I graduated from The Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine in 1989. There have been a lot of changes since then in the veterinary care we are able to provide for pets. Many diseases and conditions that were commonly seen back then can now be easily treated or prevented because of development of new drugs, vaccines, and even pet foods. I thought I would use this article to highlight a couple of these conditions.
Parvoviral Enteritis (“Parvo”) hit dogs in the late 1970’s. Because it was a new disease back then, there were no vaccines for it and dogs had no acquired immunity to it so many dogs got sick and even died from it. I describe Parvo to dog owners as the worst stomach flu you could ever imagine multiplied by 100. It causes severe lethargy, dehydration, vomiting, and a profuse, watery diarrhea. Dog with Parvo can die from dehydration and sepsis.
The treatment for Parvo involves fluid therapy, antibiotics, and medicine to control vomiting until hopefully the virus runs its course. With aggressive treatment most dogs can be saved, but some die no matter what is done. The early Parvo vaccines helped a lot, but the newer vaccines given correctly make Parvo extremely unlikely in a dog. Over the last few years I have only seen about one puppy a year with Parvo, and none of them were vaccinated appropriately.
Heartworm Disease also hit the Midwest in the 1970’s. Heartworms are a worm that actually lives inside a dog’s heart as an adult and is transmitted by mosquitoes. Initially, heartworms was seen in the southern United States and in a short time the incidence of cases could be seen popping up traveling north up the Mississippi River as infected mosquitoes around this large waterway passed the disease to dogs all around the river. From there the disease spread out from the Mississippi River to be found all over the country.
Heartworms are very well designed to live in a dog’s body and become an adult living in the heart. Heartworms basically clog the heart up and cause dogs to go into congestive heart failure. Heartworms can also cause blood clots and a severe inflammatory reaction in the lungs. Signs of Heartworm Disease include coughing, abdominal distension, respiratory distress, anorexia, and weight loss. Heartworms are so well designed to live in a dog’s body that if a mosquito carrying heartworms bites a dog that is not on heartworm prevention, that dog WILL get heartworms.
The initial heartworm preventions that we had available were tablets that needed to be given every day. They worked well, but just missing a few doses during mosquito season could result in the dog getting heartworms. Heartworm prevention now is much easier and more effective. Heartworm preventions can be given orally or applied topically just once a month, and even if you are a few days late they are still as close to 100% effective as you can possibly get. Many even control intestinal worms and fleas with the same medication. Over the last few years I have found about one heartworm positive dog a year with none of them being on heartworm prevention.
As you can see, the incidence of these diseases in the pets that I see is very low. If you think that these diseases are going away though, you would be wrong. The purpose of this article is actually to stress the opposite. Parvovirus is all around us, but in dogs vaccinated appropriately they just don’t get sick from it. I know this because West Central Ohio Emergency Service, which is our area after-hour pet emergency hospital, regularly sees improperly vaccinated dogs come in with Parvo.
The same is true of Heartworm Disease. Any unprotected dog running around the area, including coyotes and foxes, can serve as heartworm reservoirs to be bitten by mosquitoes which then bite our dogs. Dogs not on heartworm prevention will get heartworms when bitten by these mosquitoes.
I don’t see many cases because any dog owner coming into my animal hospital is strongly encouraged to take steps to prevent these terrible diseases. There are other many examples of diseases and conditions not as commonly seen these days. During your next trip to your veterinarian, ask if there is anything else you can do to keep your pet healthy.
Chad Higgins, DVM has owned Amanda Animal Hospital for the last 18 years. He sees dogs, cats, ferrets and other little furry critters.