May 31, 2018

Audience: Executive Leadership, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Organization: Austin Pets Alive!
Investigator(s): Ellen Jefferson and Kevin Horecka
Grant Amount: $22,000
Project Type: Phase 1
Project Status: Research Complete

Project Summary

In part one of this project, Austin Pets Alive! evaluated the effectiveness of their in-shelter parvovirus treatment program and assessed the average treatment cost. It also researched factors that can increase or decrease the likelihood of dog survival. The project found that nearly 90% of the dogs treated survived parvovirus with supportive care, and that this care can be given at fairly minimal cost (approximately $53 and 8 hours of care per dog). In the second part of this project, both adopters of parvo-treated puppies and adopters of puppies who had not been infected (e.g., the matched control group) were surveyed regarding any post-adoption medical and/or behavioral conditions. The study found no significant impact on behavioral or health outcomes in parvo-treated puppies as compared to healthy puppies.


This multi-phased project posed four primary objectives: to test effectiveness of the Austin Pet's Alive! in-shelter parvovirus treatment program; to assess average treatments costs; to research factors of survival; to assess any impact on behavioral and/or health outcomes of parvo-infected puppies as compared to matched controls.


The total cost of treatment was calculated to include the costs of medications, equipment, and volunteer time for each animal. A linear model was used to predict the cost of treating any particular dog using their weight as a predictor variable. Success of treatment was assessed by creation of a Survival Model, which took into account several metrics of severity of the individual's condition and the probability of recovery. The post-adoption survey portion of the study compared a population of 1-year-old dogs who had been infected with parvo between the ages of 1 to 3 months to an equivalent, matched, population from the same shelter who never contracted parvo. Surveys were submitted by 98 post-parvo adopters and 99 matched adopters on a variety of medical and behavioral measures common to 1-year old dogs.


Treatment cost

  • The amount of fluids, metoclopramide, hetastarch and baytril accounted for a large amount of the treatment costs together, but Cerenia accounted for almost 50% of the total cost.
  • The average cost of parvovirus treatment was $56.08 plus about $30 for syringes, food and cleaning supplies, not including labor.
  • There is a strong correlation between a pet's weight and cost treatment (R2=0.42).
  • Staff time in the intensive care unit (ICU) is organization-dependent. One veterinarian and 3 staff members add approximately $151 to the cost of each animal per year.
  • Treatment required an average of just over 8 hours of volunteer time per animal.

Survival analysis

  • A significant portion of animals who die do so during first 5 days in the ICU. These animals generally weigh less than their surviving counterparts.
  • Significant predictors of death are: Attitude, Gum Color, Paw Temperature, Appetite, Vomiting, Sex, and Intake Weight (lbs.); variables such as Drinking Water, Distemper Watch, Feces and Age are not significant predictors of death.
  • In using the Cox Proportional Hazard Model and in looking across the set of dogs studied, it was found that no animal that reaches a "hazard score" of 896 ever survives, making this a useful threshold for determining when to perform experimental treatments.

Health and behavior survey

  • Overall, canine parvovirus, or the treatment thereof, didn't appear to have any significant longer-term impact on behavior, development, or health of those studied.
  • One significant difference was noted in comparison animals: dogs who had parvo were reported as more likely to snap at humans. This specific issue will need to be addressed in an independent dataset to determine if it is truly related to this disease.
  • Parvo animals tended to have higher reported skin conditions or allergies. An opposite pattern was found in digestive, kidney, and ear conditions in parvo animals (with the control group having more of these conditions). Both noted patterns require further research.


In conclusion, canine parvovirus is an imminently treatable illness. Results showed that 90% of treated animals survive with supportive care, at fairly minimal cost (approx. $53 and 8 hrs of care/animal). Overall, the research found no significant impact on behavioral or health outcomes in parvo puppies compared to matched controls, furthering the case that these animals can and should be treated and adopted out just as any other shelter animal.