On Friday, March 16, the day after I wrote my last blog post, while cleaning up the whelping box, I noticed some loose stools. And more concernedly, the puppies weren’t eating as much solid food as they should be. Occasionally, puppies don’t like solid food when it’s first introduced and it can take several days for them to begin eating heartily. But Abby’s pups were nearly six weeks old and had been on solid food for over a week; they should have been devouring it. I emailed Audrey and got permission to bring a stool sample in to the vet on Monday if by then things hadn’t improved.
By Sunday night, the puppies were still eating only about half of what I would have expected them to and it appeared several had diarrhea. So Monday I dropped off a sample to one of the veterinarians Homeward Trails works with, Dr. Bonner (conveniently, her office is only five minutes from my house). Later that day, her office called to tell me that the puppies had three parasites: round worms, hookworms and coccidia. By Tuesday, they – along with Abby – were on two medications, a five day course of Panacur and a ten day course of Albon.
Within a few days of being on the medications, the puppies started eating more and their poop started firming up. By Friday, they were eating well and they continued to be active and playful.
That week potential adopters came to meet the puppies and six were selected. Audrey told me she had plenty of applications for the remaining two.
Saturday, I got sick and Steve kindly took care of Abby and the pups’ feedings and clean ups that day and Sunday morning. I stayed in bed most of Saturday and Sunday, our dog Wendy keeping me company. She wasn’t feeling well either; she had vomited overnight, had loose stools and refused to eat her breakfast. It would be a few days before she felt like eating again, very unusual for her.
Sunday afternoon, March 25, I noticed one of the black and tan puppies, Cashew, seemed less active than the others. Monday night, I noticed vomit and diarrhea in the whelping box. I also saw Cashew refusing to eat. And when I’d come downstairs he hadn’t run to the front of the whelping box to great me. Tuesday I got permission from Audrey to take Cashew to the vet. By then, he was extremely listless and thin. While we were waiting for Dr. Bonner, he vomited. Dr. Bonner was very concerned; his blood work showed his protein levels were dangerously low. She recommended he be hospitalized so he could be given intravenous fluids and medications. I left him there and once home called the couple who planned to adopt him to explain that he was hospitalized and seriously ill.
The next morning (Wednesday) I called her office, afraid I would learn Cashew hadn’t made it through the night but the receptionist said he was much better that morning, he was up and moving around in his crate. Then a few hours later, she called to say Cashew had suddenly died. By then, the other three black and tan puppies, were listless; I’d also found more vomit and diarrhea in the whelping box. I texted Audrey and she got permission for me to bring them in. Since Cashew’s illness had proved fatal, Dr. Bonner recommended they be kept overnight. I asked her what was going on and she wasn’t entirely sure. She’d tested for Parvo, a virus extremely dangerous to puppies, but said it had come back negative. Dr. Bonner said before Cashew died, he was still testing positive for hookworms and she suspected that was what killed him. She also speculated that something might have been wrong with the medications I’d given Abby and the puppies, that perhaps they’d failed to work. Back home, I called Cashew’s adopters to give them the bad news. Soon after, I noticed some of the brown/chestnut colored puppies acting listless too.
Thursday morning, Dr. Bonner’s office called to say the puppies in her care were better and that I could come to pick them up that afternoon. When she heard some of the other puppies were acting ill she asked that I bring all of them in, Abby too. After looking everyone over, she sent me home with a new course of Panacur and Albon, and two additional drugs, Metronidazole, an antibiotic that helps with diarrhea, and Reglan, a drug that helps treat nausea and vomiting. She also gave me some special canned food for young puppies that would encourage them to eat.
When we got home, I began giving everyone the meds. Unfortunately, three of the four drugs taste awful, so giving the puppies these liquid meds was quite unpleasant. Soon after I gave Walnut her meds, she threw up, let out diarrhea and became listless. By Friday morning she seemed very ill. I brought her back to Dr. Bonner’s office where she debated what to do. It was the start of a long weekend and if Walnut were hospitalized she wouldn’t be able to come home until Monday. After running some tests, Dr. Bonner decided to give Walnut subcutaneous (under the skin) fluids and send her home – she was ill but not so ill I couldn’t attempt to care for her. If she became dehydrated, I could give her fluids over the weekend. Friday night, Walnut’s condition concerned me enough that I tried to reach her adopter to let her know she was ill. The very little she ate, she vomited up. And then a new symptom appeared, her urine turned pink, most likely from blood.
The next few days were a blur of activity. Cleaning up puppy vomit and diarrhea. Giving them all four medications, two of them twice a day – the poor pups tried squirming away from me or shaking their heads as soon as I started squirting the bad tasting medicine in their mouths, and would run and hide from me when I tried to pick them up for the next dose. Coaxing them to eat and taking note of who ate, how much they ate and who didn’t eat. Watching them after they ate and got their medicines in case they began vomiting or got diarrhea. The sickest pups – the ones not eating, vomiting or having diarrhea – I brought upstairs to the kitchen so I could keep a closer eye on them. One by one, the remaining puppies became ill with the same symptoms: listlessness followed by vomiting, diarrhea and rejection of food. The puppies that had been hospitalized were in the best shape, active and playful and even filling out again. But they were picky about what they ate. They completely rejected their dry food and would only eat canned food.
By Saturday morning, I realized that the Reglan was doing more harm than good. If a nauseous puppy was given Reglan she’d get an appetite and eat something, but eating would be followed by vomiting and diarrhea. I assumed that loss of fluids and protein would be more devastating to the puppy’s body than not eating at all. Perhaps I should stop giving them the Reglan. I called Dr. Bonner’s office and spoke to the technician working and explained my reasoning and asked her to tell Dr. Bonner that I was stopping the Reglan unless I heard otherwise. I also mentioned Walnut’s pink urine; a few hours later Dr. Bonner had prescribed an antibiotic for her.
Walnut whined whenever I put her down so I carried her around with me most of Saturday. Late Saturday night, she drank some water and took a tentative bite of food. No vomiting or diarrhea followed. She also got up, wagged her tail and tried to play with our new kitty Madeleine Albright (Molly for short). Sunday morning, Walnut was livelier, more interested in eating and playing. But she still wanted me to hold her whenever I was around. Sunday afternoon, April 1, everyone was doing well enough for us to sneak off to my niece’s to spend Easter with my family. When we returned early Sunday evening, the last puppy in the litter, Almond, was ailing – not interested in eating – but still up to chasing the cat. By Monday evening Almond was taking small nibbles of food and pouncing on the cat.
By Tuesday, active and playful again, all the puppies seemed to have recovered. The rest of the week, whenever it was warm enough to go outside, they chased Abby, wrestled with each other, chewed on toys and explored the yard. And slowly they began eating the dry food again. By Friday, when the first puppy was due to be adopted, they were rounding out again; even Walnut looked like a healthy puppy (her pee had stopped being pink by Sunday evening).
I let all the adopters know of the puppies’ illness. Everyone was sorry about poor little Cashew. They all wondered what had happened – so did I. Dr. Bonner still thought it was the parasites. But I had my own theory. Cashew and my dog Wendy had gotten sick around the same time with very similar symptoms – lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea (in Wendy’s case loose stools). And Wendy, like the puppies, was slow getting her appetite back, at first refusing to eat her regular food or eat out of her regular bowl. And these same symptoms had eventually affected the whole litter. But not at once, just one or a few at time, over many days, after some had been on meds for the parasites for nearly two weeks. I’ve had puppies with serious parasitic illnesses before but never has an entire litter been affected; usually just a few become ill. The falling ill one after another seems more like a contagious illness than a parasitic one. And it makes no sense that the puppies would get better on the first round of meds and then fall ill while still taking them.
A few months ago, my sixteen year old cat Precious got sick and stopped eating. My vet, Dr. Hileman ran a whole series of tests. In the end she determined Precious had gotten a virus. I was surprised. How does an indoor cat get a virus I asked? Dr. Hileman told me that we can carry viruses into our homes on our shoes or belongings, on bags of pet food or kitty litter for instance.
So I wonder if when I brought the fecal to Dr. Bonner’s office or picked up the medicines the next day or perhaps when someone came to visit the puppies, or even when Wendy came home from a walk with Steve, a dog virus hitched a ride back to our house and Cashew and Wendy were exposed. Then the virus was passed along to the rest of the litter. Dr. Bonner doesn’t think this is likely because there are only a few known fatal dog viruses which she tested for (such as Parvo). But perhaps Cashew’s body was still weakened from the parasites. Perhaps it was a combination of the parasites and a virus, not normally fatal, that killed him.
I’ll never know for sure what the cause of this illness was but it’s a reminder to me to make a point of watching even my older foster puppies eat at least once a day. After starting them on the Panacur and Albon the puppies began eating well and I didn’t watch them as closely. And in just a matter of days, Cashew became dangerously, fatally ill. Cashew was a beautiful sweet puppy with a lovely couple waiting to give him a wonderful home. It pains me to have lost him, to have let them all down.
This past Friday, Saturday and Sunday, adopters for all the puppies came to fill out adoption contracts, pay adoption fees and bring their puppies home. Even Abby found a loving family. The house is quiet now. No sounds of Abby begging to get a break from her puppies, no whining from puppies begging to be picked up. I always think I’m going to be relieved to have them all gone but find myself missing them instead. All our own four cats and two dogs happy though, I have time to give them loving caresses again.
Friday, the last afternoon we were together, I finally had a free moment, so I took some pictures and videos of them happy and healthy together one last time: