The next few days were uneventful. Holly continued to eat and drink well and care for her puppies. And the puppies seemed fine. They slept, nursed and seemed content. Towels were get wet and messy which was a good sign, just like wet and messy diapers are with human babies. Puppies are born with their eyes and ears closed but they can smell and feel and they use those senses to find their mother and their litter mates for warmth, food and comfort. They can’t walk on their feet yet either but sort of scoot around using their front paws.
Saturday, Holly developed a bad case of diarrhea. Diarrhea is very common among nursing dogs. To produce enough milk for their puppies, they need to eat a tremendous amount of food. So much food that their digestive tracts often become overwhelmed. And eating the placentas may have given her diarrhea too. Every nursing dog I’ve ever had has experienced loose stools. But Holly’s diarrhea was the consistency of chocolate milk. Diarrhea that severe could make her seriously dehydrated and her milk to dry up if it continued too long. And forgive me for repeatedly using the “d” word; I don’t even like having to type it. But it’s kind of hard to tell Holly’s saga without using it and other icky words.
Sunday morning I noticed something even more immediately worrying, two of the puppies were crying and crying. They were off by themselves, not near Holly and the other puppies. I hadn’t noticed it before, but they were significantly smaller and thinner than the other five puppies. Almost as if they’d gained little or no weight since being born.
I put each of them up to Holly to encourage them to nurse. But they wouldn’t latch on. The two biggest health risks to newborn pups are hypothermia and dehydration. I was sure they were cold since I’d found them away from Holly and it was a little cool that morning. They might well be dehydrated too if they hadn’t nursed for a while. When both conditions are present, you tackle the hypothermia first. I put the space heater back in the whelping box, sat down next to Holly and tucked the two puppies under my clothes and up against my bare skin (honestly, not the weirdest thing I’ve ever done to help a baby animal). They weren’t moving much and they were still crying. After a few hours, they started crawling around, a good sign that they were warm again. I tried to get them to latch on again but no go. Then I tried giving them a mixture of water with sugar from a small medicine syringe. My hope was that if I could get some fluid into them, they’d have enough energy to latch on and nurse. They swallowed a few teaspoons and I waited to see if they showed any signs of renewed energy. But only one of them would latch on and he didn’t have the energy to actually nurse.
The best thing at this point would be to give the puppies subcutaneous fluids, a much more effective way to re-hydrate them. I texted my Adoption Coordinator Miranda (the wonderful person at Homeward Trails who gives me medical advice & support and finds & screens adopters for the moms and pups) to ask if someone could bring me some from Virginia. But it was a Sunday afternoon. Not a good day to find someone to transport supplies. It’s much easier for volunteers to make the trip during the week. Many of the people who volunteer live in Maryland and commute to Virginia (or vice versa) and thus can pick up and drop off medications and other supplies before or after work.
Since Holly’s diarrhea had not gotten any better, Miranda suggested switching from her regular food to a diet of 2 parts brown rice to 1 part chicken. Despite having his own busy day, Steve ran to Giant for me so we could get her on the new food right away. Wendy and Little Dog were so excited by the smell of chicken cooking – we are near vegetarians when cooking at home – and so jealous when they saw me taking the rice and chicken downstairs to Holly.
I tried again to give the puppies sugar water by mouth but they weren’t swallowing well and I was afraid of getting it into their lungs. I put them down on a towel in front the the space heater. They were very weak now, but they still had enough energy to cry. I knew they would be dead in the morning. Poor sweet babies.