Puppy Update: One Week Old

So, as you may know, Leda’s puppies were delivered by C-section a week ago today.

That last week was extremely tense. Now that I’m a week past all that and also at a keyboard, I’ll tell you about it.

Every litter is very stressful, each in its own unique way, but this one was MUCH more stressful than most.

Leda experienced a catastrophic drop in progesterone two weeks before she was due – from 12.5 to 0.5 in 48 hours – which meant she had come very, very close to miscarrying. I caught that drop by pure luck. Lab #1 should have returned results overnight, but they were late; I was going to St L anyway for a different reason and took Leda with me and did another progesterone test up there, where Lab #2 could get same-day results. Wow, am I glad I did that! Both results came in almost at the same time. As soon as my reproductive vet called to say, Yikes, it’s just 0.5, I immediately gave Leda a shot of progesterone to bring the level back up. Even so, although an ultrasound two days later showed at least three hearts still beating, I became increasingly pessimistic that the puppies would live long enough to be delivered. For one thing, whatever had caused that precipitous drop might still be going on. Leda’s white cell count was elevated, indicating an infection somewhere. She was plainly very uncomfortable and her appetite was terrible. I started her on antibiotics, hand-fed her chicken and various kinds of treats and biscuits, and scheduled the earliest C-section my reproductive vet thought plausible, April 25. But I was not at all confident they would make it to that date.

Thankfully, as you saw in the earlier post, four of the puppies, all boys, survived.

I’m sorry to have lost the one girl, but very, very thankful to have four living puppies. From the appearance of the dead puppy, she died about the time the progesterone dropped. Whether her death was the cause or an effect of that drop is not clear, but the timing sure makes it look related.

Three of the puppies were practically identical in size and condition; they all weighed about 6.5 to 7.0 oz at birth. This is a normal weight for full-term Cavalier puppies in a larger litter. The 4th little boy was almost as long in the body, but very thin. He weighed just 4.25 oz. He’s the dark puppy on the left of the image above. I’m not sure you can see how much smaller he is than his brothers. He is the only puppy who looked premature at delivery, with stick-thin legs and a much less complete coat. He was right next to the dead puppy, so he suffered a terrible uterine environment for the last two weeks of development. I’m pretty sure that if I’d done the C-section one day earlier, he would have been too small to survive. I’m also pretty sure that if I’d done the C-section one day later, he would have been too badly compromised to survive. Luckily I picked the right day. His lungs were fine and he seems normal and vigorous. He was the first puppy to nurse – he started about four hours before his three big brothers. Starving in utero may have something to do with that, but he’s a determined little thing, that’s for sure.

Puppies are terrifyingly fragile until they hit the three-week mark and then increasingly less fragile. When they’re well started on weaning, I quit worrying, but at this point, a mere week after birth, lots of things can still go wrong. You don’t want a list, believe me. I made one once, a bulleted list of things that can go wrong and the ages at which the puppy is safe from each thing. I had to destroy that list because it made me too tense to look at it. These days I just keep an eye on the puppies and the bitch, with references close at hand, plus of course I have memorized the symptoms of a handful of the most dire problems.

However, natural pessimism aside, I have to cautiously admit that these puppies are looking good. They were slow to start gaining, but that is often the case after a section, especially an early section. I didn’t let them loose much weight – I tube-fed each puppy about 2 cc of formula every four hours for the first 24 hours. But you also don’t want to give puppies too much formula in the first days. They need to nurse to get the colostrum, and to help bring their mother’s milk down, and to stimulate the production of oxytocin in the mother so that her maternal instincts will flick on. As long as they’re not losing too much weight, it’s better to let them be hungry. Even so, these puppies lost a bit to begin and then were quite slow to begin gaining. We say that “a good puppy doubles its weight in seven to ten days.” I don’t think that’s at all likely – maaaaybe by ten days for some of them – but in fact it’s fine if a puppy takes a bit longer as long as it starts gaining properly at some point. At this point, all of these are, and with very little support from me.

When you do an early C-section, you expect certain issues. Because the cascade of hormonal events associated with whelping doesn’t take place, the bitch may not show any maternal instinct to begin with, and her milk will be slow to come in. Both problems occurred here. Leda’s maternal instincts flicked on around ten in the morning on Wednesday, almost exactly 48 hours after the section, which is about what you expect. It really is practically like flipping a switch, by the way; very interesting thing to watch happen. That probably signals proper milk production as well. That’s when the puppies, including Tiny, started gaining weight at last.

As of this Monday, a week from the section, Tiny is up to 6.7 oz. That’s still tiny – he’s still 50 grams, more than two oz, behind his smallest brother, three oz behind the biggest. In fact, he weighs now just about what the others did at birth. He’s the smallest puppy I’ve ever had at seven days — the smallest that lived, anyway.

Low birth weights generally have nothing to do with eventual adult size, btw. I guess that’s true of humans as well, though I’ve never cared enough to look it up. Unless something goes wrong, I’d expect him to catch up to them eventually – let’s say by ten weeks or so, earlier if he’s willing to wean earlier than they are.

I don’t plan to keep any of these puppies, probably. I don’t need another boy. But if all continues to go as well as it has so far, they should make four families very happy. And you never know. If one of the boys is totally spectacular … well, we’ll see.

So, how has this affected my writing?

Yeah, I quit writing for the whole week. That wasn’t just because of the puppies. The lack of sleep and resultant headaches are predictable, but ought to be easing off after the first two days or so. Two other dog-related things added stress and made it tougher to pick up the laptop:

One day before the C-section, Keya started having breakthrough seizures. Phenobarb only controlled her seizures for five weeks! That was certainly disappointing. Luckily … actually, that wasn’t luck, it was foresight … anyway, I had levetiracetam and clorazepate on hand, four doses each, which was enough to get through Sunday so I could pick up more on Monday, while my vet was doing the section. (I got a text while waiting at the pharmacy: four alive, all boys! and texted back yay! all boys? one-sixteenth chance!) Anyway, Keya was kinda out of it and needing to be carried up and down stairs again, though fortunately she wasn’t drugged all the way into a coma this time.

And then

One day after the C-section, Conner quit eating. He also showed lethargy and just looked plenty sick, poor little dude. I asked my mother to come sit with the babies and keep an eye on them and took him to the vet and boom, mysterious fever of 104.8. That sure is plenty sick all right. Normal temp for a dog is 101 or thereabouts. Hmm, said my vet. Virus, bacteria, tick disease, autoimmune disease, who knows? Well, none of that sounded good, especially not a virus – what if the puppies caught it???? – or autoimmune disease – those are never good. We started him on lots of stuff, very broad treatment to nail anything bacterial or anything tick-carried. And so far, thank heaven no one else is sick plus Conner was back to his normal cuddly-yet-bratty self by Friday. But wow, I sure did not have the emotional energy left over to care about writing.

And this, I will add, is why advice such as Real writers must write every day is always silly and sometimes harmful. It’s perfectly fine not to write every day if something legitimately interferes, and there’s no reason to feel guilty about it either.

So, Invictus curse?

Actually, I don’t think I’d say so. It’s too much of a relief to have four living puppies to call them part of a curse. It’s a mild delay, that’s all. I actually did open the file on Sunday and look at my notes and write about two paragraphs (plus this blog post and a couple others).

Besides, the delay isn’t even exactly the fault of all these dogs. No. The delay is actually at least as much Sherwood Smith’s fault. That IS why I resist reading other authors’ books while working on one of my own, you know. That was a thoroughly distracting story. So, upcoming: a post on the Phoenix Feather series.

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4 thoughts on “Puppy Update: One Week Old”

  1. So glad all the puppies are coming along! Best wishes to them and Leda, and to Conner & Keya too.

  2. I’m so glad this is turning out to be a happy ending, Rachel. I don’t think I’d have the nerves for breeding. So glad the boys made it, and so sorry about the little girl.

    May you get a lot more sleep this week, and be able to get back to writing!

  3. Thanks, Kat! This is why I sound REALLY SINCERE when I tell people breeding is not something to do lightly. It’s always stressful and often terrifying and occasionally heartbreaking. I’ve had sixteen litters and each and every one comes up with a unique new way to terrify me.

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