Well, this is Extremely Disappointing

Okay, well, no puppies for me. Or at least, not from Naamah. She had pyo and is now recovering from an emergency spay.

This is the third young bitch I’ve had who had pyo. I caught it relatively early and I don’t think Naamah will be as sick as some.

As a public service message, let me just mention that roughly 25% of all intact bitches do get pyo. A significant number die because the owner doesn’t recognize what’s happening fast enough. Untreated, pyometra is always fatal. If the treatment — an emergency spay is by far the preferred treatment — is delayed, the bitch will be very, very sick. Some will die despite everything the veterinarian can do.

More common in older bitches, in fifteen years, I’ve had a three-year-old with pyometra twice and a five-year-old once. I know someone whose puppy had pyo after her first season, when she was seven months old, and very nearly died. Every single pet owner who has an intact bitch needs to look up the signs of pyometra and keep a close eye on their bitch from two to eight weeks after she’s been in season. If she goes off her food, watch her very carefully. If she starts to act sicker and/or starts drinking more water and/or has a discharge as though she’s going back into season, take her in right away. Don’t make an appointment for two weeks later. Take her immediately, the moment you think she could have pyo. Pyometra is always an emergency. Always.

So … yeah, after fifteen years, I’m pretty inured to bad luck. This was a disaster in terms of losing Naamah’s reproductive potential without ever getting even a single puppy, and of course it was a financial disaster, but disasters of all kinds are not uncommon and I’m always prepared for pet medical emergency expenses. But this is why I sound so sincere when I advise pet owners not to breed their pet. I am extremely sincere.

We actually need a lot more knowledgeable, responsible people breeding. Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t have nearly enough well-bred puppies to go around; we don’t even have enough badly bred puppies to fulfill the demand; we don’t even have enough dogs in shelters to begin to fill the demand for young dogs. Shelter intake has absolutely crashed over the past 50 years, so for decades shelters in some areas of the country (the Northeast) have been importing impounded strays and puppy mill dogs from other areas of the country (the Midwest) and, prior to 2021, from developing countries, in order to keep shelters full. That shortage is what keeps puppy mills in business and incentivizes backyard breeders to thoughtlessly and carelessly breed dogs when they have no clue how to evaluate structural soundness, never mind type. But it takes a lot of time and effort to learn how to breed responsibly, and even if you’re knowledgeable and experienced, terrible things happen all the time. One of those terrible things is pyometra.

It could have been a lot worse. At least Naamah is recovering well this morning. I’ll go get her this afternoon and, although she’ll be much sicker than any bitch after an ordinary spay, she’ll be fine. The only question now is whether I’ll keep her or place her as a pet. She’s got a demanding temperament for a Cavalier and would need just the right pet home, and after all I have plenty of room in MY home at the moment, so we’ll see.

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20 thoughts on “Well, this is Extremely Disappointing”

  1. It’s sad that Naamah got sick and won’t be able to have puppies, but I’m glad you were alert to the risk and caught it quickly.

  2. Camille McAloney

    Oh no, poor Naamah! I was so hopeful for her, and you. Just awful luck. Hopefully things turn around for you in the future.

  3. Thank you all!

    Camille, when this happened to Pippa, I cried. But that was a long time ago. By this point I’m really, really used to awful things happening. Things never turn around. Occasional excellent litters are the exception, not the rule. Sigh.

    You know what this means for Naamah, of course: She’s beautiful, she has truly exceptional structure, and now she’s practically certain to live to 16 and never have a heart murmur. And her amazing genes will be wasted because she’ll never pass them on to any puppies.

  4. That’s very fair. Just the cost of being a breeder I suppose. At the end of the day at least she’s healthy! I know cost wise it’s probably prohibitive but it does make me wish egg harvesting and surrogacy was as common in dogs as it is in horses. If that were the case, pyos would be a bit less devestating (though no less dangerous, obviously).

  5. Oh, yes, I wish that were possible! I’d have used technology like that with my lovely, lovely Kimmie. She couldn’t safely carry a pregnancy, but I would have been sooooo happy to be able to get just a few more puppies from her.

    If that were possible, everyone would have a Lab or Great Pyr or some other nice, big breed. Why put a toy bitch at risk by having her carry and whelp a litter? Have a big bitch carry eight puppies and whelp them so much more easily and safely. Wow, that technology would be an absolute Godsend!

  6. A colleague of mine is a veterinarian for a company in Texas that clones animals, and for dogs that’s exactly what they do. So they have large mixed or pure bred dogs giving birth to and mothering litters that consist of GSDs, cavs, toy poodles, Airedales–you name it. It’s pretty incredible and makes me wonder about the potential for dealing with late onset diseases. The AKC doesn’t currently accept cloned dogs, but I think there could be huge potential in cloning b*tches in particular that have made it to a ripe old age heart clear. Of course surrogacy could offer a similar benefit, it would just require long term storage of the eggs. It’s fascinating stuff to think about!

  7. I’d hesitate about cloning. I think the quality of the cloned individual seems to be imperfectly presented in the clone, at least so far. I’m not sure I’d go for that even for a pet, and for a top-quality dog, you wouldn’t have to lose much before the quality you were trying to preserve would be lost. I’d expect to lose type much more than structural qualities. (That’s a guess, based on the way cloned cats come out different colors because of X-inactivation in the cell taken for cloning.) And aren’t there concerns abut shorter lifespans of clones? Or has that been solved?

    Surrogacy would be amazingly beneficial right now, though, I don’t think there’s any question about that.

  8. My understanding is that these days, lifespans in clones are on average no longer shorter than non-cloned animals. But you make a good point about type, and I imagine mis-marks would be especially common. My colleague has told me that in her personal experience temperament seems to be repeatable (the company clones a fair number of working dogs for rescue and police work) but that’s one person talking about something *very* subjective.

    A quick google search tells me that it wasn’t until 2010 that the first successful embryo transfer occurred in dogs, and the first successful IVF wasn’t reported until 2015! Looks like at least one laboratory is working on improving its success, which is cool https://blogs.cornell.edu/temproy/reproduction/dog-ivf-2/

  9. This is all very cool, Camille!

    I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if temperament comes out quite close to the same. I think most breeders would agree that temperament is highly heritable and largely genetic. ON THE OTHER HAND, the expectation of the trainer is a HUGE environmental factor that I could easily imagine might play a significant role. It would be extremely interesting to hand the cloned puppy to someone who had never known the original dog, but someone experienced with dogs in general and with that breed, a good fit for the breed, someone who has raised and trained multiple dogs of that breed. How does the new owner assess the temperament of this puppy? Does that match the perception of the owner of the original dog? How well does it match? To improve validity, you might get the new and old owner together and have them draw up a checklist for temperament qualities and the typical behaviors they consider diagnostic for different temperament qualities. Drive is pretty easy to assess. So is thoughtfulness. So is reactivity.

    If I could keep structure, temperament, and important type characteristics, I’d be happy to take a chance on markings. In fact, you might be able to take a mismarked dog otherwise of superb type and clone him and get a puppy with better markings — that would be kind of amazing!

  10. It just amazes me that we can have this type of conversation. I was reading on efforts to bring back some extinct species, and it floors me that the conversation is shifting from whether we CAN to whether we SHOULD. For the CAN part, you need 1) good sources of genetic material (not hard for anything gone extinct in the last century or so); 2) mapping the whole genome; 3) a related species that you can produce stem cells from; 4) the ability to modify those stem cells to match the extinct genome; and then 5) the ability to raise the result to term. While no one has done all of this for an extinct species yet, the steps individually have all been done. It seems like now it’s a question of cost, time and will on a lot of this stuff. Mind-boggling. And while the ethics of a lot of this stuff are sketchy, the potential benefits in so many areas are also astonishing, and I suspect people will keep coming up with cool new ways to use the technology. Cloning working dogs for police and rescue? Never would have occurred to me.

  11. I’d love to see good results from the thylacine project. I can’t see why there would be any question about the ethics of restoring thylacines to Tasmania.

    Birds produce unique challenges because of the eggshell, by the way. But I’d be fine with cloning projects going forward for seriously endangered mammals.

    One thing I’m not keen on is developing a genetic hybrid and calling it a woolly mammoth. Please. If it’s not almost entirely woolly mammoth DNA, it’s not a woolly mammoth. Call it something else and don’t pretend that you’ve brought back a the extinct species, because you have not.

  12. Completely agree. And where would you put the new “mammoth” population? Thylacines there appears to be an ecological niche still open, and some interest from the government of Tasmania. Mammoths, not so much. Same for carrier pigeons.

  13. I just learned about the thylacine project a week or so ago! I’m really excited to see where it goes

  14. I’m so glad you caught it!

    I understand the sentimental appeal of breeding a dog that you love, the thought that you could have another dog with the same temperament. (It’s not logical, perhaps, but I do understand it.) Whenever I think about getting a dog, I look at my old dog’s breeder to see if any puppies of her lineage are available.

  15. So sorry about Naamah. And yes, IVF and surrogates sounds like an excellent technology for dogs… though I do wonder at the long-term viability and ethics(!) of breeds that have particular trouble bringing puppies to term. It just sounds like a lethal problem intentionally bred into genetic lineages.

    This sounds somewhat promising when pregnancy tests are negative, or breeding is not attempted.

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