A young and unprepared mother, a large litter... as soon as the puppies were born it seemed we had a new, full-time job: keeping Abbie and her offspring alive. Eclampsia, hydrocephaly, struvite crystals... over the weeks that followed whelping, we learned a whole new vocabulary and got an education about the medical issues that can affect a mother dog and her puppies.
The morning after Abbie gave birth, Dr. G. discovered she had a serious, and well-advanced, uterine infection. "Potentially life-threatening," she said, "But it usually responds well to antibiotics. I'll put her on one which shouldn't affect the puppies."
That was the first sign that the road was turning rough. It would get much worse, very quickly.
Things spiraled downward over the next three days. The smallest puppy, the black female with light blue yarn, was not nursing well. Dr. G. met us in town on Saturday evening with puppy formula and a syringe. We started feeding Light Blue by hand, and hoped for the best.
At least the other pups seemed all right, especially the five brown ones. They weighed more, on average, than their black siblings, and were more assertive at feeding time. Was this part of some genetic pattern, we wondered? Five brown puppies, every one large, every one lively... this could hardly be a coincidence, could it?
Yet on the third morning, my wife found one of the brown males lying motionless. Lifting him up, there was no doubt; he was gone. How could that be? The brownies were all so vigorous!
To make things worse, Abbie's manner changed sharply as the day wore on; suddenly she seemed to lose interest in the puppies. Panting, pacing, whistling through her nose like a very unhappy dog. She took to hiding under the bushes outdoors, digging a hole in the cool ground and refusing to return to the nursery. The behavior rang alarm bells for our guru: "That sounds like eclampsia. Call your vet right away."
"How is her gait?" the veterinarian asked over the phone. Kind of stiff, we reported.
"That's enough for me. Bring her in." Off into the snowy Sunday night, another half-hour trip down back roads. Dr. G. opened her office, drew more blood, ran more tests, and shot the dog up with calcium. That settled things for a while.
Our troubles were far from over, though. The next afternoon, Light Blue weakened. I picked her up to hold her and warm her, but she died in my lap. We began to despair. Were we going to lose all of them?
"These things happen in a large litter," everyone told us, "especially in the first few days." It hurt nonetheless. I kept trying to maintain perspective, telling myself that eleven puppies were too big a burden for an unprepared mother, and that maybe the remaining nine would do better now that the maternal resources were not stretched quite so far.
An autopsy on the brown puppy supported this hope; it showed that he had simply not received enough nutrition over those first two days, and his organs had just shut down. The vet consoled us: "In the first 72 hours, the slightest thing can take a puppy out."
The situation was different for Light Blue; her autopsy results were puzzling. Dr. G. sent tissue samples away for testing; the answer that came back was surprising. She had died as the result of an infection involving common, and usually fairly harmless, bacteria. "Her immune system was defective," the vet explained. "This puppy was never going to survive."
And still, we wondered... if only we'd known Abbie was pregnant sooner, would things have been different? Surely we could have enriched her diet, given her vitamins... maybe the brown puppy would have... I stopped myself. Useless to speculate now; what's done is done.
Next: Just A Couple Of Pet Owners
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