Got Milk, Or Not?
During our five years of breeding Pomskies, there have been a few times when our mamas have not been able to nurse the puppies. It is absolutely terrifying to have the lives of helpless puppies literally in our hands. We have been very fortunate in all of these cases to have access to other mothers who have been able to nurse our babies. However, this is not as easy as it sounds. There is a process that we go through to ensure that the surrogate mama has accepted the puppies as her own. While some dogs would take puppies without any issues, we do not take the chance.
Most recently, we had this experience with Nova’s litter. Nova is a gorgeous Husky, sweet and mellow and loving. She is a good mother, and very gentle. A few days before she was due, I noticed that she wasn’t as perky as normal and seemed lethargic. By the next morning, she was refusing to eat. Even though this can be a sign of labor, my gut knew that it was not okay in this case. We rushed her to the vet where it was determined that her body wasn’t handling the large pregnancy (9 puppies) well and that if we didn’t do a c-section as soon as possible, she would die. As in all of these cases, the health of my mamas is always ahead of the puppies. We prepared for the surgery, knowing that the puppies may or may not be strong enough to survive outside of their mother.
Our amazing vet is very hands on and allows us to be in the room while they do our c-sections. It is an amazing process, and I feel privileged to be allowed to watch them bring lives into the world in this manner. This particular c-section, I was as cagey as an expectant father, close to tears in fear for Nova and the unexpected with the puppies. One by one, they brought the puppies in, screaming, to be clamped and cleaned up. All nine were healthy, screaming, and looked great! Nova was stitched back up and we were given the devastating news that she had absolutely no milk. Not a drop. I looked at my nine newborns and sighed, knowing that there would be some rough days ahead.
When you take on puppies with no mother to feed them, there is much more to this process than you would think. Newborn puppies must be fed every two to three hours – depending on how well they are gaining. Not only that, but the mother dog stimulates them to urinate and defecate for the first few weeks of life; without this, they can have blockages and die. Without the mama being able to care for them, it was our job to do all of this. Nine puppies is A LOT of puppies to feed and bathroom. Bottle feeding is an absolute nightmare and extremely risky because they are high risk to aspirate and get pneumonia.
Knowing all of this, I began to weigh my options. We had a few litters born two weeks previously, but the mama dogs had decent sized litters and I didn’t want to cause them to not have enough nutrients for themselves after feeding too many puppies. There is also the risk of eclampsia, or extreme calcium depletion, which can be very dangerous. Then, my thoughts went to Moana, our Pomsky mama with only one puppy.
Moana is one of our larger Pomskies, between 28-32 lbs, depending on the season. She was bred a bit later than normal this time and only had one puppy as a result. Honestly, she was a bit bored, with only one baby.. I have never used her as a surrogate before and wasn’t sure how she would react. The way we transplant puppies to another mother is we do supervised feedings every 2-3 hours. During those feedings, we hold the mama’s head so that she can’t make any sudden movements toward the puppies. With not having her own scent on the new puppies, there is danger of her rejecting them and injuring the puppies. These supervised feedings are over the time frame of at least 24-36 hours, enough time for the scent of the surrogate (Moana) to be on the puppies and for them to be pooping her milk – which she hopefully recognizes as her own scent and she will accept the puppies.
As you can probably imagine, this is a long, arduous process and the sleep deprivation is intense. We began to do the feeds every 3 hours.
Moana reacted better than any other dog I have ever done this process with. She seemed to understand that the puppies needed her. When I came to the room with the basket of puppies, she immediately flopped over and allowed them access. During this time, I worked with the puppies to teach them to properly latch and stay latched so that they could drink adequate amounts of the milk. I weighed the puppies every few feedings to make sure they were gaining and allowed the smaller ones to have first access so that they wouldn’t lose weight. With nine puppies, we had them on her in two different shifts so that they would all be able to eat and I could keep track of them.
After about 36 hours, Moana became interested in being more than just a “bottle” for the puppies. They smelled like her and she began to bathroom them as if they were her own. We knew that it was time. We let her puppy “Ranger” sleep with them in their basket for a few hours, then transferred all of them to the whelping area. We brought Moana into the room and she immediately walked over (we were watching closely) and settled down so that all of her puppies could eat. Voila.
A lot of work and prayers, but our sweet girl took them over like a champ. All ten of the puppies are doing well, and we have supplemented her with extra calories and calcium to handle nursing such a large litter. This was truly the best-case scenario in this situation. While bottle feeding can work, it is much better for a mother dog to care for the puppies so that they will have the natural nurturing and care that they need. They are now three weeks old and thriving, all are toddling around and learning to walk/run. Moana is a watchful mama and is never very far away from them. Nova has recovered very well and will be spayed and retired this spring.