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Alternative Treatment Helps Save Puppy from Life Threatening Parvovirus

December 20, 2015
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Story at-a-glance

  • Grant and Whitney Rupp are clients of mine who are wonderful dog guardians to several Labrador Retrievers
  • Their youngest Lab, Felix, became ill shortly after they brought him home from the breeder. He was subsequently diagnosed with parvovirus
  • Just when it looked as if Felix might have only a mild case of parvo, he crashed and was near death
  • The is the story of how the Rupps pulled out all the stops for their puppy, and how a slightly unorthodox treatment very likely saved his life

By Dr. Becker

Today I'm talking with one of my clients, Grant Rupp. Grant's wife Whitney is also here. Grant and Whitney are fantastic dog owners, and they have a very interesting story to tell about one of their pack, Felix, a yellow Labrador Retriever.

Felix Before He Became Sick

Felix was acquired from a breeder carefully selected by Whitney. She's the expert in the family regarding good dog DNA. The Rupps involve their dogs in a lot of sports, and currently they're into hunt retrieving.

So the dog Whitney was looking for needed to have parents with proven hunting skills, and Felix was the pup she ultimately chose.

Felix Becomes Ill After the Rupps Bring Him Home

The breeder gave Felix his first round of puppy shots at six weeks, and the Rupps brought him home at eight weeks.

About 10 days after Felix arrived, one morning the normally high-energy Lab puppy didn't come running out of his kennel as usual. Whitney opened the door, and he just kind of lay there, which was definitely not normal.

Whitney was immediately worried, but Felix eventually came out and behaved normally. He went outside to relieve himself and played with the other dogs. But, when Whitney put his breakfast down for him, he initially refused to eat. Eventually he did eat, but in less than an hour, he threw up a bit of white foam.

Whitney knew something was wrong, so she took Felix right away to the local emergency veterinary hospital. Felix had actually been there just the day before for some routine bloodwork and titer tests, for both parvo and distemper. The Rupps wanted to make sure his puppy vaccines at six weeks had taken effect.

When Whitney brought Felix into the same clinic the following morning after he threw up, she learned that his titers had come back, showing he had no antibodies against parvo or distemper – meaning the vaccinations he'd received at six weeks had not been effective, and he was not protected against either disease.

The reason the vaccines didn't work was either because his immune system was still too immature at six weeks, or he still had enough of his mother's maternal antibodies that they cancelled out the vaccine.

That's why a single vaccination at six weeks is often useless, but many breeders give it anyway because they feel they need to give their puppies something before they send them off into the world.

Felix Crashes After Entering the Hospital

The negative titer test results told both the Rupps and the veterinarians at the emergency hospital that Felix could have parvovirus. They tested him for it, and the test came back positive.



Felix is Admitted to the Hospital

Felix remained at the hospital for two days in an isolation kennel without showing any additional symptoms. He was running around his enclosure, chasing his tail, playing with toys, eating, and then suddenly … he crashed. Everyone had been hopeful over those two days that Felix's parvo would be mild, so they were devastated when the puppy grew very, very sick.

In fact, he was so sick the veterinarians told the Rupps afterward that they had never seen a puppy with symptoms so severe survive the virus.

Felix went on to develop the hallmark parvo symptom, bloody diarrhea. The virus sloughs away the lining of the small intestine, which makes the dog vulnerable to septicemia and secondary infections. Poor little Felix was completely lethargic, and had to be given IV fluids and a feeding tube. He was monitored 24/7 by the emergency hospital staff.

Felix Crashes

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for parvo – it's a matter of providing the dog with supportive therapy and hoping his immune system can win the battle against the infection. Felix required blood transfusions. He received whole blood as well as fresh, frozen plasma. He also underwent ultrasounds to check the condition of his intestines to determine if he might need surgery to repair damage the virus was causing.

During the next 14 days, the Rupps received two different phone calls from the emergency hospital telling them their puppy was dying. There was a three-day period when the vets couldn't even get a blood pressure reading on him.

After the second call, Grant went alone to the hospital around midnight. Whitney, by that point, just couldn't deal with anything more. So Grant went in to say goodbye to their puppy. The vets suggested euthanasia might be appropriate at that point, but the Rupps decided to let Felix continue to fight for his life since he'd hung on so long.

Desperate, the Rupps Agree to a Fecal Transplant to Try to Save Felix

It was during this horrible time that Whitney and Grant called me to report on Felix, and to ask if there was anything I could suggest that might help him. I know the Rupps because Whitney is a photographer who has taken pictures of my own pets.

Whitney called my cellphone and said, "We have a dying puppy." I told her that since Natural Pet Animal Hospital, where I see clients, doesn't have emergency services, Felix was at the right place and in the right hands. But Whitney persisted. "He's dying," she said. "We've been told to put him to sleep. Is there anything you can recommend?"

At that point, I decided to give Whitney and Grant some rather unusual advice. I suggested an immunoglobulin A (IgA) supplement, which I had recommended for one of their other dogs in the past. I also recommended homeopathic nosodes for parvo. And finally, I suggested a fecal transplant.

The Rupps had never heard of a fecal transplant, however, it's becoming a widely used treatment in human medicine and has a lot of science to back it up. Regardless, it was a rather shocking notion to Grant and Whitney! It involves taking the poop of a healthy animal, and putting it into an unhealthy animal to transplant the healthy biome into the unhealthy GI tract.

The technical term for a poop transplant is "microbiome restorative therapy." As gross as it sounds, it's been used in humans for thousands of years, especially as a treatment for babies dying of dysentery, as well as for other terrible GI infections.

After the Fecal Transplant, Felix Rebounds

Grant and Whitney were desperate. Little Felix was dying and they were willing to try anything. They knew they couldn't make the situation any worse than it already was, so they implemented all three of my suggestions, and the very next day, Felix started to get better.

Felix Receiving Fecal Transplant

They began the treatments in the evening, and while Felix didn't get any worse from that point, his improvement was pretty slow in the first 24 hours. But somewhere between 24 and 36 hours after the treatments, he started looking and acting like his old puppy self again. He wasn't completely back, but seemed to be on his way. He was responding to his name and looking brighter than he had in almost a week.

Felix Feeling Better!

Fortunately, the team of ER veterinarians caring for Felix was very supportive and completely receptive to letting the Rupps try my suggestions. According to Grant, they said "Yeah, sure. Come on in and try them." And they helped out where they could, including getting the IgA supplement injected into Felix, as well as helping with the fecal transplant.

Today, Felix Is a Healthy, Happy Boy

For those of you who are watching the video, we're about to introduce Felix the wonder puppy. He looks fantastic. It's been eight months since he recovered from parvo. He has no GI problems. The Rupps were very careful with his diet when he came home from the hospital. They kept him on the IgA supplements, and added a probiotic supplement. Felix has been fine ever since.

Felix is actually a little smaller than the Rupps' other Labs. According to Grant, they were all over 50 pounds by the time they were Felix's age; Felix is currently tipping the scales at around 40 pounds. His smaller size may or may not be the result of the parvovirus. At any rate, he's a perfect working size Lab, happy, and healthy.

Felix at the Beach, October 2015

Felix will never require another parvo vaccine, because surviving the disease has provided him with lifelong immunity.

This is a wonderful story of a pup who survived parvo thanks to an incredible amount of hard work, dedication, and determination … not to mention a lot of hope and prayer. The Rupps are forever thankful that Felix made it through, and I'm thankful they were able to visit with me today to share their story!

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