As promised, a post where Joanna makes a colossal mistake

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See that, right up there? That’s an outcome I did not deserve and a major example of screwing up.

Ruby was carrying seventeen puppies, and here are the big mistakes I made:

1) She had too much calcium. I was feeding her chicken backs because they are cheap. That’s fine for all dogs except pregnant bitches. She should have been switched to a much more muscle-heavy raw diet in order to support her uterine contractions. Because she had too much calcium in her diet, her parathyroid had trouble liberating calcium from her bones, which led to an extremely prolonged labor. I was trying to follow “the rules” and didn’t want her to go more than three hours between puppies, leading to my second major error:

2) I managed the labor with oxytocin. I did it in a way that I thought was savvy, using tiny injections of 1/10 cc every hour or so to keep her contractions going, but I now know that it’s almost impossible to safely get multiple puppies born with oxytocin. The stronger contractions that even TINY bits of oxytocin create cause the puppies’ placentas to separate before the puppies get up to the birth canal, and they suffocate before they’re born. The first nine puppies were born live over a period of 22 hours, and then she stalled out. I started pushing the oxytocin at that point. I lost five puppies of the remaining seven, who were born over the next 18 hours, and I had no idea why. I figured they’d just been in the uterus too long, or were too small. I found out how completely wrong I was when she had the seventeenth puppy – THE NEXT DAY. A full 48 hours after the first puppy had been born. Alive and wiggling and just fine. I am absolutely sure that I took away whatever (good or slim) chance those last puppies had by insisting that she contract and have puppies on a certain schedule.

That experience completely changed how I think about labor. It prompted me to do a boatload of research into the role of hormones and calcium in canine labors and there were lots of moments when I had to go pound my head against a table when I realized what I had done wrong. At this point I won’t use oxytocin AT ALL, except as a cleanout shot or to help deliver a deceased puppy who is already at the birth canal but not coming out, IF that is for sure the last puppy. If I can’t keep the labor going with calcium (Cal-Sorb or the new Oral Cal Plus), she gets a c-section. No questions asked. I never want to end up with a mom who is as exhausted as poor Ruby was, a breeder who is as frantic and panicky as I was, or puppies losing their lives because I was trying to be so “smart” about managing the labor.

By the way, the babies that you see up there were quite small for Dane puppies, averaging 12-14 oz when a smaller litter typically ranges from 22-30 ounces, but they did beautifully. I weighed them around the clock for two full weeks and they stayed small for my other litters at those ages but they gained very well. Once they were on solid food at 2.5 weeks they just took off – at 8 weeks they were 18-25 lb, exactly where I’d expect a normal Dane puppy to be.

Here’s a little taste of them at about six weeks:

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Oh, and by the way, no, they’re not supposed to be so many colors. You can see black, fawn, blue, and the guy up in the corner is a blue fawn (fawn with a blue mask and overlay instead of a black mask and overlay). We knew the dad could produce fawn but the mom’s last fawn relative was six generations back. So we figured we’d get all blue and black puppies, which is what we wanted. Instead we got this amazing rainbow, which makes me a bad breeder but I did LOVE them. Sigh. They were an awfully pretty bunch.

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10 thoughts on “As promised, a post where Joanna makes a colossal mistake

  1. no offense to the Cardi puppies, but *these* are the puppies that make me swoon and drool and feel like I’ll turn into an idiot… I really do have a things for hounds!

    I’m so sorry you lost those puppies, that must’ve been awful for you to realize and live with. On the plus side, you learn (and I mean LEARN) from your mistakes which can’t really be said for even half the population. That rainbow litter must’ve been SO yummy!!!

    I wonder now: is labor & delivery management in the dog world as controversial as it is in the human world?

    • I think we’re in a situation with dog labor/delivery where we have the tools to be very interventionist and almost no good data to support how or when. I’ve heard from multiple repro vets that more and more serious breeders are choosing scheduled c-sections as a default, now that sections are so quick and so safe (much better anesthetics). This trend has historically been misinterpreted as breeds that “can’t” deliver normally (of course they can; bulldogs can, mastiffs can, etc.) but it’s really the reflection of breeder choice and the desire to never lose a puppy. But something that used to be confined to the breeds with very small litters of very expensive puppies has moved to all breeds. If you’re expecting a litter of nine, you know that you’re likely to lose one or two in the birth process, and a planned section with a very experienced vet is $500 and takes (literally) ten minutes? I don’t blame breeders for choosing that route. All things being equal I’d of course prefer a free-whelped litter, but all things are rarely equal and losing newborn puppies sucks the big one.

      • so, if I’m looking at a breeder’s page and he’s got two litters listed that were both whelped on the same day, one might infer they were scheduled C/Ss?

        You and your puppy fever! You’ve got me looking at Coonhound puppy pics now. *sigh* Blueticks, Redticks, I’m dying over here. I’m still planning to rescue the next addition to the family. But maybe the next one after that can come from a breeder… the only problem for me would be that I’d want a breeder to be like you, and so far the breeders I’ve looked at on the web don’t seem to come close. *sigh*

        STOP TALKING ABOUT PUPPIES, YOU’RE SPREADING THE SICKNESS!!!

        So, going back to the labor/delivery question from the veterinary perspective, are there concerns with dogs as there are in humans WRT repeat C/S and uterine rupture? maternal bonding with the pups post-op? etc, etc.

  2. My Lord Joanna. After seeing those puppies, I don’t know how you ever could have given up Dane breeding. You know how I feel about intentional breeding, and those pups make ME want to be a breeder!

    • Oh, I still think Danes are the best dogs on earth. I LOVE them. But it’s just beyond my ability to stand the heartbreak anymore.

      If anyone ever wants a fabulously well-bred (uncropped!) Dane, I still have the contacts to some great people and my own breeder will have a litter sometime in the next couple of years assuming all heath tests are passed. It’s killing me because I really like her current young bitch and his brother.

      • you foul, eeeevil temptress! noooooooo, a BTC is practically too much dog for me, and a healthy full-grown Dane is twice as big!!! But they *are* such beautiful, gorgeous, fabulous “beasts”, aren’t they? (when cared for properly, of course)

        I keep looking at the pics of Ruby and her litter and just swooning, she was gorgeous. And that little blue fawn pup is as delicious as a dark chocolate & cayenne truffle!

      • THIS, is how I feel with the rats. I love them, adore them, but there’s SO many problems. I can really grasp what you’re talking about… I’ve just not been smart enough to quit yet!

  3. The reason I left GSDs is because of the heartbreak. Cardis to me are the best of both worlds. Still a wonderful, highly intelligent herding breed that is so much healthier.

  4. I’d like to know more about the use of calcium to manage labor contractions.

    My own experience has shown me the fallacy of the 3-hour rule. If mom is comfortable and not straining, she’ll likely deliver the next pup just fine. I’ve almost never used oxytocin, although I have had to take a few bitches in for emergency c-sections when she was pushing non-productively for long periods.

    • Calcium isn’t used to manage (i.e., control) labor as much as it’s used to support healthy labor. Calcium is essential to muscle contraction, which makes it essential to labor. Dogs use a tremendous amount of calcium, freely leeching it from their bones, during the process of labor and birth, but sometimes either they didn’t have enough to begin with or they are having trouble getting it from their bones (the parathyroid regulates this and sometimes, often due to the diet the dog has been fed, it is lazy and won’t go get it from the bones). The bitch can use it all up and then her labor stalls. It’s a major cause of inertia and slow, difficult labors.

      If you supplement calcium in an absorbable form (either Cal-Sorb or Oral Cal Plus or injectable calcium given sub-q or orally) you can make sure that the bitch is contracting as efficiently as she should be. It doesn’t change anything, unlike oxytocin. It just make sure things are going as well as they can be. So it’s MUCH safer than oxytocin.

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