Losing a Puppy. A Heartache of Breeding.

A show dog breeder’s life is not glamorous, but it does evoke a response of “aww… puppies!” However, a breeder’s daily routines are more “eww…” than “aww…”

Everyone imagines the deliciousness of being surrounded by fluffy cuteness on comically unsteady legs. The real comical moments, though, are dosing off sitting upright and drooling into a whelping box after a few sleepless nights holding vigil over newborn puppies. Then, stepping into warm poop inside your favorite slippers at 4 AM because the mama dog also held a vigil over her babies and did not want to leave them to go potty outside, even as it would have been just a couple of steps to the doggy door, the grass, and back. Moments like that, or any number of their variations, are known to every breeder.

Breeders are experts at a “fill in the blank” game shared with other breeders. Stepping in (fill in the blank: poop, pee, vomit), finding a chewed up (fill in the blank: silk dress, iPhone, legal document), unending ( fill in the blank: potty break shifts, prevention of dog fights). You get the gist. It’s not all fluffy puppy cuteness.

However, we all take the “eww…” and “oh-no!” moments, even lots of them, in strides. They are worth the “aww…” moments.  Not only with puppies, but with our beloved adult dogs too. We love dogs. That is why we do what we do.

What is really hard, and I mean really, really hard is losing a puppy. No heap of dog vomit on my pillow has ever made me think of quitting. Losing a puppy does.

Losing Leelu

It took me two weeks of digesting the experience and grieving to be able to write about losing one of the newborn puppies.  I lost Leelu at day 10 of her life and it hurt so much I found it difficult to get back to covering that litter in the blog. However, I would be deceiving you if I wasn’t including the heartache part of dog breeding.

The litter was born a few days early. The most fragile, critical first few days were not without challenges but I seemed to manage all the little crises well. Moxie got a little hypocalcemic, then two of the puppies developed diarrhea, but I dealt with it and all seemed to be good. Then, one of the puppies, a little black and tan girl Leelu got colicky.


Colic is not uncommon in newborn puppies. It’s an awfully draining experience for all involved because the puppy is in pain and screaming. The puppy is miserable, the mother dog frantic, the breeder worried and suffering with the puppy.

Leelu was responding well to gentle belly massages and being held in a “colic hold”, clasping my hands around the puppy and holding it almost upright, with about 30 degrees tilt forward. The puppy’s chest rests in a palm, while the other hand supports the butt. Any gas pockets in the belly have room to move more freely. The puppy usually settles immediately. I was also giving Leelu tiniest drops of simethicone baby tincture. She was responding well and immediately, but the second I would put her back in the whelping box, she would cry again.

I suspected that she was not voiding properly, so I tried stimulating her to poop. Nothing was happening. The puppy was obviously constipated. I used warm water enema and Leelu started birthing little poop rocks. She seemed to feel much better after voiding. Now my concern was to keep her fed, hydrated and warm. Unfortunatley, Leelu would be OK for a little while and would start crying again. Holding her and helping her to poop helped every time, but not for long.


That went on and off the entire night, then during the day she was better. However, she was not nursing more than for a minute. While her siblings nursed vigorously Leelu would start and then fall off the nipple. I was torn whether I should be bringing her to my vet and risk exposure of a weak premature pup to pathogens.  I decided to play it by ear and not visit a vet yet.

Moxie sweetly cuddled the puppy and always made sure she was either trying to nurse or was kept warm. But Leelu was getting increasingly less interested in nursing, so I had to start supplementing mother’s milk.

Moxie cradling Leelu under her chin while Willa and Chester are nursing.

Moxie cradling Leelu under her chin while Willa and Chester are nursing.

Tube Feeding

Tube feeding is a common practice when a newborn puppy, for whatever reason, is not getting enough mother’s milk. The equipment used is a special sterile tube with small holes at its blunt edge, sized appropriately for a given puppy breed (I use size 5 French feeding tube for newborn Norwich pups).

DSC_6231First, the distance from the mouth to the stomach is measured and marked on the tube. The mark tells me whether the tube reached the stomach. Puppy formula, warmed to 100 degrees F, is drawn into a syringe. The puppy is put on a warm towel on a table, end of tube dipped in milk and then offered to the puppy. A hungry puppy starts swallowing the tube. First time breeders should always practice with someone experienced in tube feeding before attempting it, but it’s a relatively easy procedure. Once the mark is by puppy’s mouth, indicating the proper length of tube reached the stomach, you hold the tube and puppy’s head together with one hand and push the plunger of the syringe with the warm milk with the other hand. Once done, you just pull the tube out without any resistance, because the swallowing mechanism protects entry of objects only in one direction. You have to have the pup’s cooperation in swallowing the tube, getting the tube out takes a split second.

Tenuous Improvement

Leelu was tube fed for 3 days and nights and she was getting much better. She started nursing with vigor: kneading Moxie’s tit, nursing for a long time, having a good suction, finding another nipple fast when bumped off by a sibling. However, soon after she’d nurse she would start with colic and being constipated. Again, I switched to tube feeding round the clock.

By day 9 of life Leelu was gaining weight well and she was not colicky. However, she still had trouble with constipation. I was making sure she was hydrated and warm, adjusted the milk formula, but Leelu needed enemas to poop.  Every time I hoped to get her to poop by stimulation only, not much was happening. However, once she pooped she seemed well. Her temperature was normal and she appeared strong and content. I was hoping the worst was over and her voiding would improve soon as well.

At day 10 of her life, in the very early morning hours Leelu started crashing. She was weak, almost listless. I made the terrible mistake of tube feeding her. She threw up what I fed her less than a minute later. I knew instantly that she might have aspirated her vomit because she started to gasp for air. I grabbed her and brought her to my fabulous vet with years of experience with newborns. After examining Leelu, taking x-rays and an ultrasound Dr.B confirmed that Leelu had some liquid in one lung and that she was terribly constipated.  We decided together to end her suffering.

I did not find a conclusive answer to what caused Leelu’s digestive problems. She was severely constipated, but no deformities were found. Someone suggested that it could have been hydrocephaly, but my vet claims that although he did not examine Leelu’s brain, he would have seen hydrocephaly on x-rays. She also did not have any other symptoms of it.

Statistically, puppies born prematurely are ten times more likely to die before 2 weeks of age than puppies born full term. Their lungs and digestive tract are especially vulnerable, as they have to start functioning before being fully developed. I will never know for sure if there was anything else I could have done to save Leelu, and whether not tube feeding her on the morning when she was crashing would have avoided her demise. That question will haunt me.


The last photo I took of Leelu, when I thought she had turned around and was going to be OK.

A Toll Every Breeder Pays

After a few sleepless nights, punctuated with joy of recovery a sudden turn for the worse is an impossibly hard blow. For everyone enjoying their dog bred by a responsible breeder, please thank them every chance you get. The joy of having a healthy, well adjusted, well bred puppy comes at a great emotional toll. I hope to never lose the dedication to every life in my hands, and never to be calloused enough to shrug off a loss of a puppy, but the emotional toll it takes is really high. Every well bred dog had tons of love poured into her.

Hug your incredible puppy today.

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17 Responses to Losing a Puppy. A Heartache of Breeding.

  1. Lynn D. says:

    God bless you, Magda.
    Desi, Val, and I are all rewarded daily because of the incredible love and dedication you give to your beloved dogs and their pups. The debt we owe is great and we try to make your sacrifices worthwhile by the love and care we give Desi. She wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you. And the joy she brings us would be absent from our lives if it weren’t for you. Thank you, dear one, for all of the life and love you bring to the world even amidst the heartbreak that must sometimes accompany it.


  2. I so appreciate the time, love, intelligence, and effort you put into your dogs, Magda. My Digby is a love…a beautiful, smart, sensitive, and happy boy. He has also enriched my life and I am fortunate I have you to call for all my doggy questions. I am so sorry for your loss and I understand the feelings you have about the tube feeding….but I have found that I ALWAYS feel I have done the wrong thing when I lose a pet. I should have done less….I should have done differently….tried a new medication…moved on to another vet…put them to sleep sooner…..waited another day.. There is always something I SHOULD or SHOULDN’T have done. You did the best you could with the information you had. No one could have done better. THIS I KNOW!


    • dignpop says:

      Thank you for that wisdom, Donna. End of life experience is the hardest part of having and loving a pet. With a puppy, the weight of responsibility is magnified. And I truly appreciate your kind words. I gave Digby a good start, you’re doing a whole lot more and longer, resulting in a great dog he is.


  3. Joan Eckert says:

    They is an old saying. “If it were any easier, everyone would be doing it. if it were any harder, no one would do it” this I believe.. No one tries any harder than you my dear.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Cathy Rogers says:

    Thank you, Magda, for putting into words what many of us have experienced as breeders. That, and losing the old ones, are the toughest part of breeding dogs. No matter how many times it happens, it never gets any easier for me. I still mourn any that I have lost, and wonder about what might have been. Bless you for explaining it so eloquently. I pray you never have to experience it again.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Urusla M. Walsh says:

    When I lost Sophie’s singleton puppy while Sophie was in labor (it was her 2nd pregnancy–she had managed to free whelp her 1st singleton puppy), I was so upset and felt so guilty. Why hadn’t I just taken her to the Vet sooner instead of calling every 20 to 30 minutes and insisted on her doing a C Section? Why didn’t I call an acquaintance of mine who is a handler and breeder and ask her to help? Why couldn’t I bring myself to reach in and pull the puppy out? Afterward, Sophie was inconsolable over her loss until she found a little stuffed hedgehog in the toy basket that was just the right size for a singleton puppy. I would burst into tears for the next week every time Sophie showed up with that little toy hedgehog in her mouth. She carefully cared for it and kept it with her for the next 5 weeks! This loss, the guilt I had and more importantly, Sophie’s response to HER loss, marked the end of my interest in breeding! I don’t think I am brave enough to take a chance again. But I’m glad many of you are a lot braver than I! As a responsible person you always feel responsible, especially for the things that turn out as “if only, I had…” We do that more often than taking credit for the things that we do right and much of the time, we do do things right! Hang in there!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Gina B says:

    Magda, I’m so sorry for your heartache. So many don’t realize the incredible highs and lows that come with breeding our beloved pets.


  7. Susan F. says:

    I’m so sorry for the loss of Leelu. I have followed your blog all summer and have been amazed by all that you do for your dogs and for the people who will be lucky enough to have them as their pets. I hope that this lose will hurt a little less each day. We hope to see you again soon.
    Susan, Alex and Riley


  8. Carol Suggs says:

    Magda thank you for your blog. We are responsible for bringing these wonderful beings into the
    world and we feel so guilty, so responsible when we lose one. The truth is no matter what we do or how hard we try, not every puppy was meant to be saved. Keep writing.
    Carol S.


  9. Marlee van dreumel says:

    I admire your strength for telling your story I appreciate you because this has happened to me just today and my puppy was 10 days old and she was crying all night and I tried to use an enema on her and I tried to feed her and I went to the store to buy some puppy supplemental milk when I came back she was gone. I tried to revive her but she wasn’t coming back and I had to take her with me because Mama didn’t understand that her puppy was gone thank God for the other three but it does hurt to lose even one.


  10. Sara says:

    Great blog, I recently lost a puppy from my litter with the same symptoms it was heart breaking I have been a emotional wreak, breeding isn’t easy at all x


  11. Caroline Scott says:

    Your story is helping me heal from the worst grief I think I have experienced. My morkie had puppies last Saturday and while five showed up on the x-ray, she actually had six. The sixth was so small/underdeveloped that he did not show up on the x-ray. The whelping went well. Tiny was born second and was put immediately on a teat. He had a great latch and nursed like crazy. After all six were born, I weighed them. The five seen on the x-ray were similar in use, weighing around four ounces each. Tiny weighed in at 1.6 ounces. Everyone said he would die. I put him on the mom every hour or more during the day and every two hours or more at night. He did so well!! By Friday, he weighed 3.10 ounces and the vet said that my diligence had gotten him out of the woods with regards to dehydration, but the road ahead was still long. No problem!! I’m a giver by nature and flourish when needed by the underdog.
    Then, the unthinkable happened. On the way home from the vet, the mom accidently suffocated Tiny and he was dead when I took them all out of the carrier. This was yesterday. I have cried for hours, screamed inside, and played the ‘if only’ game until my head hurt. Why didn’t I think that she could sit on him? Why didn’t I put the pups in a separate carrier? Why didn’t I just take the pup by himself? Why? Why? Why? I am so overwhelmed with sadness and guilt. I was already sitting, eating, and sleeping right beside the whelping box, but now I block the mom out of the closet, even just to go to the bathroom.
    I am soooo heartbroken. I have never wanted a ‘do over’ so badly in all my 54 years. I couldn’t be fearing myself up more than I am and I have no idea how to get over/through this. Somehow, your story has made me feel not so alone with my pain and for that, I thank you. It is only in facing our pain that we can heal from it, but I can feel the numbness setting in. Thank you for sharing!


  12. Jenny Parker says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I feel every word resonate. My girl had a lovely litter of 7 pups but there were 8. I will never know if it was secondary inertia, or the placenta detached but after the 7th pup was born she seemed settled and I thought she had finished. It was only 8 hours later that a green discharge alerted me that not all was right. The vet could feel the puppy, scanned her and used a doppler to confirm there was no hearbeat. She came home after the second dose of oxytocin to see if she could deliver it naturally, and just as I had given up hope and was booking her in for a c-section she delivered it. A perfectly formed beautiful boy. I life not yet begun. i am utterly heartbroken. I am so grateful for the 7 healthy pups, so grateful that she doesn’t have to have an operation, but I feel so sad and so guilty. Why didn’t I take her to the vets for an oxytocin that I know some do as standard. What did I miss? Was that lick she gave herself when she sent for a wee a sign that I missed? Reading your story has made me feel a little less alone in my grief so thank you.


  13. Marianne says:

    We are going thru this now with our lab pups. It’s a sleepless night tonight… we do everything possible we hope we pray. We see the vet in 6.5 hours. Thank you for this article.


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