The war story!

After I had my first baby, a very experienced mom whom I had not seen since before the birth sat me down and said, “Well, tell me the war story.” I’ve always since thought that was the best metaphor ever for what happens in those hours!

So here’s Daisy Poppy’s Battle of the Somme, before I forget the details.

Daisy Poppy had the easiest and loveliest pregnancy imaginable. I mean, seriously, she barely even acted pregnant. She was medium big and is a tallish girl to begin with so she stayed very active and happy. She could jump up on the couch the day before she whelped. Her weight and condition were fantastic. I was guessing a nice medium-sized litter of five or so and was ready.

Her temp drop occurred on Wednesday, a couple of days before I expected the puppies but what seems to be normal for Cardigans. I knew we were on our way when she got the vacant look in her eyes that every mom, from Chihuahua to elephant, does when she feels those first contractions.

As the evening went on, I puttered around getting kids ready for bed and making sure I had a ton of towels and cotton blankets so I could change the bedding under her frequently. She wasn’t nesting much, so I let her do her thing and just kept an eye on her. She actually ate pretty well, both lunch and supper, and drank well, so I was prepared to have this be a long labor.

About midnight, when everything was quiet, she told me she wanted me in the box with her and would not take no for an answer. When I sat beside her, she would relax; if I got up she stood up restlessly and whined. So I settled in for the long haul.

Around 2 AM, she crawled into my lap, held on to my arm with both of her front legs, and cried softly as she began to push. I bent down and hugged her and talked softly to her, and that’s the way we stayed for the next hour as the puppy slowly moved down. If I so much as shifted my weight, she’d stop pushing. She had to have my arm, I had to be hugging her, and she needed to cry. So I hummed and sang to her and praised her and rubbed her belly with my semi-free hand.

Around this time Percy, our big boy cat, realized something was up and came bounding over the gate to check it out. It seemed both exciting and gory, his two favorite things, so he settled just on the other side of the whelping box wall and purred as loudly as a kettle.

So there we all were, huddled around a little corner, making puppies come.

At around two, she stood up and suddenly screamed like she’d been stepped on, ran in a terrified circle, and then to the other end of the box and tried to jump out.  I grabbed at her and saw that (I thought) a bit of a sac had come out. I hauled her back and grabbed a towel and grabbed it and realized it was in fact a tiny little puppy, and he was alive. I started rubbing him to get him going, and saw just how little he was, and had rather a bad moment. By which I mean I suddenly saw not a medium-sized litter of big puppies, which is what she looked like she was carrying, but a big litter of tiny puppies, which (to put it mildly) is a lot harder to successfully raise and a heck of a lot of them don’t make it. I held that little thing in my hands, saw his disproportionately big head, droopy skin, and how thin he was, and began calculating placental insufficiency and IUGR before ten seconds had gone by.

One of the things that tiny puppies do fast is get chilled, and that’s exactly what was happening to him as I was rubbing him. I could feel his nose getting cold even as he was still snorting and gasping. Daisy P was still busying herself with placenta. So I did the only sensible thing and put him in the warmest place I could find – down my bra.

Upon his arrival there he said “Oh, hullo, this is nice!” and regulated his breathing beautifully and soon was warm as toast. Daisy wanted him, so he got to nestle next to her while we waited for the next puppy.

Here’s where we ran into a little bit of an issue, because (as before) she wanted to be in my lap holding on to me so she could weep her sorrows away, and yet there was this little morsel of puppy to think of, who still needed to be stimulated regularly and needed warmth and contact.

It was 2:30, and I called for reinforcements. Whispered urgently to Doug until he woke, and told him to go get the big kids because I couldn’t do this alone.

Down they came, rubbing their eyes, and – thank God – immediately turned into the trained dog nurses they are. We had our first litter of puppies when Honour was three; starting with our first Cardi litter she’s been drying babies and weighing them and efficiently planning their meals right along with me. Meri tends to stress out a little more, but she runs towels up and down the stairs and mans the paperwork as Honour and I rub and weigh and measure and feed.

The second puppy came with a screech from Daisy Poppy at three, as the first little guy (6.3 ounces) snoozed in a warming box while Honour tickled his back and made him squeak every few minutes. The second was nine ounces. He was kind of a high point for a while there, as she popped out skinny little babies every 45 minutes to an hour in the 6-7 ounce range, crying and crying each time.

By 7 AM I had eight puppies, was on the last dry blanket, had stolen kitchen towels to dry puppies, and was begging Daisy P to stop now. She looked awful around the face and eyes, like every puppy had just ripped its way out of her, and was shaking so hard she fell over when she sat up. I was pushing calcium into her as fast as I dared and it wasn’t making much of a difference. She heard me, I really do think – she is the kind of dog who listens to you very closely and tries to follow – and she stretched out and tried to sleep.

I thought we were done, but sure enough a little before eight she told me I needed to hug her again and produced a beautiful 9.7 ounce baby girl. This one was full and plump and lovely, and Daisy finished with her and heaved a huge sigh and put her head down. I grabbed a blanket off my own bed to give her a dry surface, told her that she was DONE, and now we were all going to rest. I closed my eyes and put my head on a pillow a few feet away for a second, only to have the kids suddenly yell that she was pushing again. I’d slept for 45 minutes, and number ten was on its way.

He got the best piece of uterine real estate available, that’s for sure. Yukking it up in Palm Beach way at the end of one horn while the others were in the tenements, he was a FAT 11 ounces and looked like a giant next to the others.

Daisy P, however, had now about had it. I stripped the rest of the blankets off my bed, shoved them under the whelping box, and called Sarah, who is not only the best help in the world but is a vet tech, and told her that I needed the cavalry to ride in. She arrived just as we were trying to get water into a bitch who had no intention of taking it, saw my wild staring eyes and my naked bed, and said, “Hello! Here’s my giant whelping bag, and your bitch is looking a little shocky and you’ve got dehydrated babies. Let’s get Doug to the vet for some fluids for her and you and I are going to fix this.”


Doug ran to the vet while Sarah checked puppies and cords and got some ice cream into Daisy P. When the fluids arrived, we ran 200 ml into Daisy, who absorbed it instantly (indicating how dry she was) and then each puppy got 12 ml (imagine a ping-pong ball of fluid under the skin of the back) and had sucked it up by the time we got to the last baby. They were REALLY needing it. Daisy got another 250 while we got puppies on nipples and made sure we had colostrum going in them, and worried over the tiniest babies. Daisy slowly stopped shaking, late into the evening, and now just looked drawn and exhausted.

At a late suppertime we decided that the puppies were not going to do well if we waited for her milk to come in, so we set up a little assembly line and tube-fed every one. Sarah left for home, casting out largesse and #8 feeding tubes like coins as she said goodbye. And then it was down to us. We could never quite get the tiniest girl on her feet, and she passed away several hours later, which made us all cry buckets and buckets.

Since then I think you know the story – it’s been very hard work but worth it. Daisy Poppy continued to be pale and shaky and very dry for several days, which meant I was working as hard on her as I was on the puppies, but finally today she actually frisked for a minute outside after her walk, and her voluntary fluid intake is getting there. The tiniest puppies are still very tiny, and nobody’s going to double their birthweight by a week, but they’re starting to put some weight on their sticky-outy ribs and hips. The big puppies, especially the Monster at the End of the Book (can you guess his litter name?) had a bit of a bobble for the first few days and lost more than I like (the ideal post-whelping loss is under 10%, and these guys all lost at least an ounce, which is more like 20% and really had me worried for a while) but are now making a name for themselves of the sleek and shiny variety.

There’s not really a “lesson” in this whelping; Daisy Poppy is a great bitch, a wonderful mom, and just had a really crappy labor that took everything out of her and a uterus that decided to not give as many calories to the babies as it should have. It’s also not a unique story, which I guess maybe IS the lesson. Sarah and I didn’t dink around hoping puppies and Daisy would come right by themselves, and we didn’t assume her or the puppies’ condition was normal. We interfered because we could see that it wasn’t, and because they needed it. And so, I hope and pray, this is going to be a story that starts scary and then gets better fast and with a minimum of fuss.

That bag of Ringers and my faithful little #8 tubes are here because we have good relationships with our vets and could ask for them, and had the knowledge to use them without killing puppies or mom, and weren’t afraid to make it happen quickly. I wrote an article on puppy  vigor almost three years ago, and as I was delivering these puppies and realized that they were going to be needier than most I am absolutely sincere that I was mentally running through the checklist – warmth, water, calories, oxygen, touch – that I wrote all that time ago. And NONE of that is because I am somehow unique. It’s because somebody impressed upon me a long time ago that puppies are serious business and you take it seriously and you get prepared.

And I also think it’s very important to talk about it. Breeders so often hide the crappy stuff because there’s this stupid attitude that crappy events equal crappy dogs. So my telling this story means “something” about Daisy or her pedigree or whatever. Which is idiotic and awful. It doesn’t mean something about her any more than a c-section means something about a bitch or a stillbirth means something or (heck) that a c-section means something about a human. I am so much a fan of Daisy Poppy right now that I want to make a billboard about her. She is an outstanding mother who never stopped thinking about her babies even when she felt like she’d been hit by a truck. But I really, really want somebody to read this story and say “I am NEVER going to breed a litter,” or “Hmmm, before I breed Hortensia I think I’d better go to that seminar after all,” or “Maybe I’d better ask my vet if she has Ringers she’ll sell me if something goes wrong,” or “I honestly don’t know what the difference between a normal puppy and an at-risk puppy is; maybe I’d better make that a topic of research.” (This article is a great place to start, by the way.)

I am feeling hopeful enough that we’re out of the woods that I am planning on doing individual pictures tomorrow – these are some adorable puppies, let me tell you. And soon show you! Until then, back I go to heat up some formula and wash out tubes.

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  • Reply Susan Whelan Temple February 20, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Oh believe me, I will NEVER breed a dog. I will live it vicariously through you! btw, is there anything you don’t do well? You write so well, so interesting. I felt like I was in that box with you. Your photos are gorgeous, you kids–beautiful, your dogs are so wonderful… Just when I was feeling smug because I finally feel I have my Pembroke Peanuts coat problem under control, I now feel woefully inadequate…

  • Reply Liv February 20, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Thanks as always for sharing, Joanna! I was hoping to get the deets. You are a hero of dogs. I adore your transparency.

    • Reply Erin S February 20, 2012 at 11:41 am

      I have to agree with you Olivia!! I have learned so much from this blog over the years, and this post is no different. In a lot of ways Joanna is like a mentor I’ve never met! 😉

    • Reply rufflyspeaking February 20, 2012 at 11:25 am

      Wow, so not a hero. Just very sleep-deprived 🙂

  • Reply Erin S February 20, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Thank you for sharing, Joanna. I have just added about a dozen things to my “Things to Research Before I Think About Having Puppies” list.

    It’s amazing how when I first got into dog showing it was because I wanted to breed, but wanted to “do it right,” so I went through the checklist.. buy a dog, do things with him to convince someone to sell me a bitch, wait for her to finish and grow up, etc etc. However, going through this process, the more research I do, and the more people I talk to, and the more I truly understand about breeding and whelping and rearing, the less anxious I am to do it. In fact, although my bitch will be 2 and “ready” to be bred in a year, unless her breeder/co-owner just really has a strong opinion otherwise, I won’t breed her until she’s 3. I have so much more to learn first, and am just plain not ready to take on that responsibility yet!!

    So, thank you for sharing this story, as scary as it is, and for helping people to take a good look at their motivations for breeding and really examine whether or not it’s worth it when the possibilty for complications arise. And, of course, best of luck and wishes for lots of sleep and contentedness being sent to you and Daisy P and the babies.

  • Reply Taryn February 20, 2012 at 8:21 am

    I will never breed a litter! I read way too many dog blogs to ever think about trying!

  • Reply Beth February 20, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Thank you for sharing your scary story. I hope everyone who reads this thinks what it would mean to them if they lost their beloved pet because they weren’t sure what to do, and thinks twice. You should only breed if you really put the research into it and really want to do it for the breed and for dogdom, not because “Smoochums is so sweet” or “We want her to know what it’s like to have babies.”

    I was just thinking about my breeder’s litter where the bitch wouldn’t stop bleeding and the pups all need to be tube-fed, and thought of the logistical and emotional nightmare of somebody rushing a distressed and bleeding bitch to the vet while someone else is trying to tube puppies every few hours (and there were a bunch, 8 I think)…. and then bringing the bitch home and nursing both.

    When things go well it all sounds so lovely, but things don’t always go well. I hope they all continue to improve.

  • Reply Ruth February 20, 2012 at 10:00 am

    I had no intention of breeding anyway, but now I have a link to give to people who don’t understand WHY I have no intention of breeding….Any interest I had was killed listening to Apollo’s breeder tell the tale of that litter (10 pups, mom so huge she could barely walk, c-section, a tiny little guy who almost didn’t make it but by 10 weeks you couldn’t tell he’d been tiny, tube feeding every 3 hours cause mom couldn’t cope…..a happier story than this one and STILL enough to make me say “hell no!”)

  • Reply Amayon February 20, 2012 at 10:38 am

    I had my own scary story much worse than yours, in my first litter in my current breed. Out of 7 puppies, we lost 4, and nearly lost the bitch a day later because of retained dead pups. Was the most horrifying experience ever, and the worst thing was that there wasnt anything I could have done.

  • Reply Beth February 20, 2012 at 10:47 am

    I do have a question if you have any time to answer: how essential is colostrum to pups, and how do you ensure they’ve had enough in cases like this?

    Obviously humans pass antibodies through the placenta. Horses, however, don’t and foals who don’t get adequate colostrum are usually dead foals. For mares who leak milk early, don’t drop their milk down, or are reluctant to let their foals nurse, big breeding farms and some vet clinics keep frozen colostrum on hand as a back-up, to be hand-fed to foals (bucket or tube, depending on how strong the foal is).

    Where do puppies fall on that continuum? More towards the human “nice if you can get first milk, but don’t need it?” or more towards the horse “life or death?”

    • Reply rufflyspeaking February 20, 2012 at 11:09 am

      I think it’s about 60/40, with the 40 being “life or death.” The biggest issue immediately is that non-colostrum-fed puppies are much more prone to enteritis and other intestinal problems because they don’t have the antibodies they need or the ability to maintain an intestinal balance. The later stuff comes in when they don’t have what they need to meet viral challenges. You can successfully raise puppies who have never had colostrum, and plenty of people do, but they’re at a disadvantage.

      We have had to tube these guys, but we made SUPER sure that every single one of them was getting tons of time on mom’s milk bar, and for the tiniest guy (who had a little trouble latching on for the first 24 hours because his mouth was so tiny) we milked out colostrum and put it on his tongue many times a day.

      It’s pretty hard to get enough dog colostrum to freeze, but you can make an acceptable substitute by spinning down blood and feeding the plasma. There’s a really good vet researcher (Jean Dodds) who sells fresh-frozen plasma specifically for this purpose, using dogs who are titered regularly and she knows are loaded with antibodies. In a pinch you can use any healthy dog, though, including the mom.

      • Reply Beth February 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm

        Thanks, that is very helpful. Foals who get no colostrum are likely to fail within days; they are overcome by routine bacteria in the environment and don’t need exposure to what we generally think of as pathogens. Foals have fully working immune systems, but the womb is germ-free and so their immune systems have never been challenged and take some time to kick into gear in the face of everyday bacteria. Plasma transfusions can help save these foals, but obviously that’s a huge deal.

        Those who get some, but not enough, colostrum sound more like what you describe above— they have some immediate risks, but the bigger concern is what happens if they are exposed to disease-causing organisms.

  • Reply Amy February 20, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Very moving story and would never breed but so glad you’re making others aware

  • Reply Jess February 20, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    That’s an incredible first few days. Best of luck to you and Daisy Poppy. I’ll be waving a little Daisy Poppy flag!

  • Reply Christine K. February 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Thanks for the war story–sometimes it goes like this. I plan on sharing it!

    Daisy did so good–isn’t it amazing how sometimes mom turns to you for help and just *insists* that you stay with her? I’m glad the biggest one was last!

    What did you tube them with? Did you use a formula or a solution you made or powdered goat’s milk?

  • Reply Priscilla Petty Babbitt February 21, 2012 at 12:05 am

    Seriously she is amazing isnt she… love the detailed explanation of this whole ordeal.. we all look up to you in awe ..LOL for real

  • Reply Joanna Kimball February 21, 2012 at 12:12 am

    1) My house is always, ALWAYS a disaster. 2) I can only cook soup. 3) I am terrified of clothes shopping and makeup and rarely do either one. 4) I go barefoot year-round. 5) The last time I exercised voluntarily was in the 20th century. I can go ON AND ON.

  • Reply Priscilla Petty Babbitt February 21, 2012 at 12:14 am

    hahaha So? 🙂

  • Reply Susan Whelan Temple February 21, 2012 at 12:19 am

    Those things do not count! Those are personal style choices, which you have nailed to the wall. Except maybe the soup thing. I don’t have the cooking gene either. I was born with the take out gene.

  • Reply Priscilla Petty Babbitt February 21, 2012 at 12:25 am

    Shes also humble … btw i hate to cook therefore i dont cook well.. and barefeet are my favorite, living in south Tex its a way of life.

  • Reply priscilla babbitt February 21, 2012 at 12:03 am

    I promise you and God i will never breed a litter!! Good job on you Joanna and the girls for helping…
    I bet your relieved right now that the worst is over..
    Daisy Poppy is a trooper!

  • Reply Debz February 21, 2012 at 7:45 am

    Bravo, Joanna!

    I just stumbled onto your wonderful blog. I must say, this story is one of the best illustrations of what we go through as breeders. Brought tears to my eyes (and the memory of numbness to my derriere).

    I wish all current and potential dog breeders, as well as every single person who wants a puppy, would read this. Perhaps those who don’t already know first-hand, could then understand what it is all about!

    Hugs to Dasiy Poppy, all her precious “book pups,” and of course to you and your whelping crew!

  • Reply “Lord preserve me from smart, complicated dogs” « Lessons From and For 4 Legs February 21, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    […] it just made me laugh. (By the way, if you really want to know what goes into good breeding and the joys and terrors of whelping a litter you really must check out Ruffly […]

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