The name water puppies, seems like it isn't all that serious but, in reality, water puppies are a very serious disease that can affect the overall health and survival rate of your puppies. While it is uncommon in many breeds, it can be quite common in some breeds and is still seen in the majority of them.
But what is a water puppy? How does it happen and what can you, as a breeder, do to prevent the condition from happening. In this article, we will go over all of these as well as look at the prognosis for your water puppies.
What are Water Puppies?
Although it is a common condition, especially in some breeds, many new breeders are unaware of the condition. Often, water puppies is something that breeders don't talk about, which is why many are left wondering what it is.
To start, water puppies, or anasarca, is a generalized edema. This is where there is a deadly amount of fluid under the skin of the newborn puppy. It is very common to see the swelling on the head of the puppy but it also swell throughout the entire body.
Puppies born with anasarca are also known as swimmer puppies, walrus puppies and rubber puppies. Litters can have 1 or 2 water puppies in it, or the entire litter can be lost to the condition.
The prognosis is very poor for these puppies and puppies born with it often have other problems such as liver failure, hypoproteinemia or nephrotic syndrome.
Is my Breed at Higher Risk?
Although the condition can affect any breed, including mixed breeds, water puppies are more common in brachycephalic breeds. These are short nosed breeds such as bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers that are known for their large heads but very short, or pushed in, muzzle.
However, while water puppies are fairly common in these breeds, the condition has been seen quite frequently in the following breeds as well.
- Cocker Spaniels
- German Shepherds
- Yorkshire Terriers
- Australian Shepherds
- Brachycephalic Breeds
However, that being said, it can occur in any breed, although it is usually uncommon when it does occur.
What are the Causes of Anasarca?
The causes of anarsarca is still not completely clear and there is very little research available on the condition. With that being said, there are several theories as to what can lead to the condition occurring in your puppies. These are:
- Inherited: There is a belief that the condition can be caused by genetics, which is why it is seen in many brachycephalic breeds.
- Improper Protein Proccessing: During pregnancy, the dam's body is unable to process proteins and this leads to serious problems for the fetuses.
- Hyperthyroidism: The high blood pressure linked to this is believed to have some risk to the puppies.
- Reaction to Sodium: It is believed the fetuses may have a reaction to the sodium in the dam's body and this leads to the swelling.
- Parvovirus: If the dam is exposed to parvovirus while pregnant, there have been some links to this disease and water puppies.
- Lymphatic System Malfunction: This can be a congenital condition where there is a build up of fluid in the soft tissues.
While these theories do carry a lot of weight, not knowing the exact reasons for water puppies makes it difficult to prevent it, but there are things you can do, which we will go through later in this article.
What are the Symptoms Seen in the Mom?
One thing that should be stressed is that there are no documented symptoms that mom is going to have water puppies. However, breeders and veterinarians have seen some behaviors and symptoms that could possibly be an indication that your female dog is carrying water puppies. These are:
- Extra or abnormal weight gain during pregnancy
- Swollen mammary glands well before whelping
- Leakage from the vulva
- Puppies shifting in the belly from one side of it to the other
- Water ring around the dam's teats
- Leakage from the nipples early in pregnancy
- Shiny teats and breast tissue
- Drinking unusually large amounts of water
When you see any of these symptoms, speak with your veterinarian. Water puppies can be diagnosed on an ultrasound shortly before delivery. It is very important to check for water puppies if it is suspected. Most often, these puppies are too large to be whelped naturally and a c-section will be required.
What do Water Puppies Look Like?
To start, puppies affected by anasarca are very startling to see. They are often 2 to 5 times larger than any other puppies in the litter. They have an excess of fluid in them and depending on the severity, the skin of the puppy can start splitting from the force of the water under it.
Water puppies have several characteristics. These are:
- Bloated appearance on the face, legs and body.
- Distorted features
- Skin that looks like rubber.
- Distended abdomen, head and/or legs.
- Flat chest where the front legs will splay out to the sides.
It should be noted that many of these characteristics can be seen in an ultrasound and your vet will schedule a c-section in the event of spotting one.
In addition to this swollen appearance, many puppies that are born alive with anasarca also tend to have other conditions including:
- Vertebral Column Defects
- Cleft Palates
- Liver Failure
- Nephrotic Syndrome
What is the Prognosis for Water Puppies?
Prognosis for water puppies is very low. On average, the majority of puppies with anasarca are stillborn at birth. Of those that are alive, the majority of them die shortly after being born.
When they are born, vets will assess them as mild, medium or severely affected by the condition. For medium and severely affected puppies, the prognosis is very low with a high mortality rate.
For mildly affected puppies, the prognosis is still poor but definitely better. Many puppies born mildly affected can go on to lead full and normal lives. However, treatment needs to be administered quickly and there is a bit of extra work involved.
How Do I Treat Puppies with Anasarca?
Often, there is no treatment for a puppy with anasarca. When they are born, they are in severe pain from the condition. Most vets recommend humanely euthanizing the puppies as soon as they are born.
However, if the puppy is affected mildly, then some treatment is given to try to save the pup. To treat a water puppy, follow these steps:
- Hold the puppy so it is upright, head toward the ceiling, tail toward the floor.
- Extend his neck so you can clear the airways.
- Stimulate the genitals gently to encourage the puppy to pee.
- Once he has, place the puppy in a warm, secure area or incubator. You may have to continue to hold him up until he is breathing on his own.
- Your vet will administer the chemical furosemide intravenously. And will do this repeatedly every 30 to 45 minutes until three treatments have been given.
- During the period, continue to stimulate the puppy's genitals to encourage the puppy to pee.
- Finally, your vet may wrap the puppy to help push the fluid out of the puppy.
In general, it can take up to 4 hours for midly to moderately affected puppies to breathe normally. If they are not able to breathe, they can drown on the water in their body.
Continue to monitor and treat the puppy. Water puppies that survive over 3 days old have a higher rate of survival so those first three day are imperative.
How to Prevent Water Puppies?
Prevention of anasarca is very difficult since we are not aware of the reason why it occurs. We do have theories and with those theories, we can try to avoid it as possible. Obviously, congenital reasons are difficult to prevent. However, if your dam has water puppies in her first litter, it would be recommended to retire that dam as it could reoccur in her next litter.
Other ways to prevent water puppies are:
- Diet: Feeding a low-salt diet to your pregnant dog is believed to help prevent anasarca in your puppies.
- Avoid Trauma: Some speculate that injury or trauma could cause the condition to happen. To prevent this, reduce the risk of trauma and remove anything in the environment that could result in trauma.
- Autogenous Minute Virus Vaccine: In the event of parvovirus, if you suspect your pregnant female has been exposed, have your vet administer the minute virus vaccine to help prevent any complications.
For educational purposes, this video shows a c-section of bulldog puppies with both normal and water puppies being delivered. It is an excellent illustration of the difference in appearance and size.
In the end, this is a hard part of breeding. Some puppies will be born with anasarca and it can be a heart breaking experience. Knowing how to provide some relief and possibly prevent it, can give you peace of mind knowing that you did your very best for your water puppies and their mom.