Amber, a pregnant Border Collie/Heeler mix came to the sanctuary in mid December and a couple of days later, on December 14th, she had a litter of 9 puppies. Susan, the staff puppy mom, named each pup in the litter after different gems. Unfortunately, 2 days after the puppies were born Amber began vomiting and having diarrhea. The sanctuary veterinarians knew this could be a sign of parvovirus and decided to test Amber. She tested positive and they had to separate her puppies from her in order to prevent them from further exposure to the virus. The only chance the puppies had was to go in to foster care and be bottle fed. Everyone was aware that at 2 days old, being taken away from mom would be very challenging for the pups. Fortunately 3 groups of people volunteered to help foster the pups and give them the love and care that they needed. The puppies were split up in to 3 groups of 3. They went to their foster homes and though everyone was hopeful they knew that the puppies had a hard road ahead.
Unfortunately, after the pups turned one week old, two of them died suddenly. While it was very tragic, the vets assumed that it was due to their exposure to parvovirus (which can be deadly to puppies as young as these). This is when Kunzite came in to my life. She was the one puppy in the group of 3, that her foster mother had, that survived that day. It can be a very emotionally wrenching experience having young pups pass away. Understandably, her foster mother decided that the emotional burden was too much. I have had experience bottle feeding young orphan puppies and I volunteered to take Kunzite. I took her home with me that day (December 22nd) after work and she has been with me since.
At home the first week (12/22/06 – 12/29/06):
I started to set Kunzie up in our spare room so that she could be isolated from the other dogs in the house. I found a crate that I used to use for my cats that was the perfect size for Kunzite. I washed it out, disinfected it and put in some blankets and an electric heating pad. Puppies this young are not able to regulate their body temperature. They move closer to mom when they are cold and further away when they are warm enough. I set the heating pad on low and made sure there was a place in the crate where Kunzite could move away if she got too warm. I also added a shirt that smelled like me because puppies are used to being around their mom all the time. Some people don’t realize that having a puppy as young as this is very similar to having a baby. They need to be bottle fed every few hours and it is important to use formula that is made specifically for puppies. You can make your own formula in a pinch using 1 can of evaporated milk, 1 egg yolk, a teaspoon of honey and multivitamins. I was very busy during the day with her and was up a few times during the night feeding her as well. I was very tired but happy to have her with me. Another thing that many people don’t know that at very young pups of 1 to 2 weeks old cannot do a lot of things on their own.
Normally, the mother dog will help the puppies urinate and defecate by licking their genitals to stimulate elimination. As a foster mom I used a warm washcloth to simulate mom for Kunzite so that she could urinate and defecate when she needed to. It is also important, when caring for an orphan puppy, to weigh them daily to be sure that they are gaining weight and growing. The first day that I took Kunzite home she didn’t even weigh a whole pound yet. That Thursday she turned two weeks old. Kunzite gained weight steadily and by the end of the first week at home with me she weighed a pound and a half.
Eyes and ears open, week 2 (12/30/06 – 1/4/07):
Early in the morning on Saturday, December 30th I got up to feed Kunzite. I noticed that her eyes were starting to open! Puppies are born with their eyes closed and their ears not completely formed. I had started noticing changes in her ears a few days before. I had read that their eyes start to open from the inside corners outward and sure enough by 3 o’clock that morning they had started. It wasn’t until that night that they had completely opened but it was so exciting to watch throughout the day. Every few hours when I went to feed her I would notice that her eyes were creeping open more and more. By the middle of the day they were open enough that I could see a little bit of her irises. The one eye opened a bit faster than the other. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Kunzite to go from living in the dark to having the light begin to creep in. At the end of the day her eyes were almost completely open and they were a very deep blue which is the eye color most puppies start out with. Puppies at this very young age do not behave the way that older puppies do. They are quite helpless and look like very small, furry aliens if you ask me. It was amazing to me how quickly Kunzite learned what I smelled like and that I was her source of food and caring. I was also impressed at how well she was able to scoot around before her eyes were open. It got to the point after she was home with me for only a few days, where I would walk in the room silently and she would be crying within a few seconds because she had smelled me. At the end of the week she turned three weeks old and was over two pounds.
Week number 3 at home (1/5/07 – 1/11/07):
The fourth week of life was a tough one for all of the puppies and the foster parents. We felt at that point like we were over the hump in terms of the puppies being ok. Unfortunately, I went in to work that Friday morning to find out that each of the other foster parents had a puppy pass away over night. Everyone was terribly sad; we felt that the puppies were growing and getting stronger. We couldn’t explain why this had happened. Sadly, we lost one more early Saturday morning and another Sunday as well. The vets at the sanctuary were examining the pups that had died to try to find out what was happening in order to help those still living. In the mean time all of the foster parents were very worried about the remaining few that we had left. Fortunately, the veterinarians were able to figure out what was going on with these poor puppies. The puppies were affected by the parvovirus mom had while they were in utero. The most common form of parvovirus, which we are used to seeing here at the sanctuary, causes major problems in the GI tract. Since these puppies had been exposed while mom was carrying them it had affected their hearts and lungs. Basically, as the puppies grew they were outgrowing their hearts and lungs and their organs could not longer support them. We were all very glad to at least have an answer about what was going on. However, we were very discouraged to find out that all of the puppies were more than likely affected by the virus and the result would be the same for all of them. I spent a lot of time, in the next few days, checking on Kunzie all the time. I quickly realized that her life may be short and decided to do as much as I could to make sure that we enjoyed our time together. I was very happy to still have her in my life at the end of that week when she turned four weeks old and was about four pounds.
Week 4 (1/12/07 – 1/18/07):
As Kunzite grew I noticed that she started acting more and more like a dog. She began wagging her tail, barking, growling and playing. Kunzie has lots of toys and began picking them up and shaking them like adult dogs do. It has been a joy to watch her transform from the furry alien that she was when I took her home in to a puppy that is much more doglike. She became a lot more mobile and hard to catch. Her sight was getting better and she was able to hear well too. This made Kunzie much more interested in exploring the world around her to see what was going on.
I also began to notice her eyes changing color. Her right eye became a very light blue and the left one stayed a darker blue/gray color. I started noticing more spots coming out on her coat and on her face. The very slight brown spots above her eyes had become very noticeable brown "eyebrows." Kunzie’s ears were growing, changing shape and looking more like an adult dog’s ears every day. Sadly, that weekend we lost another puppy. Now there were just two puppies left from the litter of nine. I was so sad about her littermates but also recognized that Kunzie was doing OK and that she continued to need my love and attention. Regardless whether or not she would live a long time – right now she was living and needed me to help her stay that way. She had started licking my face a lot the week before so at the beginning of the week I decided it was time to start the weaning process. I mixed some nutrient rich wet food with some of her puppy formula in to gruel and heated it up in the microwave. I cut her milk portion in half and gave it a try. The gruel was a hit! She loved it! It was so exciting to see Kunzie take another big step in the development process. From then on she got gruel and some milk from a bottle the rest of the week. She turned five weeks old at the end of the week and was up to five pounds!