called the breeder, who told me to immediately bring my puppy to her because she knew she did not have parvo as the other pups she was with did not have it nor any signs and that the only sympton was vomiting and that the fact she had just had her parvo vaccine could give a false positive but to bring her to her and she would take care of her. I took my puppy back from the vet and to the breeder and the breeder immediately gave her a dose of tummy meds and some baby food in a syringe and began treating her for a stomach issue. She said it could be stress from leaving her home and a new place or just a stomach virus. But absolutely not parvo. We stayed for a couple of hours and Izzie began to eat and not vomit and the breeder kept her over night and she called me during the night to say that Izzie was eating and had a full belly and not vomiting and called me again the next morning and said she was playing and eating very well, she is keeping her one more night to give me ease and the vet she uses for her pups and breeder dogs verified that she did not have parvo. I have been livid since finding out it was nothing more than a stomach problem… I gave the vet ALL the information and the only symptom that Izzie had was vomiting and weak appetite… she never once indicated that she could be getting a false positive nor did she check for anything else… I went through a very emotional roller coaster because this vet immediately diagnosed Izzie with Parvo, had she actually had parvo, she would not have been better within hours after I took her to the breeder. Thank God for our breeder! She loves each and every puppy and adult dog she has and it shows. People get on sites and slam the breeder but in our case the breeder was the hero and the vet was the incompetent one.

  2. Vogue Vet

    Great post! That’s a shame the owner wasn’t properly informed about the disease and the options for treatment. Then again, we’re always taught to take what they say with a grain of salt because you never know what the original vet may or may not have said/done. It’s a tough line to walk. I’m lucky to have never seen a parvo puppy before, but I’m sure the day will come soon enough.

  3. Chris

    In my experience, it is not uncommon to have a ‘faint positive’ parvo snap test on a dog for a few days or a week after receiving a parvo vaccine. (I have never seen a raging positive one after vaccines, though.) I’m glad you were thorough enough to repeat the test, check a CBC, and repeat the test. Treat the patient, not the labwork, right?

    • Absolutely! Scary that another vet was ready to euthanize based on just that. I found out later the vet called the owner’s neighbors to tell them she has a parvo-positive puppy and wouldn’t euthanize it.

  4. Shannon

    Last week my son took his puppy to the vet to get his 2nd parvo booster shot. Sunday the puppy would not eating and was lethargic. Monday he was even worse, so my son took him back to the vet. She said he just had an infection, charged him $78 gave him some antibiotics and some food–told him to call if he threw up the food. The puppy scarfed the food and promptly threw it up.

    So, he called the vet and she said to bring him back in for a parvo test. He did and it was positive for parvo. They wanted him to leave the puppy to be treated for up to $300 a day…. He’s a college student and can’t afford that. He called me upset that he should euthanize his puppy because he did not want to see him suffer with this horrible virus. (The puppy only threw up 1 more time and never had diarrhea… )

    I talked him in to keeping the puppy hydrated and treating him at home for a couple of days with the antibiotics and pedialyte and rice. He also had a friend that brought him a gel called gastromate… They treated him for 2 days with this “regimen.” and now on Wednesday, he is running around their backyard like he was on Saturday.

    I am not sure if it was a false parvo test and the puppy just had a bug and the hydration/electrolites and antibiotics worked or if it was the gastromate–which sounds like a pretty cool product! BUT I am so glad that I talked him into waiting!

  5. Dawn

    Is it possible for a puppy to have a positive snap parvo test, vomiting, lethargy, and lack of appetite, but no bloody stool, diarrhea or fever and have normal CBC test?

  6. Sparkles

    Can a faint positive on a snap test be wrong?
    I a few days ago I had to take my dog in because he didn’t want to eat and had been throwing up. He has never had a fever (at the vet it was 101) and only had a small amount of diarrhea right before going in for his appointment ( but I had been giving him mineral oil because we had though he had a blockage because he hadn’t had a bowel movement in 3 days). When I looked at the test while waiting I didn’t see anything but the control dot and when the vet came back in she said it was a very faint positive. She gave him the antivomiting and fluids under his skin as well as antibiotics for me to give him twice a day at home. I kept him hydrated with gatoraide (vet said it would be the same as pedialyte) and gave him tiny amounts of chicken baby food. He had one more loose bowel movement. And about 12 hours later my dog was begging for my hot dog. I tried a tiny bit because the say before he hadn’t wanted to eat anything even boiled chicken breast. He wolfed it down. I didn’t give him much because I didn’t want him to throw it up. The next morning he begged for a few peices of wafer ham from me. He scarfed it down like the hot dog. Since he hadn’t thrown it up I gave him a few more peices. It has only been 2 days since I took him to the vet and he is already acting like himself. He has kept everything down that he has eaten and drank. And hasn’t had any more diarrhea but he hasn’t had a bowel movement either. Not sure if this is because 99% of his diet right now is liquid, he goes pee alot when taken out to potty. My mom says that he doesn’t act (and didn’t act like in the first place) like the puppies she has seen that had parvo. Could the test have been wrong?
    Sorry for the long explination to my question.

  7. Deb

    I had a similar experience to Shannon. I was contacted by a lady who wanted to rehome her puppy. After a month of not finding any available foster homes (a puppy mill was shut down about a month and a half ago so all the local fosters are full) I decided to get a second evaluation on temperament by a trainer and focus on homing Hektor (said pup). He is 9 months old now.

    When I picked him up I was informed I could not bring him back. I did not want to foster as I only recently got a rehome myself and didn’t think it was fair to her. They had no food for him, but his toys and kennel came with us. He is a blue heeler/am eskimo cross, but was so thin his pelvis bones poked up.

    He threw up a couple times, but I just figured he was eating things he shouldn’t have, since I had no idea how long he had been without food. He also had a habit of getting into “kitty crunchies” (litterbox) so when he had a dark chocolate coloured poo I wasn’t too worried. But while I was at work he had one ‘explosive diarhea’ movement that smelled bad and the room-mate was concerned it was parvo.

    Hektor wouldn’t eat. He was drinking well but throwing up constantly now. I got some pedialyte and added it to the water. Started givng him smaller amounts of water more often (about a cup every hour). After two days, he was still drinking ok but was clearly dehydrated and depressed. No bowel movements at all (tho he kind of ‘leaked’ dark liquid when he slept) and his throwing up had stopped.

    Took him to the vet. He tested positive for parvo. The put him on the usual regime of IV fluids and antibiotics et al. Next day, however, he was doing so well they sent him home.

    I think the fluids and electrolytes and whatnot were a boon to this little guy anyways, but I am unconvinced he had parvo. Since coming back his stool is dry, he does struggle some to poo. He is eating gastro canned pet food from the vet and somthing called Fortiflora (something to build up the good bacteria in his stomach).

    I will keep him quarantined as if he had parvo to ensure the neighbourhood pups safe lest I am wrong. Is there only one type of parvo test? Is there nothing to prove that he did or didn’t have it? Is it possible for a dog to have parvo with only having one diarhea movement with no blood and vomitting bile? One day of treatment completely setting him aright?

    I am happy he is doing well and that we can get to work on training him and finding the perfect home, but it bothers me to think that if I had taken him to the shelter instead of home he would quite probably have been euthanized for a disease he may not have had at all.

  8. Amanda Epperson

    Help! We are very avid dog lovers. To make a long story short, a family down on their luck moved in with us, and the mom asked if she could get a little dog for the kids. I agreed. When the “new puppy” came to us, unbeknownst to us, was sick. Not only did he have worms, but he wouldn’t eat, drink, and whined when you picked him up. We went ahead and administered our dogs yearly shots just to be safe. We did this on Tuesday. Tuesday night, when we got home my 7 lb. Chihuahua’s face was swollen. We gave her some Benedryl and watched her for a while. The swelling went down, and we went to bed. Two days later, she is just lying around, eating and then throwing it up, and has a yellow stool discharge. By Friday, she had stopped eating, stopped walking around, and even stopped drinking. I told my husband to have her checked for Parvo because I knew something was wrong. She did test positive. I was sick Friday as was my son’s Chihuahua (4 1/2 to 5 lb.) The female started the treatment; however, my smaller one started home treatment. We administered a food at home (from Petco) to help when dogs don’t eat, shot fluids in his mouth, and just monitored him. By Sunday morning, my smaller one was barking, running around, eating, and drinking like he had not been sick at all. My dog was eating Sunday night and ready to play. I read up on something called Camplybacteriosis. Could my dog have actually picked this up? ( I was sick Friday also) All of our symptoms; mine and the dogs go right along with the human and animal reactions. I love the vet we used, but I don’t think they looked at ALL the facts and just went off the test. Can having a dog checked a couple of days after a vaccine give a false positive? Just curious…..

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