The Birds and The Bees and Bassett Puppies

D. E. Larsen, DVM

  We had just finished dinner and were supervising the girls as they cleaned up the dinner table when the telephone rang. 

Good evening, Doc,” Sandi said into the phone. “I hope you have finished dinner. Betty has been pushing for about 3 hours. She has broken some water, but there is no evidence of a pup.”

  I cared for quite a few Basset Hounds for a group of ladies who showed these dogs. They were relatively valuable dogs, and the ladies wanted meticulous veterinary care. Betty, a champion Basset, had been in labor for nearly 3 hours.

Her owner, Sandi, had been through this on multiple deliveries. Three hours of contractions without a pup was cause for intervention, and with each passing minute, the puppies were more at risk.  

“It sounds like we should get a look at her,” I said. “I can be at the clinic in 20 minutes.”

Of our four kids, Amy took the most interest in the goings-on at the clinic. She liked the people and the animals and showed compassion for both. Amy, our second grader, was ready to go to the clinic with me in an instant.

Sandi came through the door with a very pregnant Betty and two lady friends, recruited to help. 

We carefully lifted Betty onto the exam table.

“Judging from the size of this stomach, this is going to be a large litter,” I said. 

“She had 10 puppies in her first litter,” Sandi said. “I am guessing there is more this time.”

I cleaned Betty up. She did have some greenish fluid dripping from her vulva. This was an indication that her water had broken some hours ago. A quick vaginal exam failed to reveal any pup in the birth canal.

“You know the story,” I said to Sandi. “Betty has been in labor for several hours, and there is no pup in the birth canal. The longer this goes on, the more the puppies are at risk. Our options are to try some oxytocin or to go right to a C-section.”

The oxytocin injections could work magic, but it could also mean a long night. When bassets have large litters, you can end up with a C-section for the last pup or two because the uterus runs out of strength for continued contractions. With the extended time of labor, those remaining puppies are often lost. 

I enjoyed working with Sandi on these deliveries because she would always be quick to elect a C-section. I agreed with her in most of the cases. It made for a shorter night for me and usually a more successful delivery.

“Let’s not spend all night here. Let’s just go to a C-section, and everyone will be better for it,” she said.

  I called Dixie, my right hand at the clinic, to come help. Sandi had a couple of friends in tow. That would mean we had 4 gals to tend to the puppies, plus Amy. Sounds okay, but my guess was over 10 pups, maybe 12 or 13. We are going to be very busy for a few minutes when I start handing out puppies.

  While waiting for Dixie, I got the surgery room set up, giving Amy several chores to help. She conducted herself like an old pro.

“Amy, you need to bring a stack of towels and put them on that little table in the corner,” I said. “When we do this surgery, the puppies are surrounded by a lot of fluid, and it generally spills off the table onto the floor. We will need towels down to mop up that fluid.”

I had Amy help hold Betty after I rolled her onto her back. It probably wasn’t necessary to keep her on her back. Betty was sort of like a turtle on her back. Her belly spread out enough that she couldn’t right herself if she tried. I clipped her belly, and we placed an IV catheter and got some fluids going.

  As soon as Dixie arrived, we moved Betty into the surgery room and gave her a dose of IV Innovar, the morphine combination drug. This provided strong sedation, and we secured her to the surgery table and did a surgical prep on the abdomen. Then we used Lidocaine for local anesthesia at the incision line. This would allow us to deliver the pups with the least depression from anesthesia.

  “Now we start the surgery,” I said more like an announcement but specifically to Amy.

The surgery went well, and I had the abdomen open in short order.

  I started pulling the uterus out of the abdomen, one pup at a time. I laid it out across the drape on moistened towels. One puppy, then the next, and it kept coming. Finally, I had it all out, twelve pups, 6 in each uterine horn. This uterus, the pencil’s size in its non-pregnant state, laid out on the drape and towels. It was too large to stay up on the abdomen. Several puppy segments hung over the abdomen on each side, reaching the surgery table’s surface: quite a remarkable organ, the uterus.

  I made an incision on one side of the uterus and quickly started extracting puppies. I handed this first pup to Dixie, and she gathered it up and headed back to the heated box and the reversal syringes.

Now pups came in rapid succession. I would squeeze a puppy through the incision, clamp the umbilical, severe the cord, and hand the puppy to the next pair of hands.

They look like they are doing well,” Sandi said as she took the next pup and headed back to Dixie.

This continues. Finally, Amy is the only set of hands. She catches the pup in a towel and follows the girls to the puppy basket as if it is nothing out of the ordinary.  

Everybody was back for their next pup, and Amy assumed her place in the line. Finally, the last puppy, number 12, is delivered. I double-check the birth canal just to make sure there is not a pup hiding there.

Amy was back to watch the finish. “Now, I just have to remove all the placentas and make sure there is nothing left in the uterus,” I explained. “Then, I just close the incisions, and we are done.”

  With the uterus closed, I return it to the abdomen and close the abdominal incision.

“Nothing left except to wake Mom up and introduce her to her new family,” I explain to Amy.

Once everything is closed up, I give Betty a reversal drug, and she recovers rapidly. We return her to the kennel, and she is awake before we know it. She is an experienced mother, and she takes the pups as soon as we show them to her.

There was fluid covering the table, and the floor was soaked. My tennis shoes will be retired to the work shoe shelf. The towels that Amy laid on the floor have soaked up most of the fluid.  Now there is a little time to relax. Twelve live pups, Sandi and her friends, are pleased.

  We send Sandi, Betty, and pups home as soon and Betty can stand. She and her puppies will do better at home under Sandi’s watchful eyes. I relax a little and look at Amy. She has done well this evening.

“What do you think about all of this commotion tonight,” I ask.

She just shrugs, doesn’t say a word. Displaying a nonchalance that she probably got from me.

  The C-section became a forgotten evening until we went to a parent-teacher conference some weeks later. 

Mrs. Rose, Amy’s second-grade teacher, was a little gray-haired lady who was very prim and proper.  Adored by her students and their parents alike, she was an old-time teacher, very much into the three Rs. She kept a tight rein on her classroom, ruling it with a tender heart.

Mrs. Rose went over Amy’s progress, which was exceptional, and then looked at us with a wry smile.  

  “A few weeks ago, the whole class had quite a learning experience about where puppies come from and how they get here. Amy was very excited about her experience and very descriptive of the surgery she helped you do.  I don’t generally worry about discussing the birds and the bees in my classes. Your daughter sort of changed all of that,” she said.

Photo by Michael Morse from Pexels

All Hell Broke Loose

D. E. Larsen, DVM

“I have been looking at Sophie’s horse for a couple of days now,” Don says as we were lining out our morning calls. “I would like you to come along this morning and get your opinion. This is low-grade colic. I think it must be an obstruction, but I have not been able to confirm it.”

The three of us in the practice in Enumclaw were cow doctors. We did fine with the small animals, but horses were a different story. We had a few horse doctors around, and we tried to send most of the horses their way, but a few of the dairies would have a horse, and we were usually stuck with taking care of them.

“I didn’t know they had a horse,” I say. 

“She bought it a few months ago,” Don says. “Harold says he isn’t going to spend any money on it, but you know how that goes.”

We pulled into the barnyard in Don’s truck. The horse was in an open shed across from the milking parlor. She was standing, head down, and kicking at her belly every minute or two. 

“Have you done a rectal exam?” I ask Don. 

“Yes, but I didn’t find anything,” Don says. “But I am not sure about the horse’s gut. That’s why I wanted you to get a look. Your schooling is a lot more recent than mine.”

I started a full exam just so I wouldn’t miss anything. All her vitals were normal, except her pulse was a little elevated. Then listening to her abdomen, there are virtually no gut sounds.

“I guess I should do a rectal exam. I hate doing one on an unrestrained horse, but I don’t think we are going find a stocks around here.”

“She was pretty good for me,” Don says. “I will hold her for you.”

“Maybe we should put a twitch on her,” I say. 

“Don’t let Sophie know about that,” Don says. “She was pretty protective of her when I did the first exam.”

“If she says anything, just explain that a rectal exam on an unrestrained horse is dangerous to the vet, but also dangerous to the horse,” I say. “If she jumps or kicks, she could end up with a ruptured colon. That is probably fatal.”

I wrapped the tail to keep the hair out of the way and lubed my OB sleeve with a large amount of J-Lube. Standing on her right side, I held the tail to the side with my right and slid my left hand and arm into her rectum. She stood still. 

The colon was utterly empty. Don was probably correct in this being an obstruction colic. Pushing my arm in deeper, I explored the gut that was within reach. I found nothing in this initial exploration.

I reached deep and down on the left side of her abdomen, searching for the pelvic flexure, that spot where the large colon of the horse does a u-turn. It is a small portion of the colon and it is often the site of obstructions.

Finally, the pelvic flexure almost jumped into my hand. There was a firm impaction in the flexure. I massaged this mass, and the mare danced from side to side. This impaction was not large. I was surprised that the earlier treatments with mineral oil had not moved it. I slowly removed my arm and rinsed her rectum.

“You are right about this being an obstruction,” I say to Don as I unwrapped the tail. “There is firm impaction at the pelvic flexure, and it was painful for her for me to try to massage it.”

“I figured you had found it when she started acting up,” Don says.

“I know the experts say not to mix mineral oil and DSS,” I say. “But if you have treated her with oil a couple of times over the last 3 days, I think we should give her a big dose of DSS. If that doesn’t do it, and Harold doesn’t want to send her over the mountain to Washington State, I think we should talk to them about doing surgery.”

“That’s a big step,” Don says. “Are you sure about that? I have always been told never to touch the gut of the horse.”

“When I was home a couple of years ago, I went on a call with Dr. Haug to look at a horse he had done a flank surgery on for an impaction at the pelvic flexure,” I say. “That surgery went well. He just made a left flank approach, pulled out the pelvic flexure, and massaged the impaction to break it down. Worked like a charm.”

“I guess we could give it a try,” Don says. “I know Harold will go for it. He is sure this horse is going to cost more than they paid for it in the first place.”

“When I went back to school after visiting with Dr. Haug, I asked Dr. Adams about that procedure,” I say. “He said, if you have no other option, get in and get out as quickly as possible, and you will be fine.”

We gave the mare a full dose of DSS and some Dipyrone for pain. As we were finishing up, Harold came out of the house to talk with us.

“What do you two think?”

“We definitely have an impaction at the pelvic flexure,” I say. “We gave her some more medication. If she hasn’t passed anything by morning, we think we should do some surgery. Either that or send her over to Washington State.”

“We are not going to send her anywhere,” Harold says. “I’m not sure about you guys doing surgery either. But you know, Sophie will say we have to do what you say.” 

“Okay,” Don says. “No food, just like before. We will be here, ready to do surgery the first thing the morning.”

“I guess we should hit the books tonight,” Don says as we were driving back to the clinic. “I am not sure I can find the pelvic flexure. In fact, I have never done a flank incision on a horse.”

“Believe it or not, we did several while I was in school,” I say. “The incision is a piece of cake. In fact, the whole surgery is a piece of cake. It is just getting it done and not ending up with an infection following surgery.”

“We will plan for you to do the surgery. I will just be there to learn,” Don says.

The next morning we spent a lot of time packing and repacking our supplies for the surgery. 

“I don’t want to be out there and find out we forgot something,” Don says.

Finally, all packed up, we made the drive out to Harold’s place. When we pulled into the driveway, we could see the shed where the horse was being kept. As we got closer, we could see several boards were missing on the side of the shed. They were lying out on the pasture.

“That doesn’t look good,” Don says. “I hope the horse is still alive.”

When we pulled up to the shed, the mare was standing head up and eating some alfalfa. The inside of the shed was plastered with horse manure. And there were 3 boards kicked out on the side of the shed.

Harold came out of the barn when we arrived.

“About 3:00 this morning, it sounded like all hell was breaking loose.”

Sophie came up behind Harold. “We got up and came out here, and she was acting like everything was fine. She had kicked out the side of the barn, and there was horse shit everywhere. We figured that everything was okay, so I gave her just a little hay. She loved it.”

“This is the best thing that has happened to me in a long time,” Don says. “I have worried about this surgery all night.”

“What do we do now?” Harold asks.

“Let’s just go easy on the feed for a few days,” I say. “Maybe plan to be back on a full diet this time next week. Until then, just small amounts of hay and grain and plenty of water.”

We got back in the truck, and Don let out an audible sigh. “I am so relieved that we didn’t have to do any surgery this morning.”

“Makes the rest of the day easy,” I say. “Maybe we should stop off for a beer on the way home tonight.”

“That sounds good,” Don says. “I’ll buy.”

Photo by T.J. Checketts from Pexels

%d bloggers like this: