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.”
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.
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.