Our Miracle Litter, born 5/25/22, Tux x Asia
To set some framework for this story, I first have to share a few things to provide context. I must go back to our very first Swissy litter, out of Asia’s mother, Pearl. Pearl was pregnant with 9 puppies. As a new breeder and someone who subscribes to the belief that the ability of a bitch to free whelp is a health attribute in breeding stock to be aspired to, we decided to let Pearl do just that. The first 5 puppies came out in good order, in a reasonable amount of time, starting at 10 pm the night before her due date. However, after the fifth puppy at 0315, nothing more happened. Mom did not seem in distress, was not having contractions, was not pushing, and was happily nursing/caring for her first five puppies. Well, I had been warned by other breeders (the few I knew at the time) that large breed dogs, and Swissies in particular, can develop uterine inertia, and as such, many had a rule of thumb to just automatically c-section litters of less than 4 puppies or more than 8. But I had also been told by our vet that 9 should be doable. And I had recently witnessed a Swissy breeder friend’s dog free whelp a litter of 12. However, my vet also said that we should get her to a vet for a c-section if she went three hours without having a puppy (you will find on many whelping discussion groups and advice pages from repro vets that this is a common guideline). Well, 6 am rolled around and we still had no 6th puppy. Having received advice from local breeders that the local emergency vets were generally not sensitive to our breed specific anesthesia concerns, and given that Pearl was in no obvious signs of distress but we knew from an x-ray that she had 4 remaining puppies, we decided to drive the 1.5 hours to Fort Collins where our breed familiar repro vet was located. We arrived around 8:30 am due to morning traffic and time to pack up the car. My vet’s first decision was to give a dose of oxytocin. This did nothing for her, and less than an hour later they had her on the table for a c-section. Well it turns out there was a pup so stuck in the cervix that it took a tech pulling and another pushing to dislodge the puppy, who did not make it. Sadly, neither did the three behind it, and we went home with our 5 free whelped puppies and a traumatic c-section for our girl. From what I read about oxytocin at the time, it was my belief from that experience that the oxytocin administered pre-c-section was possibly responsible for the other puppies not making it due to premature placental detachment. It wasn’t until after this experience that Pearl’s breeder told me she had been performing scheduled c-sections for generations, and hadn’t had a girl free whelp in years. At the time of obtaining her, it hadn’t occurred to me to ask this important question. We made the decision to breed her again, but not wanting to risk uterine rupture with free whelping due to her previous c-section, we decided to schedule c-sections for her subsequent 2 litters. While this did not fully align with my breeding goals, it actually reinforced my desire to have free whelpers as much as possible, when I saw mom struggle with milk supply and recovery from surgery.
So this brings us to today, where yesterday we had our 8th Swissy litter, and it was the 11th litter in which I had been a part of the whelping process. I have since met many other breeders, and heard countless stories of both free whelping woes as well as anesthesia and c-section horrors, and had made the decision for one of our girls (Pearl) to have two subsequent c-sections, and allow our other two girls who have had litters (Phoenix and Sybil) to free whelp, only taking Sybil in for a c-section one day past her due date when she hadn’t even gone into stage 1 labor.
So given this context, the fact that Asia is the only female that we have out of Pearl that we decided to breed (think potential genetic predisposition to not being able to free whelp), and we were now presented with a pregnancy of 10-11 puppies in a girl who turns 5 in September of this year, and this is her first litter. Also, this is a girl I co-own, who lives with a family with 4 kids, and whose parents and co-owners would be alongside to help make the decisions, but who had no prior breeding experience. I know many a breeder that would have just gone straight to scheduling a c-section the day before her due date. But this was not what her family wanted for her, nor ultimately what I wanted for her.
So not without some trepidation, we decided to let her free whelp. At first it seemed like the best decision in the world. The day before her due date, she presented with all the behaviors of transitioning from stage 1 to stage 2 of labor. She even had the courtesy to start having puppies in the middle of the afternoon. Puppies came fast and furious, sometimes only 25 minutes between them. All but one came out healthy, screaming, and ready to nurse, and that one was easily recovered within 20 minutes from a sluggish start. The first puppy arrived at 1400 (2 pm), and by 2000 (8 pm) we had 9 of the puppies out and nursing. We were elated at her progress, and thought for sure we would all be settled and cleaned up by midnight, ready to take reasonable puppy watch shifts. We weren’t sure if there were one or two left; our vet had seen 10 for sure on x-ray, but I thought I had seen another spine, and a couple of acquaintances who are pretty skilled at reading puppy x-rays also said they saw 11. Regardless, we knew we had at least one more to come. Also at this point in my whelping/breeding experience, I knew enough to support uterine contractions with calcium supplementation throughout the whelping process, and had been giving her 600 mg (3mL) of calcium in the form of Breeder’s Edge Oral Cal paste in between each puppy. The last three puppies had come out in less than 90 mins. We waited with some excitement for the next one, given how everything had progressed thus far.
One hour went by. I wasn’t concerned, knowing that this last puppy (or puppies) had been high up in her uterine horns, and might take awhile to descend. Then another hour went by. I began to get a little nervous as she was showing no signs of contractions or progressing labor (and started having emotional flashbacks to her mother’s first litter). We pottied her, we gave her food and water, we walked her a little, we tried wheel barrowing her, I feathered her (manual stimulation of the vaginal vault) and got her to have 2-3 contractions, but then they fizzled out again. We were letting her pups nurse as much as possible, as this can also stimulate natural oxytocin release and progress labor. I reached out to my reproduction vet by messaging, hoping she was up. She was, and I am so grateful for her help and guidance during this process. She said it was reasonable, given the number of puppies in the litter, how well Asia had done so far, and the likelihood of a whelping pause, that we could wait till 4 hours (instead of three) from the last puppy without panicking and packing her up to an emergency vet (sadly the one downside to our repro vet is that she does not have 24 hour emergency c-section services). I was not excited to go to any of local emergency vets, due to the issue that since my first litter, I had heard even more horror stories of horrific outcomes from other local Swissy breeders who had decided to use our local emergency vet services for whelping and c-section issues. Inevitably midnight (the 4 hour mark) arrived with no more puppies and no sign of one coming anytime soon. We even tried an additional larger dose (1800 mg) of the oral calcium.
So we packed up Asia and the puppies and reluctantly went to the nearest emergency vet that also had reproductive services attached. Part of me secretly hoped the 20 minute car ride would jostle another puppy out of her, as I have personally delivered 3 puppies in vehicles (2 while moving on the freeway, one in a parking lot as we pulled into the emergency vet). We pulled into the vet. Still no puppy, and they were short staffed and full. But they gave us a room to be seen in. They took her back immediately and confirmed by x-ray that she did in fact have 2 remaining (so 11 total) puppies, and then they used an ultrasound to confirm that the heart rates were present and still in a healthy range (170 to 190 beats per minute). Then their vet (general emergency vet, not a repro vet) came to discuss our options. He said we could go straight to c-section. However, given they both had healthy heart rates, he recommended an injection of calcium gluconate to see if she was simply depleted, which we decided to try (I am not sure of the dose they gave). We waited an hour. No resumption of contractions. They checked the heart rates again and both were good.
We had a discussion about a c-section and their anesthesia protocols, and I was not impressed, nor did he indicate that the vet who would be coming in to do the c-section would be willing to waver on their protocol (for Swissy folks reading this, it involved giving gas in addition to propofol at induction of sedation, AND he informed me that pre-op would take 30 mins-during which time she would already be sedated, and then it would take them 30 mins to get both puppies out; in contrast to my repro vet who only uses propofol to induce as recommended by the protocol developed by previous Swissy breeders, and can have 5-10 puppies out in 15-20 minutes from the time surgery sedation begins). Given my past experience with Pearl, I very hesitantly asked about oxytocin. The vet called his repro vet on call (my repro vet had gone to bed at this point so was unavailable) and discussed it, and said given the persistent healthy heart rates of the two remaining puppies and the fact that none appeared stuck based on the imaging, that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to try a dose of oxytocin, and if the first didn’t work and heart rates remained stable, even try a second one. At this point it was about 0130 (1:30 am). None of us were excited about surgery for Asia, especially under the circumstances at this vet. We opted for the oxytocin. We waited an hour. Some minor quivering occurred indicating some small contractions, but nothing more. They checked heart rates again, still in a healthy range. We asked them to administer the second dose. Some more intense contractions and increased restlessness, a decent amount of dark greenish black looking liquid came squirting out a few times, but no pushing. They checked heart rates again, holding steady in the 170-190 bpm range. They came back at 0330 (3:30 am) to discuss options. Surgery or they could administer another dose of calcium and send us home, and we could follow up in the morning with them or our regular vet. We asked for some time to discuss the options. It was a weighty decision. However, given the healthy heartrates, the increased contraction activity from the oxytocin, and the concerns we had about surgery with this particular vet (and not just for the survival of the remaining puppies, but also mom and the impact the surgical procedure might have on her remaining puppies, milk supply, etc), we decided we would rather risk losing the two puppies and sectioning them out at our vet later that morning.
We were literally packing up to get in the car, and she started pushing (it was 0350, 3:50 am at this time). Miracle Boy, puppy number 10, appeared at 0400 (4 am), came out squeaking, ready to nurse, 8 HOURS FROM THE TIME OF THE LAST PUPPY BORN. We were shocked and elated. We also felt better about our course of action to go home, hoping that puppy number 11 wasn’t far behind.
We went home. We each tried to get an hour or so of sleep, alternating puppy watch and rotating puppies for nursing. After messaging my repro vet at 0600 (6 am) and letting her know our plan to come into her office if we didn’t have a puppy by the time they open, I fell asleep on the couch next to the whelping box. I woke up at 0800 (8 am) and Daniel, Asia’s owner, indicated that there had been no new contractions, pushing, or puppy. I tried another hefty dose of calcium. I tried feathering. Nothing. I messaged my repro vet again, and let them know we were on our way. At this point I was fully resigned to a c-section for a dead puppy. It had already been another 4 hours since the last puppy, and we had an hour drive to my repro vet. After packing everyone into the car and making much needed coffee, we arrived around 0930 (9:30 am). The car ride once again did nothing.
They took us back immediately. When we arrived, they mentioned they were prepared to take her straight back for a c-section. We asked if they would check the heart rate one more time (honestly I asked for it more out of curiosity, expecting a dead puppy, than any expectation that we had a viable pup). This time they brought the ultrasound to us. It took a minute due to Asia’s panting (and consequently had trouble detecting any heart movement), but finally there we saw it, a beating heart. I set my watch timer for 10 seconds so she could count the rate. 180 bpm. The puppy was potentially STILL VIABLE, and not in any apparent distress. I asked if it was unreasonable to try one more dose of oxytocin before taking her back for a c-section. It was a Hail Mary to try and avoid surgery. They agreed. She received the dose at around 0945 (9:45am). Asia started pushing within 15 minutes. By 1015 we had Miracle Girl. We heard her squeak before her head fully exited from her vulva, she came out head first with her sack broken and the white areas stained green; and while her initial latch was not vigorous, she was pink, moving around, and eventually increased her vigor.
We are elated. And grateful. For a very patient Asia who after a sprint delivery of 9 puppies and a marathon labor for the rest with multiple car rides, multiple interactions with many different people, delivered two healthy puppies in two different vet offices, one after an 8 hour whelping pause and one after a subsequent 6+ hour whelping pause. We are grateful for the interactions with all of the vets we had, from my repro vet who was available for consultation by messaging; to the emergency vet who really listened to our concerns without displaying impatience or anger and who really helped us assess all of our options reasonably; and for the staff at our repro vet’s office, who was ready to make a room ready and surgery happen at a moment’s notice, but also willing to support our decision to try other options and provide the needed monitoring to make an informed decision. For our puppy home and co-owners of Asia, who have raised and loved their girl to have the health, fortitude and temperament to be in all of these situations and take them in stride, and is now an amazing mother to these 11 Legacy Creek Miracle puppies!
Wife, Mother of 3, MSN, RN, AGACNP-BC