written by the late Dr Sharon McCrea

When Cath Keeley died so tragically and suddenly, her bitch Tip was in whelp. Frank didn’t feel confident to whelp the puppies, so Tip came to us a week before she was due to deliver. Early on the 1st March 2004, without much warning, she began to have very strong contractions and a short time later she discharged amniotic fluid heavily stained with meconium. There was no puppy in the birth canal and something was obviously going badly wrong. The vet was here in 5 minutes and eight puppies were delivered by emergency Caesarean Section within the hour. The problem became clear during the surgery - Tip had a very large male puppy in one horn of her uterus, and seven bitch pups in the other.

Unfortunately Tip had not been maternal with her previous litter and the section didn’t help matters. From the start she totally rejected the puppies, and was aggressive to them. We hoped that she might settle when she had fully recovered from the anaesthetic and in any case were determined that the pups would get some colostrum, so we tried restraining her while the pups fed. It became obvious however, that she was quite determined to kill the puppies, and was not about to change her mind on the matter. So Tip was sent home to Warrington where she recovered from her surgery without incident.

Restraining a large deerhound bitch with violent infanticidal desires is no easy matter and I honestly don’t know how much colostrum the pups got from Tip in the 48 hours we kept her here. They were supplemented with bottle feeds from the moment they came home and were also given commercial colostrum on the first day.

Once we had given up on Tip, the pups were fed 2 hourly on Esbilac. Constipation was a problem and they were given Liquid Paraffin for this. The smallest pup, Hooker (because she was tiny but tough) gained very little weight and died on Day 4. The others pups on weight steadily but I was not completely happy with their progress. When compared to my own litter born the previous October and raised by their dam, the weight gain of the pups was slower. Also the sites where the dew claws were removed never healed properly, forming little sloughy pits.

On Day 9 the pups began to fade. All of them lost weight, they were less keen to suck, and Gremlin the second smallest bitch pup was limp and not willing to feed at all. I took Gremlin up to my vet, John Reed, and suggested that we try a method that I had heard about via the internet.

This method of treating FPS pups came from Anne-Marie Brannon. Anne-Marie knew about plasma transfusions commonly done in foals when the foal is fading due to lack of maternal antibodies, and had persuaded her vet to try it with her fading litter of DDBs. Basically blood is taken from a healthy adult, preferably recently vaccinated, and ideally the dam of the pups. The blood is then spun down and clotted to produce serum. This serum is then injected into the fading puppies, thus hopefully giving them the healthy antibodies they need. Anne-Marie and her vets attributed the survival of her pups to the transfusion and the vets had subsequently used the method on other fading litters with success.

John was willing to try the transfusions and rang Anne-Marie’s vets at Swanbridge for technical details. Tip was obviously not available, so I rushed home to get Teelin as donor. Teelin had reared a healthy litter born the previous October and had just been vaccinated. When I got back to the surgery with her John took 200 ml of blood from her jugular vein using cattle vacuum tubes. He had found out that the lab could not spin down the blood immediately so he raced off to do it himself. I went home to leave Teelin off and get the puppies but sadly while I’d been at the surgery Gremlin had died. By the time I got back with the pups John had the serum ready, and he injected all of them. 200mls of blood does not produce much serum, but each puppy got about 1ml. John was able to get a vein on all of the pups, but according to the Swanbridge vets it can be given trans-peritoneally if no vein can be found. We discussed starting the pups on antibiotic prophylaxis, but as Anne-Marie had described a very fast response we decided to hold off for a few hours.

Had we not seen the results of this treatment ourselves, we would simply not believe it. Within hours a litter that was sluggish, a bit limp and unwilling to feed had been transformed into a mass of lively, pink, warm, wriggling pups who were feeding voraciously from the bottle. When John called out that evening to see how things were going the improvement was so radical, and the pups so clearly normal that again we decided to hold off with the antibiotics until the next morning. By then it was obvious that antibiotics would not be required. The pups had all gained weight, were obviously well and the little sloughy pits where their dew claws had been removed had completely healed overnight

From then on the pups never looked back. Their weight gain continued, and this time it was at the same rate as the healthy litter reared by Teelin. The weights also quickly evened out with the smaller pups catching up with the bigger ones. They were weaned at 2½ weeks and took to solids avidly. Because they effectively had no dam, Teelin and my maternal little sheltie Marble were given access to them from the time their eyes were opened and they ‘adopted’ the pups happily. When they went to their new homes I told the new owners to tell their vets and insurers about the transfusions, and all of the various insurers were happy to accept the pups without exceptions on their policies.

All of the puppies have developed well physically and mentally and all are big deerhounds. One pup, Big Bird, developed intermittent lameness when she was 9 months old but despite extensive investigations by a specialist orthopaedic vet this cured itself with no definitive diagnosis except ‘a strain’ being made. She is a big girl now and was the biggest pup. Another has chronically itchy feet and allergy testing has shown her to be (in the words of her owner) to be ‘allergic to life’ This pup’s vets wonder if the allergies may be related to early compromise of her immune system. Apart from this all of the pups have been entirely healthy. The quietest pup, Punk, always goes to sleep sucking the corner of a favourite blanket, and I can’t help wondering if this comfort behaviour has something to do with her being hand reared.

This method of treating FPS has now been used in seven litters that I know of, all with the same remarkable, fast results. Unfortunately it has not to the best of my knowledge been written up for the veterinary journals and until it is it will not be routinely used although it is normal practice for fading foals. There is little to lose with fading pups and, apart from a small theoretical risk of acute anaphylaxis, the only possible future consequence I can think of is if a transfused pup later needed a blood transfusion. Should anyone want more information they are most welcome to contact me, and I will happily put their vets in contact with mine.

With thanks to Anne-Marie Brannon of RedRoar Dogue De Bordeaux and Castlestaff Staffordshire Bull Terriers who was at the end of the ‘phone, her Swanbridge vets and John Reed MRCVS who spent an entire afternoon on something he had never heard of before.