Saturday, April 30, 2016

Yo, Chihuahua Mama!

If we'd had any idea of what we were getting into, would we have been so enthusiastic about being foster surrogate chihuahua mamas?

There were 4 puppies abandoned and then rescued by Life is Better Animal Rescue. They were newborns without a mama. Everyone who hears this says, "How could anyone abandon newborn puppies?" Giving whoever it was the benefit of the doubt, I wonder if the mama chihuahua died giving birth to these pups. Chihuahua mamas are more at risk than other dogs. Look up any info about caring for orphan pups and chihuahuas are sure to be mentioned somewhere. Maybe the owner panicked because they didn't know how to keep the pups alive.

Georgia Cameron, who started Life is Better, put the word out on Facebook. They needed someone to bottle feed the pups. Georgia does such amazing work, it's a privilege to be a small part of her endeavors.

As is my usual way, I jumped in feet first with my eyes closed. I didn't really know anything about bottle feeding puppies, not beyond the common sense rules of: keep them warm, feed them often, stimulate them to pee and poop. Emma immediately offered to help, so I figured, why not? It wouldn't be a big deal. Feed them every 3 hours. How long would it take, maybe 20 minutes? We could handle it. 

The good news is, the first two weeks are the hardest.  Here's the reality check:

The first week, it took 1 1/2 hours to feed, burp, and encourage them to poop - at each feeding. Yes, you do have to burp them. No, Mama dogs don't hold them on their shoulders and pat their backs. Mama dogs lick and lick and tumble them over and over. I'll pat their backs. Getting them to pee is easy. Pooping is not. Once they were all settled and asleep, I had 1 1/2 hrs before starting the process again. If you agree to nurse orphaned pups, be prepared to not sleep much and not get anything else done for the first two weeks.

It's easy for bottle fed puppies to aspirate the formula into their lungs. This can cause pneumonia and they can die quickly. It's also easy for them to snort it up their noses. This can make them so congested it's hard for them to suck and eat. Formula can be constipating. I never thought I'd be cheering and celebrating when puppies finally pooped. We also have to be careful to make sure they are not overfed or over heated. We check to make sure they don't get dehydrated. 

When the puppies wake up, they nose around trying to find a nipple to suck on. Without a Mama dog, the closest thing they find is their brother's penis. Left unchecked, this could cause permanent damage. Slurpy noises coming from their bed will wake me out of a deep sleep. All 4 pups are boys.

They had to have names. After some discussion, we settled on Hamilton, Benedick, Franklin, and Bertram. Chihuahuas might be small, but they have large personalities.

After trial and error (plenty of errors, though none fatal, thankfully), we have found what works well for these little ones. Sifting through all the internet info, here is what works:

Keeping warm:  Filled a large crockpot with water. Set it next to the bed with pups (our pups are in a portacrib) with the lid off. Turned it on high and placed a sheet over the bed and crockpot. This provides warmth and humidity. For inside the bed, I filled a tube sock with rice, tied it shut, and put another tube sock on top. Put in the microwave for 3 minutes on high, then placed UNDER the blankets in the bed (make sure it's not TOO hot), it creates a nice cozy place for the pups to cuddle up. Hot water bottle also works, but I find the rice socks easier.

Feeding: Using the syringe with the tiny nipple has worked well, but Hamilton managed to snort enough formula up his nose that he is having trouble eating now. On the suggestion of a local vet, we started feeding Hammie a different way. I picked up some cosmetic sponge wedges and cut them in half lengthwise. Soaked in the formula, Hamilton can suck on the sponge and get what he needs. It's much slower than the syringe feeding, but it seems closer to how they nurse naturally. He can take it as his own pace and fall asleep while nursing. 

We tried getting the others to eat this way, but they were already used to the quick stop at the filling station. I made the mistake of using a syringe to "load" the sponge with more formula. HA! The puppies can see now. They know where they get their fast food. They ditched the sponge and made for the syringe.

Food: We tried several things - commercial formula alternating with goat's milk, homemade formula, then back to commercial formula. The commercial formula caused constipation. They loved the homemade formula with goat's milk and yogurt, but Benedick couldn't handle it. It was wreaking havoc in his gut. A trip to the vet and we were back to commercial formula. Bennie responded by gaining two ounces in one day. We weigh them on a small postage scale.

We found we needed to add more water to the commercial formula than the instructions say. We also added a few drops of olive oil to get things moving. This worked, but it also had the wonderful effect of making everything slippery and the nipples would often shoot off the top of the syringe like a rocket. This was frustrating at any time, but at 3:00 am, it was too much. Puppy mama meltdown time. Adding corn syrup helps with constipation, but works by drawing fluid from their body to the gut. So, we had to watch for signs of dehydration. Also the corn syrup is sticky and can clog up the nipple. This results in a frustrated, hungry puppy who is sucking so hard the nipple falls off the syringe over and over. Again, at 3:00 am, it isn't funny.

In the last 2 1/2 weeks, we have learned how to burp a puppy, sat up nearly all night with a puppy with a tummy ache, and given subcutaneous fluid injections to rehydrate pups. I've watched my elderly parents holding the pups in their hands and seen how gentle and caring our young grandchildren can be with them. I've basically ignored our house and my husband has been fixing dinners simply because he knows it's probably the only way he'll get to eat.

They are 3 weeks old now. They've gone from between 4 and 5 ounces to between 11 ounces and 1 lb. The plugged puppy issue is finally resolving itself and we're looking to start some mashed solid food next week, just a little to see how they like it. If I feed them at 11:00 pm, they'll only wake me up once during the night. 

It's going to be quite lively around here when they start to wake up and play with each other. It'll be fun to see their personalities develop. The weeks are going to fly by, I know, and it won't be long before it's time for our little charges to find their forever homes.