This is a difficult post to write. This morning I said good bye to one of the puppies.
Two days ago I woke to find one of the puppies lying apart from the others. She was pale with bluish nose and toes, and was arching her back and paddling with all four feet. I have seen this before in ducklings that get wet and become hypothermic, so I assumed that was what happened to Finch.
I warmed her up and, sure enough, she started to behave normally again. Fortunately one of my goats was heavily pregnant so I was able to get a little fresh goat milk and feed that to the puppy. Within a couple of hours she was back to the nest and nursing along side her siblings.
That may have been where I went wrong. Likely I should have kept her apart, in a little box with a heating pad, feeding her by hand, and monitoring her progress. She seemed fine, but neonates are so fragile that I should have erred on the side of caution.
Later the same afternoon I had to go out for a couple of hours, and when I got home I once again found Finch pushed out of the nest, pale, cold, and paddling.
This time she didn’t bounce back with warmth and feeding. Try as I might, I wasn’t able to turn this pup around. By 2am I was exhausted (I have not slept more than a couple of hours at a stretch since the puppies were born) and resigned to the loss of life. I put Finch back in with her mother and siblings to spend what time she had left with them, and went to bed.
Several hours later I was awakened by a crying baby. Sure enough, there was Finch lying in the cold by herself. Kes was clear on her decision. So I tucked the puppy into my pyjama top and climbed back into bed.
Much to my surprise, she was still alive when I woke up. OK, I decided, if you want to stick around, I will do whatever I can to help. And so I started researching and consulting with others: experienced breeders and health practitioners with both human and veterinary neonatal experience.
Here a few things I learned about neonatal emergency puppy care (ETA: This list may change periodically as I add new insights, so that I compile as comprehensive a list as possible, all in one place, for future reference):
- The core temperature of the puppy needs to be at least 98F, otherwise its digestive system won’t work.
- If the digestive system isn’t working, the puppy will go into shock from hypoglycaemia, even if you feed her.
- You have to raise their body temperatures slowly, and it takes a long time to thoroughly warm them. If they’re really cold, you can gently warm them in a water bath.
- Neonates need to be fed every 2 hours, around the clock.
- They need to be fed 1cc for every ounce of body weight. Finch was 6oz, so I fed 6ccs every 2 hours.
- In addition to goat milk (or puppy milk replacer), liver water (the water from boiled liver) and homemade electrolyte solutions should be mixed into the feedings to balance minerals, fluids, and electrolytes.
- Tube feeding is the safest way to feed them, albeit scary and unpleasant to administer, and also potentially quite dangerous if done wrong. Here is the brilliant video I watched to learn how to do this medical procedure.
- You want to see a 10% increase in weight, daily, for healthy growth. This is a helpful metric because bigger puppies will gain weight faster than small ones, but as long as you see the 10% increase they are likely on track for proper development.
Once thoroughly educated I went into high gear trying do save this baby. I took her temperature, I over came my terror of tube feeding, I milked my goat, I boiled liver, I filled hot water bottles, I carried her around against my skin, I learned how to burp a baby that can fit in the palm of my hand, I figured out how to make her pee and poop regularly, I trained myself to sleep without moving so as to not crush such fragility.
She still didn’t make it.
I’ll never know if I could have saved her had I known all of the above sooner. If I had jumped to it right from the start, warming and feeding and burping and carrying this baby from the moment I first found her pushed out of the nest.
I wondered what I would do if she survived. How could I part with her after going through such an ordeal together? Would she have a fear of hands, or having her mouth touched, after all that miserable tube feeding? Would she grow up to be strong, or always be sickly and weak? If I did place her in a home, with whom? Someone just wanting a pet, and prepared for potential problems?
I’ll never know the answers. And maybe I’m not meant to. Maybe Kes knew all along how things were going to turn out, and tried to make a quick end of the inevitable. Maybe my impulse to save her was misdirected.
Maybe this baby was meant to be a teacher to me about neonatal care, then go on her way to whatever lies ahead. Certainly the knowledge and skills I have gained in the last 72 hours will serve me well not only with future puppies, but with my lambs and goats and all the other animals I care for on my farm.
For all of this I am grateful, little Finch, and I will miss you forever even though we only knew each other for a few hours. Please forgive me for tube feeding you, they told me it was necessary. I love you. Goodbye.