Yuki means happiness and this little fellow has brought us so much of that! Even though he has had a rough start, he is such a strong fighter and such a sweet gentle soul. Although sweet little Yuki was only with us for a few short weeks, his courage and spirit will forever be carried in my heart.
As soon as each puppy is born, they are given a thorough check-up, weighed, assigned a collar color and then immediately put to nurse. Little Yuki was a little small, but seemed feisty and healthy. I put him on mom to nurse and he was eager to drink. I had not had experience with clef palate prior to Yuki, and did not immediately recognize the symptoms, let alone routinely to include and check for this after birth. The rest of his litter was born without incident and all appeared to be healthy. Yuki, however, cried a lot while nursing, which was a clear indicator to me that he was somehow not getting his needs met. We always take mom and pups into see Dr. Jeff as soon as everyone is whelped, so when we got there, I addressed my concerns on my little one with him. He give him a thorough check-up- listened to his heart and lungs, reweighed him, and then inserted a finger into his mouth to check his suckle. Immediately upon verifying that he had an insufficient suckle, he opened up his little mouth and showed me the significant clef palate- so severe that it extended into the soft palate of the throat.
Most of the developmental issues and birth defects that can effect humans can also be seen in puppies. Anatomically, they are not so different from us. One of the birth defects, although rare, that can happen is a clef palate. Just like it is in humans, clef palate is the result of a malformation of the roof of the mouth. Somehow, the cells that compromise the roof and upper palate do not get the message to fuse and result in a hole in the roof of the mouth. This can range from mild- small slit; to severe- can continue through the gums and result in a split lip.
WHAT IS THE DEVELOPMENTAL SIGNIFICANCE OF A CLEF PALATE?
This most immediate issue of a clef palate in a puppy is the same thing that brought him to my attention- with a good portion of the roof of his mouth missing, he is unable to get enough suction to suckle milk. If you have ever tried to drink from a straw with a hole in it (besides what is supposed to be there) then you will have an idea of how difficult it is to accomplish anything with that loss of vacuum. The next issue that the pup has to contend with is aspiration into the lungs resulting in pneumonia. With the roof of the mouth completely open into the sinus cavity, any moisture or liquid in the mouth is easily inhaled into the lungs which will ultimately result in pneumonia and in a puppy that weighs less than a pound and has no immune system yet- this is of course a death sentence.
Never one to panic, and certainly not ever willing to give up on a life, I asked Dr. Jeff what we needed to do. As stated previously, the first obstacle to overcome is getting sustenence to the puppy. Because he is unable to suckle and would likely drown if we tried to force feed, the only viable option was tube feeding. To tube feed a puppy, a tube must be inserted into the mouth, down the esophagus and into the stomach. CARE MUST BE TAKEN TO AVOID THE LUNGS! Direct injection of milk into the lungs will surely result in death. So, as soon as the tube is inserted into the puppy, the first thing one does is place the end that is sticking out of the puppy into the ear and listen VERY carefully. Stomach noises should be heard NOT breathing. If you are uncertain, you must remove the tube and try again. Once you are certain that you cannot hear breathing, you then hook a syringe to the open end of the tube (in the case of tiny Yuki, we used a catheder) and SLOWLY push a small amount of STERILE SALINE (obtained from an IV bag.)
As you slowly push the saline, watch and listen CAREFULLY for any signs that the saline is entering the lungs. Sterile saline solution is used before the milk because it can be absorbed into the lungs incase a mistake was made when inserting the tube. (PRIOR to inserting the tube into the puppy, the tube must be measured and marked to ensure you do not over insert and pass the stomach). Once you are certain that you are indeed in the stomach, you may begin adding milk. We use our own homemade formula and have found it to be SIGNIFICANTLY better than any store bought bitch milk re-placer. It is made from egg yolk, whole plain organic yogurt, whole goat milk and DYNE high calorie sweet syrup.
Dr. Jeff indicated that we needed to tube feed Yuki for approximately 6 weeks and then re-check to see if he was sufficient age and size to attempt surgery. He was going to contact a college of his that specialized in reconstructive surgery. Dr. Jeff also went ahead and gave the puppy a strong antibiotic injection in an attempt to give us a leg up on pneumonia. We tube fed sweet baby Yuki every 2 hours around the clock. My amazing, mature and incredible Liliana, only 10 years old, also learned to tube feed Yuki so that she could help on the few occasions that I was unavailable for one of his feedings. After nearly 4 weeks of this round the clock ritual, I was totally and completely exhausted, but starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I could not have asked for a better patient. Little Yuki grew accostomed to the feedings and would relax and even swallow the tube for me making it much easier to get down his esophagus. He was growing at a slow but steady pace and has so much personality!! He got to where he recognized us and would wag it tiny little tail, loved to snuggle up under my chin and was quick to give puppy kisses. He was truly a blessing and brought us so much joy. We continued to take him in every few days to see Dr. Jeff and evaluate his progress and our vet was pleasently surprised that he was doing as well as he was.
Then tragedy struck. The thing that we had feared the most caught up with little Yuki. He spiked a fever and began to struggle breathing. A listen to his lungs at Dr. Jeff’s office confirmed pneumonia. We started amoxi drops and gave him another injection. He fought bravely for 3 more days then died curled up under my chin in his favorite spot. To say we were heartbroken is such an understatement. I was so crushed and frustrated. It was not fair. We had fought so hard- HE had fought so hard. Looking back now, even years later and knowing what the outcome was- even after all the financial
investment, weeks without more than an hour or so of sleep at a time, and all the heart and soul we poured into little Yuki, I would do it all over again in a heart beat. Not only did such a brave little boy deserve every chance we could give him, but I can say with a certainty that everyone who met this special boy will forever carry him with them. He had such an incredible spirit, and despite everything he was going through, was just a sweet, affectionate and happy puppy. He brought so much happiness to our lives. I have been told over and over again “you cannot save them all” and although little Yuki proves that to be a accurate statement, it will certainly not stop us from trying! You would never imagine having a love so big for such a tiny little baby. Wait for us patiently on Rainbow Bridge little Yuki, you have some great friends to watch over you until we meet again.