It’s a subject veterinarians hate to raise. But it’s a fact: Shelter dogs can harbor diseases we’d rather not think about when recommending shelter adoptions over other means of pet acquisition. Not if we want the unwanted to be granted loving homes.

Mitigating the pet overpopulation crisis through increased adoptions from shelters and rescues is crucial to these efforts. That’s why when Oprah’s pups get Parvo it’s not exactly welcome news––on many levels.

While it’s undeniably tragic for Oprah and her pups, the bigger story is here: Will the entire universe take her cautionary tale to heart...thereby limiting shelter and other rescue-style adoptions?

Sure, the pets I see from shelters are likely to arrive with health issues. Truth be told, however, veterinarians can almost always treat these. I can recall only one in the last three years that didn’t make it (and a great many of my clients adopt from shelters and rescues). 

Pet shops, in my estimation, still offer me the greatest number of chronic cases––dogs who may arrive intact and currently acute disease-free (though this is unlikely, as well), but who typically present with the beginnings of obvious chronic processes that will undoubtedly prove disastrous in the long run. 

Shelter pets, by contrast, tend to harbor infectious diseases that prove more readily amenable to rapid resolution. In fact, my Parvo success rate over the past ten years is impeccably 100%––and that’s little different from most of my local colleagues whose owners have Oprah-ish means to treat the disease. Distemper, however? That’s my nemesis. I’m about 50/50 there. Thankfully, I’ve seen precious few cases in recent years.

Back to Parvo: Parvovirus is a viral infection that affects the lining of the intestines. Dogs (usually puppies) present with bouts of severe vomiting and typically bloody diarrhea. If the patient can be supported with fluids, electrolytes, fresh frozen plasma, antibiotics and antiemetics through the duration of the virus’s stint, they’ll generally survive. In fact, the US success rate for Parvo treatment is about 85%, with usually only the very youngest pups succumbing. 

The biggest obstacle to its treatment? Sure, there are some scary complications we see (e.g., intestinal blockage due to gut overactivity and heart failure), but the worst case scenario is more typically an owner’s lack of financial means to pay for the many days and sometimes weeks of intensive treatment necessary. 

It’s these cases that keep us up at night as they spend their nights in our day-only hospitals unattended, receiving only the most basic kind of care we can offer (fluids and antibiotics). Even unluckier are the ones whose owners fail to understand the severity of the disease (or truly have zero means) and elect to take their pets home. These cases can recover...but they usually don’t.

Back to Oprah: One of her two Cocker spaniel pups is dead. The other is fighting for its life in hospital. Will the unwelcome news stifle adoptions out of fear? Or will Oprah’s attempt to save pups from a shelter environment (at great emotional cost) prove a stimulus for more of the same kind of bravery?