And Then There Were… Eleven?!

Instead of publishing a Munchy Monday post yesterday, I spent my day caring for Duchess as she delivered her very first litter. It was an exciting (and exhausting) 24 hours! Things didn’t go quite according to plan, but everything seems to have turned out well.

I was expecting the puppies to be born the end of this week, so I was a bit surprised when I started noticing some signs of labor Sunday, only 58 days from her first breeding. This is not unheard of, but often delivery happens closer to days 61-63, or if it’s Mia- 65. I was expecting 5-8 puppies, based on an ultrasound done at 4 weeks pregnant.

Duchess lost her appetite over the weekend, and I noticed that her belly dropped. Her waistline and hips were a bit more prominent, suggesting the puppies were getting in position to be born. This meant delivery was close, but not necessarily imminent. Things could still drag on a few more days. I hadn’t seen the temperature drop that indicates delivery within 24 hours, but I had also missed a few temperature readings, so I couldn’t be sure.

Then Sunday evening, I saw green discharge, which is usually not a good sign. Green means that a placenta is detaching. Premature detachment can mean a dead puppy, which can create labor complications. Usually, the only time there is green discharge is after the birth of puppy. If it’s before birth or, in this case, before labor even, it’s not a good sign. It’s not necessarily an emergency, but it’s definitely a red flag.

Sooooo, I stayed up most of the night Sunday, thinking that the puppies would be coming that night. Duchess was restless, but clearly not in active labor. I went to bed around 3am. I was extremely grateful for the small blessing that Reese decided to sleep in until 9! That gave me a few precious hours of rest.

Monday was a tiring day. One cup of coffee wasn’t really enough. Not only did Duchess need a lot of attention, Reese is currently teething. So I had two very needy companions for the day.

Monday morning brought a tough decision. It had been 12 hours since I saw green discharge, but we still didn’t have any puppies. I finally saw the temperature drop, though, letting me know that labor was definitely beginning. Should we take her to the vet for an ultrasound and x-ray to try to diagnose a problem or should we wait to see if nature would take care of things. Dead puppies aren’t all that uncommon, although they can cause problems. Many times, everything is fine. The dead puppy is delivered and causes no harm to mom or siblings. However, if the puppy dies too long before birth, it can create problems in utero. Also, dead puppies are harder for a mama to deliver, possibly resulting in a c-section and/or the death of other puppies due to stress.

Duchess didn’t seem to be stressed, so we decided to take the “wait and see” route. I don’t like to rush into things like c-sections or other interventions. If nature is allowed to take its course, it often does a fine job. I like to give it the chance, but I was prepared to make an emergency trip to the vet if things didn’t progress well.

During the day Monday, Duchess was restless and uncomfortable but not stressed. She wanted to go out to the bathroom frequently. She was nesting. She was clingy. I was desperately hoping for birth to happen during the day, so I could get a decent night of rest.

Around 6:30pm, active labor began. The first four puppies were born alive and healthy. The fifth puppy, however, was the trouble maker. This puppy had died before birth. Thankfully, it was recent. The puppy looked almost totally normal, indicating it hadn’t been dead very long. The longer a puppy is dead in the womb, the greater the chance of it creating other complications. I do think, though, that this puppy’s death triggered labor a few days early.

After the dead puppy was born, I could tell Duchess wasn’t finished. But I wasn’t prepared for just how many were still waiting to be born. They just kept coming and coming and coming until approximately 9:30pm. She had eleven puppies total, with ten of them surviving! This is going to be a busy place in a few weeks!

I have a couple of smaller puppies, with one in particular I am concerned about. The smallest puppy was born very weak. She kept getting pushed away, and she didn’t have the strength to try to nurse even with my help. She was dehydrated and fading quickly. Even in just two hours, she was becoming weaker, so I made an emergency trip to get Nurti-stat from a friend, a high-calorie liquid supplement. I gave her a small dose around 10pm, and she was soon able to nurse a bit. It was very weak, but it was better than not at all. By the time I gave her the next dose at 11pm, I could already tell a difference. Her body was warm, and her skin no longer looked dehydrated. Her sucking was significantly stronger. We will see what the next day or two holds for her. Runts in a large litter like this often struggle to survive.

This is one of those instances where intervention is necessary. I’ll be bottle feeding her and continuing with the Nutri-stat, but I am currently leaving her with Duchess and her littermates. I don’t want to bottle feed her full time. My goal is to give enough supplementation to give her the strength to nurse. Mama’s milk, especially the colostrum produced in the first 24 hours, is the best thing for puppy. Colostrum is what gives puppies immunity from diseases like parvo until the puppies’ own immune systems are developed. No other supplement or milk replacer can come close to mama’s milk. Even if this puppy only nurses half of the time, she is still getting some beneficial immunities from Duchess’s milk.

This is what breeding and raising puppies looks like. I am currently minus nearly two nights of sleep. I’ll be spending majority of the next few days hand-raising a weak puppy and weighing and monitoring the others. I’ll be carefully observing Duchess and tracking her temperature to make sure she recovers well. Breeding is not an easy business, but it’s definitely a rewarding one. I know there are a lot of people out there who criticize breeders, thinking that they only care about money. I really wish those critics could see behind the scenes. I know there are some bad breeders out there who do view their dogs and puppies only as a money source; but most of us really do care. Our dogs are our family. We pour an immeasurable amount of time and tears into each dog and each puppy. We lose sleep and sometimes sanity in an effort to help a puppy pull through. We spend hours each day caring for the daily needs of our adult dogs. We are always searching for ways to make our dogs happier and healthier. We are rewarded by the love of our dogs, by the warm snuggles of a puppy, and the by the happiness of the families who take our puppies. Yes, we depend on the income from our puppies to help support our own families, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a demanding job, but I love every step of way.

Here are some pictures from yesterday.


Duchess getting ready. She insisted on carrying around the stuffed puppy and having it in her nest.


First puppy!


Trying to help the runt nurse



All the babies! Can you count ten?


A very tired mama getting some well-deserved rest


That’s all for today, folks! I’ll post an update on the puppies in a few days! Have a happy week!


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