Anyone who is following us on Twitter will notice that crisis time at the doggery results in lots of Tweets but not many postings!
This story will help bring others up to date.
We seemed to have bounced from one crisis to another in the past two weeks. This has coincided with us getting help in the doggery (welcome Marrianne and Jen!) and settling people into various duties. Interestingly, I have only realised how much work it takes to breed the doggies when I had to start itemising the chores for others to follow. Lots.
We have just had two difficult whelpings which have really followed on a couple of difficult ones last year too, as some will remember. A week or so ago we had Bridie who needed a C-Section in the end and then Suzie Cute was in difficulty yesterday too.
Time to quit?
Those who know us will know that becoming breeders has not be an easy path to take for many reasons. But our passion is such that we have survived a lot over the last six years to finally get our set up to the level we envisioned a long time ago.
I think most would describe as as highly committed people and, with this in mind, I think you can get a sense the angst and distress I experienced yesterday in the wee hours and beyond when yet another of our girls was having birthing troubles. She was fine in herself (not in discomfort), but basically the pregnancy was not progressing. We had yet another case of no-action, known as ‘uterine inertia’.
Getting better – sharing info
The difficult deliveries we experienced in the latter half of last year set me on a path to identify what possibly could be causing this. I have dachshund breeder friends and they don’t have these problems, so it’s not a ‘dachshund’ thing. Moreover, our dogs are young, healthy and genetically diverse, so the fact that a few of them displayed the same thing is too much of a coincidence to be coincidental, if you get my point. Not to mention the fact that we haven’t experienced this until quite recently in our six years as breeders.
Clearly I had to expand my knowledge and more closely monitor everything. I started by getting an utlrasound machine so I could examine the pups in utero. A dear breeder friend from interstate has taken many many hours (sometimes in the middle of the night) to share everything she has discovered over many years and she has been invaluable to me, both as a technical adviser and support person as this is incredibly stressful stuff for those involved.
Add to this my vet friend and colleague and the stage was set for some big leaps forward. Problem is there have been red herrings along the way that have diverted me from homing in on the root of the problem – until yesterday. Finally.
An obvious factor that can cause uterine inertia is calcium imbalance. Tricky bit here it this can be too much or too little: both are bad.
If you give too much calcium prior to whelping, the bitch fails to mobilise her own calcium because you have inadvertantly supressed the hormone that achieves this. This mobilisation of calcium in her body is used by the uterine muscles to contract.
Give her too little, and she mightn’t have the necessary calcium reserves to mobilise.
After my third C-Section late last year, I requested a calcium test to see if it was a calcium imbalance at play. The pathology result came back as ‘normal’, so naturally I ruled out calcium imbalance as the problem.
Radiographer in shining armour
I knew an important tool would be getting better at using the ultrasound machine. This recently happened thanks totally to an incredibly generous radiographer who didn’t feel the need to hang up on the stranger who called him to ask if he would consider teaching her how to use her machine – and on dogs!
Now I don’t know what you think, but I reckon it takes a pretty special kind of professional to cheerfully agree to a random request to impart their 5 years of uni training in the field of human radiography to a dog breeder in the space of one 30 minute or so session. But – remarkably, this is what happened.
The radiographer came out and showed me on my machine how to detect foetal heart rates. What’s more, he was gracious enough to be impressed by my $1400 machine from Singapore. I did offer to swap mine for his machine back at his clinic, but he declined.
Foetal heart rate monitoring was emerging as a key determinant to knowing where the labour was at wrt pushing alarm buttons for medical intervention.
My breeder friend said her vet routinely monitors a bitch with whelping problems in this way. Foetal heart rate between 220 to 250 beats per minute (bpm) is normal, but if it drops to 170 or lower, it’s time for medical intervention. The pups must be fetched or they are at risk of dying.
My vet friend found some current references on this very topic and confirmed that foetal heart rate was a good guide to the state of the progress of the whelping. Although this reference said it can drop as low as 130 bpm before the pups must be fetched out surgically.
At last! I had a measure to ensure I could better know what decisions to make. By this I mean the decision to get a C-Section done had always been one with a question mark that no one could seem to answer for me. That is, was I intervening too early? Were the C-Sections unnecessary and a normal birth could have followed had I just waited that bit long? This was an invidious position to be in and now – it was history! I could measure heart rate at home in the kitchen and make an informed call regarding intervention.
Still having problems
I might have a secured myself a new objective measure to making the call for medical intervention (in the form of C-Sections), but I hadn’t yet overcome the reason for the problems. At least I’d ruled out that I was hitting the panic button unnecessarily. For now I had hard data to show the call was necessary.
Bridie came into labour about two weeks ago now. Our girls get stationed in our ensuite when they are a couple of weeks out so we have them nearby at all times (huge corner spa very handy; add dog occupancy of said bath to the fact that pups chewed through the external pump tube and the one-time dream of luxuriating in a foamy spa with a glass of champas has become about as far away as it gets!).
Another key determinant of labour starting is a drop in temperature. This is very marked: the temperature drops from 100 degrees F to 98. This is because progesterone has dropped off and this is a heat generating hormone.
Within 12 to 24 hours of the temperature dropping, contractions should commence, according to numerous references sources (some say 2 to 12 hours).
Nothing happened with Bridie in this time frame. Accordingly, I kept monitoring foetal heart rates to determine if the foetuses were happy. By 30 hours out, foetal heart rates had dropped to 171 bpm and – with conviction this time – I rang the vets to say I needed an emergency C-Section. Out of hours as usual, but at least daytime this time (poor vets!).
So what the heck is going on?
Lots of head scratching by vet friend and breeder friends followed this. Bridie is young, healthy, a good size, has had a litter before no probs etc. In other words, she should have had a very uneventful birthing, not been struck by uterine inertia.
Unfortunately we had yet one more difficult circumstance before the picture would finally become clear.
Suzie Cute, having her first litter, manifested the same pattern not two weeks after bridie.
This was killing me! My poor girls. The labour just never starts. My only comfort was they were not in any discomfort themselves and – as amazing as this sounds – they don’t appear to experience discomfort from a C-Section. I’m not kidding: they don’t lick it, don’t twinge – nothing, and I do look out for this.
But irrespective of my perceptions of their discomfort levels, I of course don’t under any circumstances want to breed dogs if it seriously means subjecting them to C-Sections all the time. An impossible situation.
Night before last I was up all night with precious Suzie Cute. We watched TV together and we got through to 6am and finally a puppy was born. She wasn’t having strong contractions at all and I manually assisted and got puppy out and she was fine. An agonising 2.5 hours passed before I made the call to the vets for another damn intervention.
Unexpectedly, in the car on the way over she had a second. I pulled over twice, delivering the little boy on the Stratford Maffra Road. I called ahead and asked to have the vet staff met me at the door to help with the pups and mum.
Fatigue and desperation had got the better of me and I was in tears demanding help and this and that. I said I didn’t want her to have a C-Section if she had already delivered two pups (albeit drawn out) natually. Couldn’t they do something else? Calcium gluconate?
Calcium gluconate is another tool of whelping I have come to learn about from my breeder colleagues, vet friend and reading. Calcium is essential for the uterus to have strong contractions (as I mentioned earlier on). Oxytocin (used to induce labour in humans as well) is a hormone that increases the frequency of contractions, but it’s of little use without sufficient calcium which is responsible for the strength of the contractions.
The vet set up a calcium gluconate drip for Suzie Cute. Meantime a vet nurse took the two tiny pups and gave them a puff or two of oxygen and warmth while mum was otherwise disposed. Being an expert on detecting foetal heart rate (well, I’m not bad at it) and knowing the huge significance it has on foetal well being I was keen to see what the readings were, so it was all eyes to the ultrasound machine to spot the distinctive flutter of the foetal heart.
The answer arrives
About 15 minutes after the calcium drip started, Suzie Cute commenced powerful contractions and she naturally delivered her last puppy…another little boy.
And herein lay the answer, which was perplexing at the time.
We had, in fact, likely been looking at a calcium imbalance all along as the cause of the uterine inertia.
This was perplexing, because a pathology result ruled out a calcium imbalance months before (as I discussed earlier in this article). When I mentioned this to the vet she advised that blood calcium is actually a poor indicator of a dog’s calcium status.
I felt relieved, naturally, but frustrated at the same time. The test for calcium had served to be worse than no test at all, because it erroneously led me to rule out calcium as a problem.
This is one example of many situations I have discovered as a breeder where there is simply not enough known. This is my most serious situation, but I’ve had others I will write about at some stage, mostly in the hope that other breeders might benefit.
A big part of the lack of knowledge is the fact that the dog breeding sector has no industry levy to fund research. Most other industries have levies on members for R & D and these funds are matched dollar for dollar by the government.
As it stands, we can expect all sorts of DNA tests and pathology tests to come forward because these are developed by those with commercial interests. These two examples are interesting, as I have discovered flaws in the DNA testing (wrt the gene detected not being correlated to the disease as purported) and now it appears the blood calcium test is useful for squat too. Worse than useless, in fact, because you get sent down the wrong path and the dog, the breed and the breeder all suffer.
It’s only when you get industry driven research that the real issues facing the sector are addressed. Slowly things will change as our industry starts to grow.
Lots of positives have come from the last horrendous couple of weeks and days.
Thanks to my breeder colleagues and vet friend, we are now calling on the very latest references to write a whelping protocol that all can call upon. I will publish it here when we have perfected it and any breeder can make use of it.
To give you an idea, it will involve the temperature drop in the bitch, timing, monitoring foetal heart rates and – if we can swing it – contraction strengths too, plus a strictly puppy-food only diet for mum in her last trimester, calcium gluconate on hand and so on (including match sticks for the human’s eyelids).
Lots of heroes in this story. Not the least that wonderful radiographer … think I can ask him to show me how to measure contractions on my u-beaut ultrasound machine? (!)