In January of 1990 I had two large litters of pups (21 total puppies) at my kennel facility in Wisconsin. On January 14th they started to die. Before the nightmare was over I lost 6 puppies and spent $2,400.00 in veterinary bills. This article is about the changes I made in my breeding program to insure that something like this never happens to me again. I really think other breeders can benefit from what I have learned from this terrible experience.
The story began on December 29, 1989. I had a bitch shipped into my kennel from the East Coast. She brought with her a new strain of Parvo. Even though this bitch never came in contact with my four whelping rooms, my puppies still got sick.
Up until then I had been a lucky breeder. In 33 years I had never had a sick dog or puppy. When these pups started to get sick they were 6 and 7 weeks old. I will never forget one little female that had caught my eye. I was going to keep her back for breeding. There was something special about her. She was one of the last to get sick and it took 4 days for her to die. Some of the puppies died in 24 hours. This little girl fought for 96 hours. She got sicker and sicker and I did not know what else to do. Every 2 to 3 hours we checked on her and did what the vets asked. In my life I have never seen such sad eyes on a dog. She would look at me and there was no question that she was really hurting. It was terrible. I cried when she died.
When it was over and the shock wore off, I swore I would educate myself so that if something like this ever happened again I would be better prepared.
I started by calling breeder friends of mine all over the United Sates. In the end I came up with a number of changes to my puppy program. Most of these ideas came from Fidelco Guide dogs in Hartford, Conn. Jodi Potter ran Fidelco's breeding program and has for many years. Fidelco breeds about 10 litters per year. It is an extremely professional dog kennel. They do things right.
I had just built my new kennel facility in the summer of 1989. I thought I had done a good job. We put a Swedish hot water heat system in the floor. The interior walls dividing the kennel runs were glass blocks. The whelping room walls are covered in fiberglass and each whelping room has its own floor drain. They can be disinfected and hosed separately.
After much discussion with Jodi, I decided that I should add an air transfer system to my whelping rooms. We already had 2 windows in the whelping area but she felt that we were not doing a good enough job getting rid of the humidity that was generated from as much hosing as we did. Warm humid air needs to be exhausted quickly in rooms with small puppies.
We installed a Quiet Vent exhaust air system. The unit sells for around $300.00 and the installation was about the same. The Quiet Vent is a 15 inch square box that acts like a large bathroom exhaust fan. We installed 4 inch exhaust pipe near the ceiling in every room we wanted to vent the air from. The Quiet Vent draws air from these rooms and exhausts it outside.
The beauty to the system is that it has a 24 hour run clock. You simply punch buttons on this clock to tell the fan when to turn on and off throughout the day and night. It is extremely simple to operate.
For the previous 15 years the protocol for medical treatment for my litters had been the same. I had wormed my puppies twice. Once at 5 weeks and once again at 7 weeks. We also gave 2 DHL and parvo shots at the same time.
**Since the original writing of this article we have changed our protocol A LOT. The updated version will be listed below as of 2007**
Protocol for Puppies
When this article was originally written we were vaccinating our litters, feeding inferior food (Kibble), and giving them medications whether they needed them or not. We truly believed we were doing the best thing for them, by 'protecting' them with all that medicine and vaccine.
Our views on rearing have made a HUGE change, to promoting health through appropriate food, exercise, no vaccines and a chemical free environment.
Since adopting this philosophy in 2003 we are seeing our litter sizes increase and the health and vigor of the dogs and puppies increase. We just don't have sick dogs anymore!
Having a healthy bitch and a spotlessly clean kennel is the first step in having a healthy litter.
We begin my making sure our females are on an appropriate raw diet before they are even in season. We run a fecal to make sure the bitch is worm free.
We have also found that an athletic, physically fit female has less trouble getting pregnant and easier deliveries. We try to put all our females on an individual exercise program based on their age and condition before breeding.
We avoid any chemicals at all on or around our dogs. This includes flea & tick treatments, strong cleaning chemicals, vaccinations or lawn preparations.
When we do worm puppies, please note we then repeat in 2 weeks. Nemex does not kill worm eggs, so we need to treat in 2 week intervals.
After Pups are born:
We weigh and monitor each pup twice a day for 2 weeks. If we have access to a stool sample, we run a stool analysis.
We used to routinely worm at 14 days old, but now we just monitor the health and well being of mom and puppies.
We no longer worm at 14 days old, I prefer to wait until at least 4 weeks for first worming. (And then only if needed).
At 3 Weeks
We run a fecal and worm with Nemex if necessary. If negative, we do nothing.
At 4 Weeks
We run a follow up fecal, if we see coccidia we begin treatment with Albon. Worm if necessary (if last weeks fecal was negative).
At 5 Weeks
At 6 Weeks
At 7 1/2 Weeks
Puppies are tattooed and selection tested.
We no longer recommend vaccinations at all.
I strongly recommend that you read the article I wrote on vaccinosis if your vet recommends vaccinations.
As you can see, we now do very little to interfere with the growth and development of our puppies. If someone gets sick, we use our experience and knowledge to treat the puppy appropriately. We don't give medications to pups "just in case."
We are trying to develop healthy adult dogs, and by boosting their immune systems naturally and providing the right elements for them to thrive we feel we are truly helping our canine friends and partners live the lives they are meant to.
Coccidiosis and Giardia
Puppies are susceptible to two major types of intestinal parasites other than worms. These are coccidia and giardia. Both can cause diarrhea. A puppy can die from dehydration related to Coccidiosis or Giardia within 24 hours of getting diarrhea. This part of the article is dedicated to Coccidiosis.
Coccidiosis symptoms are:
- Mucus stools
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Bloody Stool
Coccidiosis is diagnosed by identifying the oocyst (eggs) in fresh stools. It's important to understand that coccidia can be found in the stools of normal dogs. They just flare up at times of stress (i.e when pups are weaned, shipped or kept in unclean environments)
Once a dog is diagnosed with coccidiosis there are a couple of options for treatment. Dogs can be treated with coccidiostats. The drug I use in my kennel is Albon (Sulfadimethoxine). Vets can also offer Trimethoprim-sulfa (TMP-SMZ). Your vet may recommend 5 days of treatment. Kennels would want to consider 10 to 14 days of treatment.
The important thing to keep in mind about these drugs is that they do not kill the coccidia that your dog already has, they just stop coccidia from reproducing. The dogs must rely on their immune system to clear the parasite after treatment.
People ask what coccidia is and how their dogs become infected. Coccidiosis is an infection of the intestinal tract by one-celled protozoa. Coccidia spend a portion of their life living in the intestines of the infected dogs. The disease is transmitted to other dogs when uninfected dogs eat the stool of an infected dog. This can happen in any number of ways. Eating stool, licking feet after walking in stool are just a couple.
Picking up stools is part of a preventive program. This can be difficult with litters that live in small areas. Coccidia eggs can live in the environment for two years - so disinfecting your kennel is imperative.
Steam cleaning is by far the best way to disinfect a kennel. If you can remove the dogs from the kennel the ONLY OTHER WAY to kill coccidia is to use a 10% ammonia solution (I do not believe that bleach will do it) - but ammonia can not be used when the dogs are present - this is important.
We have a small steam cleaner that is the best investment I ever made. The whelping rooms need to be steam cleaned from the ceiling to the floor every week. The food bowls need to be sterilized every day.
This is our steamer - it does an excellent job and costs about $250.00
You will notice an immediate increase in energy level after 3 days of preventive treatment with Albon.
We worm our pups 3 times and use different wormers. By sticking with one brand of wormer in your kennel, the worms can become resistant to that particular product. I found this with Strongid-T in my kennel. When this happens you will have to worm once a week.
If the pups have had good weight gain we try and get them into outside exercise yards as soon as possible - larger yards keep the puppies busy - they seem to be less inclined to eat other puppies' stools. In the summer we get them out at about 4 weeks. In the winter we need to work around the weather, but if possible we start putting them out for short periods during the day around 5 weeks.
By 6 1/2 weeks they are outside all the time. We have excellent insulated dog houses with a lot of dry straw available. There are not many germs that can easily reproduce in the cold weather we have in Wisconsin so we try and get the pups outside. We will use the hard plastic heating pads in the dog house. (I would never recommend using a human heating pad - the pups can chew them and this could kill the pup).
I will guarantee any breeder that if they adopt this regimen in their kennel facility they are going to produce healthier puppies. This program deals with internal parasites, it does not cover nutrition. Feeding a quality diet is as important as properly medicating the litters.
Treatment for Sick Puppies
When a pup gets sick there are
two things to do. Treat the symptoms and try and find out why dog got sick. This section deals with treating the symptoms.
You and your vet are going to have to determine what caused the sickness. It could be Parvo, it could be Giardia it could be Coccidiosis or it could be a list of other things that your dogs were unlucky enough to get.
The key to healthy pups starts with running a spotlessly clean kennel facility. Use bleach to clean and you cannot clean enough. We have 5 to 7 spray bottles with beach water sitting around our kitchen and whelping rooms. They get a lot of use.
ALWAYS WATCH YOUR PUPS EAT. Never put food down and walk away. Stay and watch them eat. The first thing a sick puppies does is go off his feed. If you watch them eat you will spot this.
When you suspect a sick pup - put it in a dog crate by itself. It may scream for awhile - cover the crate with a blanket so the pup cannot see what's going on around the crate. This will often calm the pup.
Keep this crate sanitized. Have a spray bottle of beach and water sitting on top of the crate. Have newspapers in the crate and change them every time the pup pees or poops. When you take the paper out spray the crate with beach water and wipe it down. Do this EVERY TIME YOU take the dog out of the crate.
Wear rubber gloves when you touch the other pups. Every time you touch a sick pup WASH YOUR HANDS. We have the hand sanitizer on top of the crate. The pups get fresh clean towels to lay on at least twice a day - that's if they look clean. If they look dirty they are changed more often.
This is what our crate looks like - paper towels, hand sanitizer,
gloves and paper towels. When it's always there you will use it.
When you come to your pups in the morning always shower and wear fresh clean cloths. Take care of the healthy pups first and then deal with the sick ones.
If you are unlucky and have sick pups the first thing to do is to talk to your vet. Take the pup's temp so you can tell the vet. Take a stool sample to the vet. Ask for a standard fecal test and a Parvo test.
Learn to recognize a dehydrated pup. Their skin is not as elastic as a healthy pup, their noses get dry, their eyes look sad, and they don't have the bounce of a healthy pup.
When a pup gets dehydrated it can die in 24 hours. Your job is to make sure that does not happen. Switch the dog from water to Pedia-lite. The water bowls and food bowls need to be washed every day - Pedia-lite is not cheap - but throw it out every morning and use fresh.
Sometime pups will not drink water or Pedia-lite but they will drink chicken broth. We will offer this just like water. We also fill ice cube trays with chicken broth. Sick pups will often lick frozen ice cubes - or frozen broth cubes. Try them both.
When a pup will not even drink we will fill a 35 CC syringe with Pedia-lite and try squirting it in the side of the pup's mouth (not down the back of his throat or it could inhale it and develop lung problems).
If pups throw up or have diarrhea and don't drink enough fluids to compensate for the loss, they become dehydrated. When that happens we put IV fluids (lactated ringers) under the skin with an IV set and a one inch size 18 needle.
Giving IV ringers sub-q is a 2 or 3 person job, depending on how wild the pup is. We warm the bag of fluids to body temp by putting it in a plastic tub of hot water. You would never want to put cold fluid in a sick pup. With a 6 week old German Shepherd pup we put 100 to 150 CC in the pup's side or back. It goes just under the skin - not in the muscle. They look like a camel for awhile until the body absorbs the fluid.
When I am giving IV ringers I always mark the bag before I start to squeeze the bag. If you have to do several pups is easy to forget exactly where you started so the bag gets marked at the start of each pup. In this case we were treating 7 1/2 week old pups with Coccidiosis.
This is done once a day in most pups. When a pup will not eat or drink I will give it fluids twice a day.
VERY IMPORTANT - Learn to Give Sub-Q Fluids correctly
When the pups will eat their normal food we immediately go to Hills brand I/D or A/D for the very sick dogs. This is a bland food that sick pups can keep down. We will warm the A/D and add Pedia-lite to get it to a warm thick soupy state. Then use a 35 CC syringe to force feed a pup.
Notice the size of the hump on the shoulder of this pup.
It has just got 125 CC of sub-q IV ringer fluids
The way to force feed a pup is to pull the side lip away from the teeth and make a little pouch between the teeth and the gums. Fill that pouch with food and the pup will have to swallow it.
What YOU DO NOT DO IS SQUIRT IT DOWN HIS THROAT. That could end up with the pup inhaling the food into the lungs. When that happens they will get pneumonia and die.
You have to learn do this properly so the pup is swallowing the food. We will try and get 50 to 70 CC of food in a sick pup two or three times a day. A pup can go for a day without food and this is not a bad thing if they have diarrhea. But after a day without eating the breeder needs to think about feeding.
There is a fine line between force feeding pups and giving them so much that they are going to throw up. With experience you will learn to see it in their eyes. It's better to only give a little food 6 times a day and have it stay down than to give a lot and have the pup vomit.
If they puke everything you give them you are going to have to back off the force feeding and go with more sub-q fluids. Again there is some experience required to determine how long a pup can go on sub-q fluids and not eat. You will reach a point where the body starts to shut down and the dog will not absorb the fluids put under the skin. When that happens the dog needs to go to the vet and have an IV put in the blood vessel.
Some things we have found that work for us are:
- We can sometimes get a sick pup that will not drink from a bowl to take Pedia-lite from a syringe when it is squirted into the mouth like we do when we force feed.
We will also mix the Chicken Soup canned food with the kibble to see if the pups will eat it.
If you are a breeder you can determine the quality of your vet by how willing he is to show you how to work with a sick litter or a sick pup. The vet that will not show you how to deal with sick pups is a vet that a breeder needs to replace. A breeder is not in the same category of a pet owner and vets need to realize this. The smart ones will - short sighted ones will watch you walk away and wonder why.
I may be wrong but I don't think an employee of my vet will offer the same TLC to my puppies. I know that I am willing to get up in the middle of the night (more than once) to do what is necessary to help my pups. I also know that vet employees can not do this. I also have to believe that our pups are less stressed in our kennel than they would be in a vet's kennel.
As I said earlier in this article - it does not take long to spend $2,500.00 on a sick litter of pups that has to go to the vet. You can reduce the expense by doing this work yourself. Of course if you have a full time job to go to and no one to help - well maybe you should reconsider breeding as a hobby.
I am redoing my video on how to whelp pups and raise them to 8 weeks of age. In this video I show how to do the things we are talking about in this article. Take it from someone who has walked the walk - you would be advised to be be prepared before a problem starts than try and play catchup after the sh*t hits the fan. You would be better advised to keep a spotless facility than to have to go through a litter of sick pups. Once you have done it one time you will NEVER FORGET IT !
If you ever have a pup with blood in the diarrhea, get it to your vet and on IVs as soon as possible. Don't try and treat it yourself. You are only courting disaster if you do. If you have a pup that has not eaten in 2 days and it's not absorbing the sub-q fluids - take it to the vet.
This article is dedicated to the 6 puppies that died at my kennel in January 1990. They deserved better than they got. You cannot save every pup, but I think I could have saved a couple of those pups had I known then what I know now.
With luck you will end up with pups like this - 7 days before this I was not sure he would make it.