Whole Dog Journal's Blog November 16, 2017

Thoughts on Puppy Development

Posted at 10:59AM - Comments: (4)

I’m fostering a (heartworm-positive) mama hound and her seven puppies for one of my favorite breed rescues, the American Black and Tan Coonhound Rescue. It’s my first foray back into puppy-fostering since the epic Great Dane mama and litter of 11 fostering experience, which wiped me out in terms of time, energy, and even spare cash for a while. After that litter, which came to me underweight and sickly, and had to undergo treatment for coccidia and giardia, I took a break from fostering puppy litters for a while.

But I couldn’t resist this bunch: They came from an open-admission shelter north of me by 90 miles or so, and were “pulled” by the ABTCR, whose Western-U.S. coordinator is about 90 miles south of me . . . I was in the middle, see? I had to help!

10 days old, barely more than grubs

The mom had come into the shelter in early October, super skinny and yet obviously pregnant, with grossly long nails – and a heartworm infection. She had her pups in the shelter on October 17, and the shelter put out a call for help. The ABCTR responded, and then asked its volunteers for assistance (which is where I stepped up). The group will see to it that Mama is treated for her heartworm infection once the pups are weaned, and get all the pups vaccinated, microchipped, neutered, and adopted – all in good time.

13 days

In the meantime, I get to play with the puppies (which is fun) and the mom (less fun). Mama isn’t house-trained – I’m not sure she’s ever been in a house, judging from her worry-free propensity for jumping up on the kitchen counters when I’m preparing food. She also guards her food, even from her own babies, which is maybe understandable given her extreme thinness. I hope as she gets comfortable and in good weight, she’ll relax a bit.

The mom and the puppies were delivered to me by a shelter volunteer when the pups were 10 days old; that makes them the youngest puppies I’ve fostered. Almost all the rest of the puppies I’ve ever fostered were about three weeks old when I got them, and what an incredible difference there is between 10 days and 21 days! These guys were sort of grub-like – fat, gooey pups, eyes mostly closed, only able to sort of wobble and roll toward mom, spending all their time either eating or sleeping.

20 days, brighter and more competent by the day

At two weeks, worried that a couple of the pups weren’t getting enough to eat, I offered them formula. I didn’t know that at that age, they didn’t yet have an instinct or ability to lap at liquids offered to them; all they could do was suck. I gave the littlest ones some formula in a puppy bottle (you know, a baby bottle for puppies), and kept trying. The puppies were all wild when offered the formula; they’d get frantic and start lunging toward it. But they had absolutely no ability to lap it up, until one day, at about three weeks old, they did. No more bottles needed.

21 days, brighter and more competent by the day

Other developments happen daily, like magic. Their eyes opened, and daily, it’s clear they could see more and farther. Their vocalizations went from simple whimpering when hungry or cold, to include yelps when mom steps on them, and then playful growls at each other, and now, barks of alarm or excitement. They used to poop and pee anywhere and everywhere; then, one day, they started exiting the warm crate where their bed is and going out in the kennel (bedded with wood shavings) to poop and (most of the time) to pee.

Ten days ago, humans were just enormous things they didn’t really comprehend; now, at 30 days old, when they see people, they come running and tumbling toward the humans, eager to be petted and picked up and cuddled. It happened overnight, I swear.

29 days, and they want to be with people now

I was dismayed to see that they have already developed the ability to remember scary things. The other day, I was removing some damp bedding from the crate (still a few bed-wetters among them) as the mom was eating her food outside the pen, and the pups were eating their (supplemental) food inside the pen. I carried the laundry about 10 feet away to the laundry room, took some things out of the dryer and folded them, added more to a load in the washer, and stepped out of the room just in time to see that the mom had finished her food, and was finishing theirs . . . and boom! She dramatically barked and snapped at one of the puppies who was still trying to eat its food. All the puppies yipped and ran into the crate; the one who got snapped at was so shaken, she missed the door of the crate and instead stood, trembling and cringing and trying to disappear in the corner of the pen. Although the pups still all dive toward their mom when she lays down with them for nursing, I swear they are all wary now when she walks among them in the pen.

Watching this incredibly fast development makes me realize how much, for better or worse, our puppies experience long before we usually get our hands on them. Were they raised in a scary, unpredictable place, subject to loud, clashing noises and other frightening stimuli? Was the environment stripped down and devoid of different textures, substrates, heights, and toys to experience, and people and other animals to see? Did they have a nice mom, or a scary one, or only minimal contact with their mother? It’s fascinating to ponder.

We can only do what we can do, and of course I’ll try to give this bunch of darling puppies the best possible experiences for the next couple of months – and stay more alert to protecting them from Mama when she’s eating. Sheesh. 


Comments (4)

May I inquire what treatment you will seek for her heartworm infection? I live in Maine and adopted a heartworm-positive dog from Tennessee and had a horrible time trying to find a vet to work with me on following the Southern protocol. At last we found a wonderful holistic vet 100 miles away who has a dog from Texas who underwent the doxycycline protocol and who is willing to follow it.

Considering the benefits of the doxycycline protocol I do not understand why northeastern vets are still committed to poisoning dogs with arsenic. Our dog also has dysplasia and I cannot imagine keeping her basically immobile for weeks on end (I can't imagine keeping any dog immobile!). Are the vet schools here just so far behind the times?

Posted by: Dogtowner | November 24, 2017 11:14 AM    Report this comment

What a caring person you are to foster these puppies. Our dog, Trixie, showed up in our yard just after Christmas last year. She would wolf down her food in seconds, but she never guarded her food and still doesn't to this day. We learned about a month after having her, noticing she was gaining quite a lot of weight, she was about six weeks pregnant. But hadn't detected it only took her in to be checked out. So I had about two weeks notice of her impending birth. I started reading up on the Internet and learning what to do. Unfortunately we didn't realize how far along she was and didn't get her quite prepared, so a week after she had her puppies she suffered hypocalcemia and almost died. She was no longer allowed to nurse the puppies. My husband and I had to take over the feeding. They did not like nor take to a bottle. The vet said to start them on mushy, soft food. Believe it or not at one week they could eat very mushy food with lots of puppy formula in it . Unfortunately, the frequent feedings and the number of them, 10, just exhausted us. We couldn't keep it up and we had to turn them over to the rescue group. Plus, mom is having issues that she could not feed the puppies and trying to keep them separate was hard to do. Mom did mourn them for a short time, but she is now healthy and happy and as far as I know all the puppies are healthy and have been adopted. I applaud all who take in rescues and also have to feed puppies. It's a lot of work.

Posted by: shelley8492 | November 16, 2017 9:51 PM    Report this comment

Raising a litter is an amazing experience! Doing it right is also extremely rewarding and exhausting.

I highly recommend the video, "Puppy Culture" produced by Jane Killion. It is very informative and entertaining.

Posted by: janee | November 16, 2017 1:10 PM    Report this comment

What a great learning experience and thanks for sharing. It has been a number of years since we had a litter or two and this brought back memories.

Posted by: BMA0625 | November 16, 2017 12:39 PM    Report this comment

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