Earl the McNab

Earl the McNab
Earl the Mcnab

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Chevy: The Saga of a Shaking Puppy

Little Chevy faced challenges right from the start.

His mother Molly, right at the appropriate gestation period of 63 days, first gave birth to a still-born puppy. It was small, not fully formed, and had likely died a couple of days prior to birth. I helped her deliver it; it presented tail-first. The fact it was stillborn meant her hormones didn't kick in properly to deliver the next puppy, so I called the vet and promptly loaded her in the truck to take her in for some help.

When I arrived, I carefully checked the floorboards in the rear of the cab where she'd been sitting. There, breathing but not vigorous, was a small black puppy she'd delivered on the 40-minute drive. I rubbed his chest as I rushed him and his mama into the clinic, calling out, "He's breathing!" to the bewildered receptionist. The staff took him back right away to the exam room and began warming him.

The others - one more of which was still born - were born over the next 12 hours. They were all larger than little Chevy. Typical of a runt, he struggled to compete with his larger litter mates when nursing. They simply knocked him out of the way or squeezed in together so he couldn't force his way to a teat. I'd hold my hands on either side of him to protect his space while he nursed, making sure he fed properly. I weighed him three times a day so I could monitor his growth and compare his rate of weight gain to the others.

Little Chevy (at left, above), snuggling in the arms of his sister, Beni (with the white face). Note how much larger at the other puppies are already.

Left: Chevy showing off the six toes on each rear foot.
On day three, little Chevy suffered cardiopulmonary syndrome. I'd been with the puppies constantly, sleeping on a futon beside the whelping pen, and monitoring them closely. When I awakened after a couple of hours of sleep, I found him nearly lifeless. He was cold, non-responsive, and limp. Having bottle-fed kittens, I knew he was likely hypoglycemic as well as hypothermic. I also knew to warm him slowly and not give him any food (including formula) until he had warmed up. I tucked him into my shirtfront while I warmed towels in the dryer and made an emergency rice heater (a sock filled with white rice which I could then microwave for a couple of minutes).

While the towels were heating, I rubbed Chevy's chest, "swooped" him to make sure he had no fluids interfering with his breathing, and gave him gentle mouth-to-muzzle breathing. My husband took one look at the tiny limp creature and shook his head, saying, "He's gone," but I knew we had a chance. I wrapped him in warm towels, made some KMR (kitten milk replacer) I had on hand, and sent my husband to Tractor Supply for some Esbilac.

By the time my husband returned, I had already gotten some KMR into little Chevy with a puppy bottle. It was slow going. Slowly, he began to revive. From then on, I continued to ensure he had assistance nursing, and I also supplemented his diet with bottle-fed Esbilac. He gained weight, some days; other days he gained and then lost even more, but he grew increasingly lively. The other puppies rapidly outpaced him in rate of gain, even with all the extra feeding. I started him on Nutrical as well.

Chevy seemed to be about two or three days behind all the others in his developmental milestones. He opened his eyes a bit later; crawled later; and so forth. It was when he was about two weeks old I realized something more serious was impacting him. He developed a noticeable tremor in his head and hindquarters, and within a few days it had worsened. The first day or so I noticed it, I optimistically thought it was just muscle fatigue from struggling to keep up; then, as it increased in severity, I researched it. It was a textbook case of "shaking puppy syndrome" or hypomyelination. None of the references cited McNab dogs as having a genetic predisposition toward this disease, so I could find nothing that could give me an idea as to whether he - like afflicted puppies of certain breeds - would be likely to re-myelinate and outgrow the disease or not. Some puppies progress to where they must be euthanized; some breeders simply euthanize any afflicted puppies; and some puppies are given supportive care and eventually (between three months and 18 months of age) recover.

Heartbroken for the sweet little guy, with whom I'd bonded over puppy-bottles and cuddles, I decided that as long as he had good quality of life, I'd give him every chance of recovery. My definition of "good quality of life" meant showing no sign of pain; being able to do certain normal puppy things, such as being able to play in some form; and being responsive enough to show happiness. I had to break the news to the person who'd planned on giving him his forever home, Mary, that he was not a healthy puppy and that I wanted her to consider his beautiful brother, Tank. Although Mary would certainly have given him the love and care he needed, I wanted her to have the healthy, rambunctious, protective puppy she deserves. I am grateful for her immediate fondness for him and her encouragement.

I continued bottle feeding him until he was eating enough solid food to supplement his nursing effort.  Fortunately, his appetite was outstanding.Shaking puppies struggle to keep weight on, as they tremble it right off, so we made sure he had extra feedings (both from his mother as well as from a dish) and that he was undisturbed while eating. Chevy ate longer than the others. It did my heart good seeing him eat.

I began doing a sort of physical therapy with him. I'd support him so he could stand, and encourage him to develop strength and muscles. I flexed his hind legs (his weakness is far worse in the hindquarters) and played with him. I noticed that firm pressure on his body minimized the tremors, as did holding up his head for him. He had no tremors while he slept or when he lay on his side. I also noticed his tremors were worse when he was excited, even if it was a "good" excitement like feeding time, greeting one of us, or trying to play. When the tremors were at their worst, he "hopped" backwards, pulled to the rear by the severe shaking, when he most wanted to go forward.

He never did show pain, but he yelps and cries when he's frustrated. Cognitively, he is fine. He's bright-eyed, sweet-natured, and loves to give kisses. He's playful, too, and he has tremendous heart and determination. However, he wasn't gaining any strength in his rear legs, and his left leg would just slide under him so he almost appeared to have a paralysis. The muscle atrophy was evident. I attempted (rather feebly) to make a set of wheels for him, with no success. I then ordered a canine wheelchair for him from, of course!, Amazon.

Chevy turned seven weeks old this past week. He is still struggling to manage with the wheelchair. His front legs aren't strong enough to pull himself around well yet, and his shaking bobbles the cart around; tomorrow, I'm going to try to weight the end of it to stabilize him. Still, he has figured out how to walk forward already. I want him to know that the feeling of being upright is normal. The cart allows him some relief from dragging his hindquarters, and will help him stand squarely in the front. I limit his sessions in the chair to where he starts showing exhaustion; when he does so, he makes his way to me and rests his head on me.

Having him in the wheelchair requires constant supervision. He's had roll-overs and has turned onto his side. I can't let the other puppies around him when he's in it; they think it's a toy, and try to drag him around. When the cart isn't on him, though, he loves playing with his brothers and sisters; he wrestles, plays tug of war, and has fierce growling matches with them.

With continued care, patience, and love, I'm optimistic little Chevy will have a happy life. He wins over everyone he meets; he's a happy little guy. I'm happy to say no one has suggested euthanizing him. It's difficult to see him struggle to do basic puppy things, but he doesn't know he's different. He does, for certain, know he's loved - not only by the humans in his life, but by his dog and cat family here. One sibling in particular, his sister Beni, is particularly loving and nurturing of him. Right from the beginning they had a special bond; now, she's still the one he snuggles up with, and she often sleeps with her head on him.

Keep good thoughts for little Chevy!

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