For those of you who follow us, you may be familiar with Minnie the Miracle Mi-Ki. Many of you call her “Chapstick” as she was photographed next to a tube of Chapstick for size reference when she was born. She was only 2.2 ounces at birth and then dropped to 1.8 ounces after not being able to nurse. We didn’t know why she couldn’t nurse, but like all our fragile pups, I always try to help them survive with supportive care. As long as they keep fighting, I will fight alongside them – even if it means losing sleep and aging prematurely.
Tiny but Mighty, and Mighty Sensitive
Minnie was part of the “M” Magic Kingdom litter. Her brothers were Mickey and Mushu, and she also had a sister named Mulan. Perhaps there was a bit of Disney Magic that helped sustain her and made her a strong protagonist.
Because Minnie couldn’t latch on properly, though she tried and tried, I had to tube feed her using puppy formula every two hours around the clock for her first few weeks. I learned from previous puppies that the Myra Savant-Harris puppy formula recipe is better than any of the commercial versions I’ve tried as far as preventing constipation and enabling weight gain.
The trick was figuring out how much formula would help Minnie grow but not injure her tiny stomach. The recommended dose of 1 cc per ounce of weight was far too much for her, so I’d have to feed a little, stop, then feed a bit more. As soon as she squirmed, I learned I needed to stop right there or she would be miserable for several hours from a too-full tummy. I would be equally miserable thinking I’d nearly killed her.
All newborn Mi-Ki puppies are quite sensitive due to their small size, and Minnie was particularly sensitive. Newborn puppies require a consistent temperature of 87-90 degrees F and humidity between 40-60%. Minnie also required extra oxygen and antibiotics as she would regularly spit up her formula, so we were constantly worried about pneumonia.
Minnie spent the first couple of weeks in a Puppywarmer Incubator. I like this brand because it has gradient heat so the puppy can find their perfect temperature. I also use their oxygen concentrator with distilled water added for humidity. Here in Colorado, it’s extra dry, so puppies under heat can dehydrate just by breathing. In addition to the moisture provided through the concentrator, our hygrometer and thermometer indicated we had to use a humidifier next to the incubator to provide the ideal climate. We went through so much distilled water!
Minnie’s canine mom was also supportive and helped clean her and facilitate her pottying. Newborn puppies cannot defecate on their own without stimulation, so I was grateful for her mom’s help in this regard. Sometimes I would have to use a warm wet cotton ball to help. She always had to be cleaned and pottied before feedings so she had room for formula.
After feedings, we would prop Minnie up for about 15 minutes to try to keep milk from bubbling up her nose. Actually, it was more like watching the exorcist with a tiny spinning head and projectile vomiting. I still have formula sprayed on my walls from her. Neither of us got very much sleep during those first four weeks. At this point, we weren’t sure why she spit up. She was too fragile to take to the vet. We thought perhaps she had esophageal reflux or megaesophagus.
The diagnosis, and a possible cause for puppy birth defects!
Eventually, we felt Minnie could be outside of the incubator without supplemental oxygen long enough to visit our vet who is just two miles away. Dr. Atkins determined that she had a small cleft palate far in the back of her throat, which is why I had trouble seeing it. That is why she couldn’t latch on to nurse, and that was why there was always milk coming out of her nose, despite careful feeding techniques.
The interesting thing about this diagnosis is that my mother’s dog also had a litter with a single puppy survivor (he had a stillborn brother) who also had a cleft palate during the same timeframe. Mom has a toy Australian Shepherd from lines that have never experienced a cleft palate in over 25 years.
My parents have their own spacious apartment downstairs in our home. Since we live in a rural location, mice had also decided to enjoy our lovely abode. We didn’t want to use traps or poison because of our dogs. Instead, we used a rather expensive plug-in device. Unlike the little ultrasonic rodent deterrents, this device emits powerful EMF (electromagnetic frequencies) throughout the wiring of the house. As long as there is electricity flowing through the wires (and we kept the lights on to ensure there was power on at all times) the EMFs would chase away the mice. It was highly effective.
Unfortunately, we believe the EMFs at this level also caused birth defects, specifically cleft palates, in our litters. The company that makes the device says it is completely safe for humans and pets, but I don’t believe it is safe for developing fetuses – human or otherwise. I started combing the Internet for information about EMFs and found lots of data correlating birth defects with EMF exposure. I also found several products designed for pregnant women to block EMFs from their unborn babies. Cell phones, computers, and all those wireless products we love can all contribute, but this EMF rodent-deterring device was apparently quite strong and dangerous.
We surmise that Mom’s puppy’s cleft was potentially more severe due to the fact that the device was plugged into the basement where she and her dogs live. Despite our best efforts, her puppy didn’t make it. Most cleft-palate puppies don’t survive.
We’ve since unplugged the Pest Free device and have had fewer litter complications. I’ve also added a few EMF-neutralizing devices to my electronics. Incidentally, my houseplants have also started doing better while using these products. One time, I accidentally unplugged one of my EMF harmonizing devices and the plant nearby started getting yellow leaves and dropping them all of a sudden again. I plugged in the neutralizer and the plant fully recovered. If I thought the EMF neutralizing devices were a hoax before, I don’t any more!
The care and feeding of Minnie the Tiny Miracle Mi-Ki
Tube feeding is a little scary. For one thing, Mi-Ki puppies are quite small, and you have to use a very small feeding tube (3.5 French to start) which is tricky to thread down their throats and position it down into their bellies. It is important to have your veterinarian help you learn how to make sure you are tube-feeding a puppy correctly. Otherwise, you can put the tube into the lungs and drown them or cause pneumonia.
I have learned to measure and mark the feeding tube with a Sharpie so I know I’m in the stomach, rather than the lungs. The proper length can be determined by positioning the feeding tube on the side of the puppy measuring from the mouth to the first rib while imagining the line of the throat down to the stomach. Wi-KiHow has some helpful instructions for tube feeding a puppy.
After 6 weeks of tube feeding, Minnie decided she was now “big” and wasn’t going to tolerate a tube any longer. It was tricky figuring out what she could eat and how she could drink. She taught herself to drink formula like a little bird out of a syringe by tilting her head back to have it stay out of her sinuses. She would chew the heck out of those syringes too!
Minnie can’t handle overly soft foods as she ends up sneezing them out her nose. We tried any way we could to get good calories down her because she was always just so tiny. Eventually, we tried moistening freeze-dried foods and squeezing the liquid out of a morsel to let it slip down her throat. Overall, she now seems to have the best luck with kibble or other dense foods.
The trials and triumphs of a cleft-palate puppy
Keeping Minnie alive during those first two months was quite the feat. I constantly worried about her — every drop of nourishment, every breath, every sneeze, every spit-up.
Once we got through those first few months, I sometimes wondered if we might be able to find a home for Minnie where this highly-socialized pup could be a support for someone needing some extra tiny companionship. Unfortunately, Minnie had several months of dealing with severe recurring sinus issues due to the continued communication between her mouth and nasal passages. She also had a foul odor because of the infection.
We had hoped that the removal of a couple of lingering deciduous teeth might calm down the inflammation, but it didn’t seem to help. Sedating her briefly for the procedure did allow my vet to finally get a really good look at her mouth, though. He confirmed the cleft palate at the back of her mouth by her throat, but there is also a tiny hole in the front right under her nasal cavity. This is likely what causes her congestion and chronic infections.
Minnie weighs 2 pounds, 10 ounces as an adult. Because of her size and the sensitivity of the area, Dr. Atkins doesn’t believe Minnie is a good candidate for cleft palate surgery as he believes she most likely wouldn’t survive the procedure. I still may get a consult with a specialist, however. I am hoping they might be able to fit her with some sort of an orthodontic device like a retainer to help her eat and drink more easily.
Maintaining Minnie, our Miracle Mi-Ki
The good news is that I’ve had tremendous success clearing up her sinus infection and odor with the use of colloidal silver-soaked treats and red-light therapy, which she loves. She gets pre and probiotics to improve her gut health after chronic antibiotic usage. We’ve installed a few large elevated water dispensers to help her drink, which she also enjoys. She still gets to sneezing and wheezing with excitement or drinking wrong, but for her, it’s just how it is and she’s used to it. She always has a messy, snot-nosed face.
Though Minnie is just 2.5 pounds, she is very good at bossing people around. She communicates very clearly what she needs. I suppose that’s also one of the skills that have kept her alive.
Minnie is one tough little girl. She runs with absolute joy across the yard and she’s wicked fast. She will take on the biggest Mi-Ki in the manor to fight for a bully stick and they will actually back down. Her fighting spirit isn’t exactly encouraged, but we know it’s what has sustained her through this amazing year. It’s been an adventurous 12 months with scarce sleep, but it was totally worth it. Minnie is a miracle Mi-Ki!
Minnie gives me encouragement whenever I have a tough case with a puppy and reminds me that there’s always room for hope. Minnie is our little black snot-nosed angel with a goofy smile. We’re very grateful that she’s here.