I think if more people understood what could happen, they'd think twice about breeding. I ruminated on it a long time, read plenty, and decided to go ahead. I had no idea that all those sections on emergencies, infections, and life-threatening conditions would apply to me! The one sentence that almost prevented me from going ahead was this one: "Are you prepared to lose your bitch?" My answer of course was NO-maybe I was lucky after all.
We had decided to breed Jazz long before a pet psychic kept repeating that Jazz wanted puppies. "She keeps saying, 'Puppies, puppies, puppies!'" exclaimed the psychic. I'll admit Jazz did get the pink collar she asked for, and the carrot at lunch time, but the puppies? Well, that was my decision.
Ch. Calkerry's All That Jazz
The mating was done by her handler, but though Jazz was willing, her chosen was not. The machoe attention he lavished on other bitches in season he did not bestow on Jazz. Whether it was the excitement of the show the day before, the all-night trip home, or the headiness of his wins, his interest in my girl was decidedly cool. The best we got was a 7-minute "hold-on tie," a new term to me, but descriptive enough to not require further explanation. This 7-minute hold-on tie (which is next to nothing in most canine breedings) and a last-ditch effort by the sire's breeder resulted in a statistically impossible whelping, which is another story entirely. What happened after the 7 puppies were born is the subject of this story. I've been told that this story, too, is statistically impossible-surely for the same litter, and surely for the hapless first-time . . . er, one-time breeder. So if you're thinking of breeding, read on!
At 1 week
After the whelping, Jazz had all the normal discharges and then some. All the right colors appeared, but not necessarily in the right order. We monitored this closely. Things weren't quite as right as we wanted them. She also developed a case of diarrhea that knew no tomorrow. Jazz, being Jazz, had consumed all the placentas and was paying dearly for it. Keeping her clean was a nightmare.
I might add that during this time, we were receiving what was to be 300% above normal rainfall. So every time dear Jazz dragged herself outside, she returned cold and soaked. This meant towel drying and warming before she could return to her puppies. The threats of flooding were real, and we worried about losing our electricity-and heat, on which the puppies lives depended. We decided to name one of the pups "Stormy," but that, like the floods and loss of electricity, never happened.
We somehow survived the first week of puppyhood. It came time for Barbara Wright-my mentor and pillar of strength, Jazz's breeder and midwife, and life-saver to both of us-to leave for home in Arkansas. That, of course, is when the trouble began. Later that day, my husband and I were peering intently in the whelping box (Seven! I couldn't count that high!), when Jazz abruptly got up and laid on the vinyl floor. Although she was hot and panting, she started shivering, then shaking. Within minutes she came down with convulsions and a soaring temperature, which almost always means eclampsia (a lack of calcium which can kill the bitch within hours if not treated). This happened, in typical Jazz tradition, late at night on a weekend, but I was able to get a vet and rushed her in for emergency treatment.
It was metritis (an infection of the uterus), in her case caused not by a retained placenta or contaminated instruments used during delivery, but probably by prolonged labor that contaminated the birth canal (which was dilated much too long). While this, too, can be a life-threatening condition, her case apparently was not acute and was treated with an injection and antibiotics. By the way, a symptom of this condition can include refusal to eat-which of course did not apply to Jazz. She also continued to clean and care for her puppies throughout the illness. This was something we had worried about, because often bitches who are . . . ah hem, spoiled, are not much interested in their puppies. Jazz was a good mother.
By the next week, when the puppies were about 2 weeks old, I noticed that one of her back teats was becoming hard and lumpy, i.e. swollen. Back to the vet. This time it was acute septic mastitis (an infection of the mammary gland). This was most likely caused by the earlier metritis, meaning the infection was blood-borne and not a result of bacteria entering the breast tissue from a scratch wound caused by puppy claws. (We trimmed puppy toenails every Sunday morning without fail!) Mastitis. Jazz was obviously going through the M's in my veterinary handbook. In any event, we took the teat off-line (with a jumbo bandaid) and quickly learned it was the one everybody wanted! We also massaged the gland, applied heat, and administered antibiotics. And yes, mastitis, too, usually causes the bitch to refuse food, but again, this did not apply to my Jazz.
The puppies continued to nurse, the front two teats developed more milk, and everybody but Jazz seemed healthy and happy. But with 7 hungry puppies and 5 operating teats, there wasn't enough to go around. So we supplement-fed. Alternating between Esbilac (artificial bitch's milk) and homemade formula (dubbed the "Calkerry formula"), the two of us hand-fed 7 puppies every 2 hours. We consoled ourselves in the wee hours: we were bonding with the puppies, we were providing early socialization, we were helping Jazz, we were exhausted! Between feedings, we made formula, changed the whelping box, did interminable loads of laundry, massaged the mammary gland, fed and cleaned Jazz, changed her bandage, weighed the puppies, made sure they were warm and cozy, and dozed. We lived in the twilight zone.
At 3 weeks
Then, despite our best efforts, the mastitis spread to the other back teat about 5 days later. So it, too, went off-line. But we didn't. Now we had two glands to massage and longer feedings (though now they were spaced every 3-4 hours). We went through countless cans of Esbilac and condensed milk, and up to 15 eggs a day. The puppies were thriving. They continued to gain weight-over a pound a week!-and continued to nurse. We wanted them to get as much immunity as possible from their mother's milk-the one thing not contained in the Calkerry formula. But when they reached 3 weeks old, we reached our last alternative: weaning.
At 3 weeks
From mush to gruel to ground kibble to "real" puppy food, the weeks flew by. Jazz improved. The puppies remained vibrantly healthy and loaded with energy. In fact, with the exception of a very mild case of diarrhea and one mattered eye, the pups grew up according to the textbook. They were our little miracles. Nevertheless, I became "customer of the year" at the vet's office.
At 10 weeks
A year has passed, and the puppies continue to thrive. All have become incorrigible chow hounds-a fact we credit to the Calkerry formula and their mother's genes. But what happened between then and now involves yet another story, also statistically impossible. That one, however, is still in the making.