Chapter OneThe Toy Neonate
If you think the Toy dog is small when he's full-grown, think about how tiny he is when he's first born. Breeding these fragile, palm-size handfuls of life is best left to experienced, responsible breeders, because the tiny size that makes them so irresistible also makes them so vulnerable. Breeding small dogs can often be heartbreaking.
Toy mothers usually have very small litters, and that presents its own set of problems. Puppies need other puppies to keep themselves warm and calm-and later to play and socialize with. Singleton pups are usually given a stuffed animal to cuddle with as a substitute littermate, but the pup's breeder must also work extra hard to socialize an only puppy.
Caring for the New Puppy
The newborn Toy weighs mere ounces. Their very small size means it's more difficult even for a veterinarian to treat them than to care for a larger breed pup who may weigh a pound. Weight is a factor in other ways, too. If a fourteen-ounce puppy begins to lose weight, it can certainly be serious but not immediately life-threatening. Toy puppies, however, don't have much extra weight to lose, and they dehydrate rapidly. A pup who is failing to thrive, or one with fading puppy syndrome who is rapidly losing weight, doesn't have the extra ounces he needs to struggle back. Toys simply don't have the reserves that larger puppies have.
Responsible breeders are extremely vigilant with tiny puppies. Since weight gains are slight in small dogs, the breeder must set up a weighing program to check whether the puppies are growing sufficiently. One veterinary neonate expert recommends weighing Toy pups each day during the first week of life, every other day during the second week of life, three times a week during the third week, and two or three times a week thereafter. Weighing is the most sensitive indicator of how the young puppy is doing.
Although weighing is very important and should never be bypassed, experienced breeders can tell when puppies are failing to thrive just by handling them. Even though two pups may be the same size, when the puppies are in the breeder's hands, the one who isn't doing well will feel much lighter. This is one of many reasons why Toy puppies should be handled while they're in the nest.
They should, in fact, receive a great deal of gentle handling from the day they're born, from a variety of family members, so that they will learn the smell and feel of human hands and realize there are many differences among people. Generally, puppies who have had to be hand-raised and hand-fed are more people-oriented than those raised by their mothers who received little handling.
It's important to note, though, that hand-raised pups can grow more aggressive as they are weaned because mothers inhibit forceful sucking earlier than humans do when hand-raising. Humans inadvertently encourage a lack of self-control, so the dog is more likely to learn an inappropriate behavior of pulling and biting to get what he wants. The point is that puppies need a combination of both the mother's and the breeder's attention.
But if the mother falls ill or dies, the total responsibility for round-the-clock feeding (usually every two hours) and caring for these tiny scraps of life will fall to the breeder.
No two litters are alike, so it's always wise to expect the unexpected. Anticipating problems is part and parcel of breeding small dogs. The experience of knowing what's normal, what looks normal, and what feels normal is invaluable. There are general rules but not all puppies will follow them, so the breeder must use common sense.
For example, when the puppy is nursing, the breeder must be able to tell if he is actually getting nourishment or simply going through the motions. Sometimes a puppy is born with one or more physical defects that make it impossible for the pup to thrive. Because Toys are so small, it isn't easy to pry open the mouth of a three- or four-ounce neonate to see if he has a cleft palate. It requires good lighting, and probably an extra pair of hands holding a flashlight, to peer into that tiny mouth and look very carefully, because any defect is very difficult to see.
The really thriving puppy is robust, and is in constant motion. Invariably, when nursing, thriving puppies will go to the rear nipples where there's more room, will be aggressive in their nursing activity, and will grow very rapidly. The pup who is not as robust wastes a lot of time, takes forever to find the nipple, doesn't seem to nurse at a steady rate, and seems to fall behind the other littermates.
If a pup is being pushed aside by his littermates and doesn't have an opportunity to nurse, he will lose weight and lose ground. Often these puppies require supplemental feeding with an eyedropper, bottle, or feeding tube. This, however, can create its own problems, such as aspiration pneumonia from inhaling milk into the lungs.
Care is needed with supplementation because many commercial puppy formulas tend to cause loose stools and don't provide enough calories for a small dog. One of the oldest tricks used by breeders is to supplement the formula with goat's milk because it's well tolerated by puppies with weakened stomachs.
Another old trick used by breeders during the first two or three days is to give a weaker puppy, and sometimes the mother, a few drops of "raw liver juice," the bloody liquid from raw liver. It contains erythrocyte (red blood cell) maturing factors, which the pups are lacking.
Low Blood Sugar
Toy puppies are predisposed to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and can go downhill with incredible speed. That's because tiny puppies, especially Toys, don't have a lot of fat stores and their liver isn't geared up to make glucose easily yet, simply because of their age. The classic signs of hypoglycemia are weakness and a drunken-type gait. If it gets progressively worse, the puppies will fall over and have small seizures.
Hypoglycemia is highly treatable; the key is recognizing it. The treatment is fairly easy: If the animal isn't conscious and can't eat, the next best thing is to lift up his lip and put sugar water, Karo syrup, or something similar right on his gums. It will be rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. Feed the puppy once he's up. A veterinarian would give the puppy dextrose intravenously and then make sure he starts eating.
Hypoglycemia, while always serious, only becomes life-threatening when owners and breeders aren't paying attention to their dogs; the puppy's in trouble, they go off to work, and the pup can be dead by the time they get home. Or the blood sugar drops so low that brain metabolism is impaired, and there is irreparable damage. Is it any wonder that responsible Toy breeders are so vigilant with their pups?
A Healthy Environment
Breeders change their clothes and remove their shoes when they come home so they won't carry any germs to the puppies. Everything gets scrubbed and disinfected because sometimes puppies will pick up a viral infection.
The puppies must also be kept warm, because neonates can't regulate their own body temperature. Pups are kept in a small area so they can't crawl too far from their mother and get chilled. If a Toy puppy gets chilled, he can die, and these little ones shiver more because they're more often cold. To add a little warmth for the first two or three days, many breeders will put a heating pad underneath one corner of the whelping box. (The heating pad, however, must not be allowed to overheat and burn the puppies.) This allows the pups to move to another corner if they get too warm (this can be just as dangerous as getting too cold). Some breeders cover most of the whelping box with a blanket, as well.
A sick or injured pup can be wrapped in a blanket to keep him warm. When he is chilled, protective reflexes such as breathing may stop, since a pup's brain center is not fully developed yet. Consequently, the breeder will have to know how to administer mouth-to-nose resuscitation.
Although puppy shots may seem like a routine procedure, in fact more and more controversy has been stirring up around vaccinations for all animals. Vaccines prevent deadly diseases, but they can also create problems. Occasionally puppies will have an allergic reaction to either their first or second vaccination, and pups have reportedly died after combination vaccinations. Sometimes the pup will get through the first shot just fine, but his face or paws will swell up after the second. This has led some breeders to insist upon giving the parvovirus shot separately from the combination that includes kennel cough, hepatitis, leptospirosis, and distemper.
But there's further concern regarding the combination vaccines. Vaccination schedules for both dogs and cats have been revised after extensive reviews by the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association. These groups have concluded that vaccinations should be geared to the dog, the owner's lifestyle, and the place where they live, which will affect a puppy's exposure to various diseases. Rabies vaccine is required by law in the United States.
There are a lot of factors to weigh when you are trying to assess the risk of giving any vaccine. Whenever you immunize a dog or a cat, the animal, the vaccinating agent, and the environment all play a role in how the animal will respond. A vaccine may fail to immunize an individual animal because maternal antibodies are still present in his body. There are also genetic and health reasons why a vaccine may fail or even be dangerous. For example, the animal may be sick, and a sick dog doesn't respond as well to vaccination as a healthy one.
Then there's the animal's environment. If a dog is in a high-stress environment-for example, in a shelter where the volume of infectious agents is high-he can still become infected even after being vaccinated and immunized. Immunization can be overwhelmed by high concentrations of an organism.
As for the vaccine agent itself, is it a modified live virus or a killed virus vaccine? Is it a bacterin? Newest are the recombinant vaccines. Created from the organism's DNA, these don't require an adjuvant to activate them. All these factors affect the efficacy, and the safety, of any vaccine. There are many other questions, as well, about how virulent the organism is and how the vaccine is prepared. All of these things are basically determined by the manufacturer of the vaccine.
For all these reasons, all vaccines should be decided with your veterinarian on a case-bycase basis, after careful discussion.
A major question in the vaccine debate concerns leptospirosis, a highly contagious disease that attacks the kidneys. Leptospirosis is a unique kind of bacterin similar to the spirochete organisms that cause Lyme disease and syphilis.
Because a killed leptospiro organism is used in the vaccine, it needs something to boost its immunizing power. To do this, a protein, usually called an adjuvant, is added to the vaccine. The adjuvant is extremely inflammatory and immunogenic-biochemically it can be toxic when given to a small dog. Very likely it's this adjuvant that's causing the problem with the lepto vaccine in small breeds.
In the United States the lepto vaccine is usually given as part of a combination to protect against distemper, adenovirus (hepatitis), parvovirus, and parainfluenza. In the old combination shot, the lepto vaccine comes in a liquid form and is mixed with freeze-dried forms of the other vaccines. It's a matter of convenience that veterinarians use it and breeders buy it that way; half the dosage is lepto plus diluent, the other half contains all of the freeze-dried material. To give the shot you have to use all the diluent, administering a whopping dose of adjuvant to the small dog. And while the little dog needs as much of the actual organism to protect against the virus as the big dog, all that adjuvant can be dangerous. The smaller the breed, the greater the risk.
If a small dog has a reaction to the leptospirosis vaccine, he will usually collapse within twenty minutes after getting the shot and go into allergic shock, called anaphylaxis. Unfortunately, this is usually when the dog and owner are in the car, headed home in traffic. The dog might recover on his own or he might not-it depends on the individual.
The recommendation of Dr. Richard Ford, a professor of Medicine at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, is to either skip the leptospirosis vaccine or to use saline to dilute it for the small breeds. Although Ford says he would not be concerned about the vaccine if the adjuvant were not present, vaccines using killed organisms don't work very well without adjuvants. So what is the risk of not using the vaccine? Actually, it's not all that great. Leptospirosis is spread via the urine of infected animals, usually wild animals. Certainly, urban dogs have a lower risk of contracting it.
In addition, there are more than two hundred serotypes of leptospirosis, yet veterinarians vaccinate for only a few of them. Half of the lepto cases in the United States are caused by serotypes for which veterinarians don't even vaccinate, and the duration of immunity probably isn't more than three or four months.
When considering environmental factors and leptospirosis, think about whether the dog is likely to be exposed to stagnant water, rodent urine, or wild animal urine. These are not common exposures for Toy breeds, which is why not many Toy dogs are seen with leptospirosis.
In cases where Ford would choose to give the vaccine, as a general guideline he would not administer it until the dog is older than 4 months. But all the variables discussed previously affect any risk assessment, which is why general veterinary guidelines are not always best for an individual animal. There are some animals who have minimal risk and would do just fine never being vaccinated; there are others who certainly should be vaccinated.
Occasionally, there are concentrated outbreaks of leptospirosis. This might be of some concern to the owner of a show dog or a show prospect puppy. Because lepto is transmitted from the urine of an infected dog through the mouth or broken skin of the susceptible dog, it's highly transmissible. With literally hundreds of thousands of organisms excreted in the urine of an infected dog, there's a very good opportunity for dogs who are infected to transmit it to other dogs, which is why veterinarians will suddenly see many cases where there hadn't been any. Such outbreaks are frequently transient. They are also generally not among show dogs who are well cared for and spend their lives predominantly indoors.
Most of the cases that are dealt with in an isolated outbreak are likely caused by a serotype for which the dogs are not being vaccinated, so there's probably very little value in rushing to immunize a dog, even if a few cases break out in your area.
Dogs are at risk of getting leptospirosis if they're kenneled outside, if they go on regular walks in the woods, or if they have access to stagnant water, rodents, and other dogs' urine that might be infected. For the show dog owner who would like to take added precautions, it might be wise to avoid public exercise pens. Even though the risk is minimal, there's no harm in being cautious.
Other Vaccination Issues
You may be surprised to learn that very little research has been done on how long immunity lasts after any single vaccine. While annual vaccinations were long the default, nobody actually knows if dogs need yearly booster shots. Ford doesn't think it's right to vaccinate dogs for distemper every year because there's too much data that shows they're immune for at least three or four years following a single dose at 16 weeks of age. There is also some evidence that rabies immunizations are good for at least two or three years.
Another vaccination issue is who gives the shots. While the average pet owner is strongly advised to leave this to their veterinarian, experienced breeders can and often do vaccinate their own dogs. However, it must be done correctly or the dog will be in trouble.