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"Meaningless" vaccination certs can spell danger for puppies

Vet Pete Wedderburn has publicised Leo the Shih Tzu’s (pictured) battle for life to show how meaningless vaccination certs could even lead to puppies being euthanised.

Leo the puppy, who is now on the mend
Leo the puppy, who is now on the mend
Image: Pete Wedderburn via Facebook

THE STORY OF a very ill puppy has helped to warn people of the dangers when taking in a new pet, a leading Irish vet has said.

Pete Wedderburn, a veterinarian at Bray Vet who also appears on TV3 and writes a newspaper column, spoke to TheJournal.ie about the story of Leo, an eight-week-old Shih Tzu who was recently brought into his practice.

Leo

Over the past three days, Wedderburn has used his Pete the Vet Facebook page to spread Leo’s story and show how people who buy puppies need to be aware of the issues around vaccination.

“What was unusual here was that normally the work that a vet does with an animal is confidential between them and the owners,” explained Wedderburn.fwedderbu

And especially in a difficult and emotional time the last thing you want to do is to make a public exposure of what can be very stressing. But at the same time there are lessons that can be learnt from situations like this. In this situation I put it to the owners that I would treat their puppy and do everything for it for a special price and in return they would agree to let me use his case to publicise the issues.

Describing it as “very challenging because it was real life in real time”, Wedderburn cared for the dog – who he said was dying when it arrived at the clinic – and posted regular updates on the Facebook page.

Around 10,000 people have viewed each photo of the tiny Shih Tzu and watched as his condition changed.

Potential of life

Wedderburn said he didn’t know if the dog would survive, and wanted to publicise the case as it is something he sees around every three months at his practice.

It’s the usual thing. The little puppy has the potential of a long and wonderful life, only it’s extremely ill and you know that it’s going to cost somewhere up to €1000 to do everything for the puppy; yet if you do that it is going to give the puppy the most possible chance of survival but there is a risk it will die.

He said that most people do not have that money to hand and despite their best intentions will just walk away and leave the vet with a big bill.

“When you have a few experiences like that, [vets] stop believing people,” Wedderburn explained, which has led to vets asking for such payment upfront.

Vaccination

Wedderburn said that “the last thing you want to do is euthanise a puppy”, but this was the only thing that Leo’s owners could afford.

“Around the country there are many people like that,” he said. Instead, he struck a deal with the owners that they would pay €200 up front and he would do everything possible to save the puppy’s life – while informing people of the situation.

“Some people on the Facebook page have been blaming the breeder,” he said.

But it’s not nearly as simple as that. I’m not sure what the puppy had – it probably was parvovirus but the test to determine that is €40 – 50. If  it was parvovirus it can can certainly be prevented by making sure puppies are properly vaccinated and aren’t let out at all until they have had vaccinations.

Leo’s owner was given a vaccination cert – but crucial information was missing.

It wasn’t signed by a vet and it didn’t even have the details of the puppy. It was a meaningless certificate. Vaccinations have to be handled very carefully. Breeders do sometimes give them themselves, but if a vaccination is left out on a car dashboard or put in deep freeze it can be destroyed. If a vaccination cert isn’t stamped and signed by a vet and doesn’t have all the details of this individual animal or some ID then you don’t know that puppy’s had that vaccination.

He said that he sees cases like this – where meaningless vaccination certs are given to owners – every week. “It’s very, very common.”

Because of this, Wedderburn directs pet owners to the Love My Pet site, which discusses the lessons that can be learned from the episode.

Getting better

Despite Leo’s harrowing weekend, where he required a blood transfusion and nearly died twice, the pup is on the mend. “Thank goodness he is doing really well,” said a relieved Wedderburn.

Normally a puppy would go into an emergency clinic, but they would have to be paid upfront. So instead, he provided a ‘gold standard’ of care and even gave up his weekend to be by the pup’s side.

“It’s not ideal but meant I was able to be there myself,” said Wedderburn, calling the last 48 hours “quite dramatic stuff”.

Message

With thousands of people captivated by Leo’s story of survival, Wedderburn hopes that people realise that this is not an isolated case, and can happen to anyone who buys a puppy.

It’s difficult on many different levels. If somebody asked me to euthanise a puppy I would find that very hard to do that when I know there are things that can be done to save its life. It’s the last thing I would want to do and I would walk away from work feeling quietly devastated.

He encourages new owners to take out insurance so that if it does occur to them, the costs will be covered.

Wedderburn described the level of interest as “really unexpected” but was glad that it grasped people’s attention, particularly as it was a “real time” incident.

“This really happens across the clinics. We don’t talk about it much because of confidentiality issues,” said the vet, saying that it is good to be able to use these situations to help educate owners.

In this case at least, it looks like there will be a happy ending – “but there are plenty where there’s not a happy ending”, cautioned Wedderburn.

"Meaningless" vaccination certs can spell danger for puppies
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  • Arrival

  • Semi-conscious

  • IV

  • Blood transfusion

  • After blood transfusion

  • On the mend

  • Vaccination certificate

  • Vaccination certificate

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