Birds, bees and basset 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,” said Sandi’s voice on the other end of the line. “I hope you have finished dinner. Betty has been pushing for about three 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 three 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, our second-grader, took the most interest in the goings-on at the clinic. She liked the people and the animals and showed compassion for both. Amy 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.”

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 for 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,” she answered. “Let’s just go to a C-section, and everyone will be better for it.”

I summoned Dixie, my right hand at the clinic, to come help. With Sandi’s friends in tow, that would mean we had four gals to tend to the puppies, plus Amy.

Sounded OK, but my guess was we were looking at more than 10 pups, maybe 12 or 13. We are going to be very busy for a few minutes when I started 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 the basset onto her back. It probably wasn’t necessary to keep her on her back. Betty was sort of like a turtle in that position. Her belly spread out enough that she couldn’t have righted herself if she’d 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 them all out, 12 pups, six in each uterine horn. This uterus, the size of a pencil in its non-pregnant state, was 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 the first 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, sever 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 continued. Finally, Amy was the only set of hands. She caught the pup in a towel and followed 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, No. 12, is delivered. I double-checked the birth canal just to make sure there was not one more 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 returned it to the abdomen and closed the abdominal incision.

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

Once everything was closed up, I give Betty a reversal drug, and she recovered rapidly. We returned her to the kennel, and she was awake before we knew it.

An experienced mother, she took the pups as soon as we showed them to her.

Fluid covered the table, and the floor was soaked. My tennis shoes would be retired to the work shoe shelf. The towels that Amy laid on the floor had soaked up most of the fluid. Now there was a little time to relax.

Twelve live pups. Sandi and her friends were pleased.

We sent Sandi, Betty and pups home as soon as Betty could stand. She and her puppies would do better at home under Sandi’s watchful eyes.

I relaxed a little and looked at Amy. She’d done well this evening.

“What do you think about all of this commotion tonight?” I asked.

She just shrugged, didn’t say a word, displaying nonchalance she’d probably gotten from me.

The C-section experience was forgotten 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.