Puppy vigor

I’ve just spent several hours reading about a breeder of … well, I don’t want to get him over here screaming at me. He works a breed that is not normally thought of as a major hunting dog, so let’s just say they’re “working Pattypats.” 

He’s kind of a nut in a whole bunch of ways, including the fact that he strongly believes that incredibly tight inbreeding is the only way to create healthy dogs. He’s up in his 11th generation of bringing in zero new dogs from his original Pattypat pair. Which is CRAZY. But what I really wanted to address was the way he (and MANY others) swear is the only way to select healthy puppies: Nature rules.

This particular breeder falls at the extreme end of this spectrum. He used to whelp the bitches indoors, but it made him feel too bad when the puppies starved and screamed and died, so now he never lets them in. All bitches whelp outdoors, no matter what weather, in the same enclosure as all the other dogs. He comes out that day, counts the puppies, and takes out any that are not up on their feet and moving around. On the way back toward the house, he swings them against the side of a building. 

On the third day, he comes out and cuts off tails. 

That’s the last time he touches or handles them or checks on them at all until they come out of the whelping box at 4 weeks. At that time he counts the ones that are left and compares to the original number. 

He’s running about a 60-80% mortality rate, unsurprisingly. He starts off with litters of ten or twelve and sells litters of three. At six weeks. Who have never been inside a house or had human hands on them. 

He will tell you up and down and sideways that his methods work wonders. He’ll tell you that this way he is keeping only the heathiest dogs. And he’s right, sort of. He doesn’t have any c-sections or stuck puppies, because if a bitch is having trouble and he can tell, he’ll take her out and shoot her, then come back and kill all her puppies. Doesn’t want that in his line. His dogs literally never see a vet in their entire lives, so he doesn’t have any disease statistics. Never x-rayed a single dog, so he’s got no dysplasia. His Pattypats win a lot of titles in the Working Pattypat Club… of course, there are only a dozen members of that club. So by the numbers, he has THE healthiest and most able and amazing Pattypats in the entire universe.

Like I said, he’s a bit of a nut (although VERY powerful in his circle, and MANY think he’s just the bull’s balls for what he does), but this attitude is in a lot of places. That somehow if you “coddle” the puppies you’re perpetuating weakness. Even Suzanne Clothier says you really ought to think twice before supplementing newborns; it’s better to let them die.

So let me tell you about something called science, which is very helpful in knowing who or what to blame for our “problems”: It’s the reason we no longer behead women for not producing male children.

Puppies at birth are pretty exclusively the product of MOM OR THE BIRTH, not themselves. Except for a very few congenital anomalies present and very obvious, you’re looking at a dog who is the LEAST an expression of his or her genetics and the MOST an expression of his or her environment that the dog ever is in its whole life. 

Small puppies and skinny puppies are the result of a poor placental placement in the uterus. That puppy’s placenta didn’t get as good a blood supply and so the puppy didn’t grow as well. It’s really a form of IUGR, intrauterine growth retardation, and we see it in humans too. IUGR puppies tend to have abnormally large heads for their bodies when compared to the others (because their body will send all the nutrition available to the head and shortchange the abdomen) and they’re skinny and small, with very little fat. They can continue to have the bobble-headed look for a while; I can usually tell them even at four or five weeks. I’ve never been able to tell them apart at eight or ten. IUGR puppies sometimes need to be supplemented, not because they’re not heathy genetically but because they have almost no fat and so they suffer from high/low glucose swings. They need small, frequent meals until they have the digestive and metabolic ability to take in a whole bunch and then sleep it off like a big puppy does. 

IUGR: Not the puppy’s fault. Just as likely to be totally genetically healthy as any of the others. No more likely to be small at maturity, either–as long as the breeder provides them with enough calories and they’re not thrown off by a worm load or disease (which can be worse on them because, again, very little fat or glucose stores), they are usually identical to their littermates by the time they go home and can certainly be the biggest dogs in the litter when they’re grown.

Weak puppies who are slow to get going are often oxygen-deprived. The newborn is VERY tolerant of oxygen deprivation. Puppies can survive without breathing, even after the placenta has separated, for a shockingly long time. That’s why puppies that get stuck can often be pulled and revived. You never really know how long a particular puppy has been without oxygen–even if she seemed to come quickly after the prior one it could be that she was waiting behind him and her placenta had already separated. 

Oxygen-deprived puppies are weak and hard to get going, and they have trouble organizing their breathing, but it is NOT their fault. Puppies who took the first breath inside the sack can be very raspy and rattly and wet; not their fault. It is abundantly worth it to do everything you can to get those puppies going and get them stable, including providing supplemental oxygen to make sure their breathing efforts get the most reward. Those puppies are just as likely to be healthy producers as any others.

My rule is pretty simple: If I am ABSOLUTELY SURE that the puppy has enough calories, fluid, oxygen, warmth, touch, and immune support (and I’m sure because I’m providing those things–the puppy has excellent color and is breathing well and has had glucose and bitch’s milk and sub-q Ringers and is down my shirt front after having been given fresh frozen plasma) and he still goes downhill, that’s a sign that he’s possibly not “meant” to live. If he’s lacking even one of those things, his decline is not his fault; it’s mine. And his decline tells me nothing about what he would have been if he had lived, only that I failed to provide something he needed. And I think that approach is actually far more likely to let you pick the healthiest dog in the end–because you know that what you’re seeing is the puppy’s own genetics or anatomy, not an accident of birth order or placental attachment. 

By the way, I was born with facial moldling– because of my birth position, my nose was smashed over to one side and I looked significantly less than lovely. If I had been a Pattypat in a litter born to this breeder, I’d be against the side of the barn because there’s no way I could ever produce a healthy offspring with that kind of malformation. But, miraculously (!), my nose unfolded just fine and I went on to conceive four children who were all eight to nine pounds and born with no pain medication in labors that were a couple of hours each. 

And, though a softie I may be, I prefer to give my puppies the benefit of the doubt too.


Oh, a PS: because I know breeders will ask. Fresh Frozen Plasma is a blood fraction that you can buy from Hemopet (Jean Dodds’ company)–it’s new technology since I had my last Dane litters and it is, from all accounts, freaking miraculous. It pulls fading puppies back from the brink and prevents a whole bunch of issues; it’s like making sure each puppy gets perfect colostrum from a super-healthy bitch. It can save Parvo puppies too, although I’d want the vet using Tamiflu at the same time.


4 thoughts on “Puppy vigor

  1. One of the big breeders of the past in my breed also was big on they have to do it themselves. Not quite so ruthless as your example but if a bitch couldn’t whelp without help he wouldn’t use her again. I tend to fall on your side of the equation. If there is a reason why a puppy didn’t do well that might be perpetuated in the offspring then S/N them and they are now a happy pet. I don’t really see the need to not let such a puppy live (maybe I am an old softie too)
    I also appreciate the fact that the breeders I go to handle puppies all the time from day one – they KNOW that humans are cool and they want to be with you. It boggles my mind the time and effort that a good breeder spends to maximize the potential (both mental and physical) of the puppies they bring into the world.

  2. He’s not keeping the “healthiest” puppies, he’s keeping the heartiest. He sounds like a real gem, and I struggle to believe that more than one person (him) would think it’s a good idea. And I can’t help but think what it would be like to be his wife or child. *blink*

    I’m reading up on FFP now, thanks to a friend who ordered some for her expected litter. Sounds wonderful! I plan to have some on hand. And my mom (chihuahua breeder) has told me repeatedly that if there’s one thing she’s learned, it’s not to give up on a “dead” puppy. She’s had them revive long after she thought she should give up, and they have grown up just fine.

  3. wow, that is just appalling… better you than me because I could not have slept or eaten after reading that. And I agree that I’d hate to be that so-called breeder’s wife or child. 😦

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