When Angela Brenengen’s 5-year-old Golden Retriever Bree Anna Rose stopped eating for a day or two, it was easy to attribute it to Bree’s pregnancy; after all, this was Bree’s third litter of puppies, and it is common for dogs to forsake food in the days leading up to delivery.
But what they thought was typical labor became anything but when Bree started acting strangely and then began seizing.
Brenengen and her family sprang into action, calling the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH), part of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). Though it was Memorial Day, VMTH staff members told Brenengen to make the 40-minute drive from Normangee.
“After she had the seizure, she picked up her head; she was awake and looked at me, but after that, she went out,” Brenengen said. “By the time we got here, literally when they opened the door, she started trying to fall out (of the vehicle). She was not with us the whole trip, and not when we got here, and not for days. She never woke up.”
When third-year critical care resident Dr. Laurie Torkildsen joined the case, Bree’s condition was dire.
“Her blood glucose levels were very, very low, which we can see in late term pregnancy, but not often; that’s what had caused the seizure,” Torkildsen said. “We were able to resuscitate her, but she was very, very critical. We also wanted to make sure puppies were OK; we were able to measure their heart rates, and they were OK, but we needed to wait until the next day to deliver. We didn’t think she’d be able to have the babies on her own and survive.”
The next morning, as the doctors ran tests to determine the optimal time for a cesarean, they found that while Bree was better, she wasn’t yet out of the woods
“She had some bleeding in her GI tract that we couldn’t explain; we did a few tests to look for a reason, but we couldn’t find one,” Torkildsen said. “Then, her puppies started to go into distress and we had to take her to emergency surgery.”
In the delivery room, doctors got another surprise—instead of the six to seven puppies that are typical for a Golden Retriever, Bree delivered 13 puppies, and though some of the puppies had to be resuscitated, the team was able to save them all.
“We put the puppies on Bree to get one feeding, because the first feeding is where they get all of the protection from mom, all of the antibodies that will protect them from things in the environment until they’re old enough to get vaccinated,” Torkildsen said. “They got their one feeding and then they went home, because we didn’t think Bree was healthy enough to nurse all of them.”
Back at home, Brenengen and her family were coming to terms with the shock of having 13 puppies and the exhaustion of bottle feeding them all; Torkildsen compared caring for 13 puppies to caring for a newborn human.
“They’re keeping us busy,” Brenengen said, with a smile. “It takes an hour to feed the puppies; then you have to clean up—bleach towels, make new bedding, wash bottles, get all of the supplies you used, and then get ready for the next feeding.
“The puppies get baths twice a day and weighed once a day. They eat every two hours, day and night,” she said. “We got a little system down and even my little grandbabies, who are 2 and 3, are helping. The 2 year old grabs the pads to hold the puppies in our laps; that’s her job, to hand them to us.
“My mom, Darla Giles, has been a lifesaver. She has been taking care of these puppies with all of her love, patience, heart, and countless hours. I am very blessed to have her caring for these puppies; the puppies are blessed, as well,” said Brenengen, adding that her nephew Norman Giles, her daughter Ciara, and her husband have all offered support and put in long hours throughout the process. “It takes an entire family to raise 13 puppies!”
While their hands are full, they are also extremely grateful to the doctors at Texas A&M.
“It was a holiday, and there wasn’t a lot else open either, but we needed help and we needed someone in a hurry. I was very impressed by the quick response we had when we brought Bree to the hospital. We were greeted by a staff of three and a gurney; Bree was in excellent, caring, and experienced hands from the time we pulled in,” Brenengen said. “You can tell that they love what they do.
“It’s been a remarkable experience. It’s nothing short of a miracle,” she said. “I never expected for Bree to live, much less for the puppies to live. We were more than excited to take her home. I didn’t think this day would happen. We are so very thankful.”
Initially, Torkildsen said the doctors on Bree’s case weren’t sure if she would survive the first night, either.
While they have been unable to pinpoint a direct cause for Bree’s condition, they’ve ultimately decided that the comatose state was caused by the drop in blood glucose, which was most likely caused by the 13 puppies. After she delivered, Bree lost almost 15 pounds, or approximately one-fifth of her body weight.
“It still doesn’t quite explain everything, but we’ve done a bunch of tests to rule out other causes of the signs she had, and we haven’t been able to find one; you can sort of explain it all by being pregnant with so many babies, although it’s not quite super clear cut,” Torkildsen said. “We are just glad that she has gotten better.”
That Bree and all of her puppies survived is the best possible outcome, especially considering all of the unusual elements involved in Bree’s case. Without each of the many VMTH services, clinicians, and students who were a part of the team, that happy ending may not have been possible, according to Torkildsen.
“Everyone worked really closely together,” Torkildsen said. “Our radiology team came in on the holiday, because her case was so weird, to do a full abdominal ultrasound on her; they were really helpful in determining that the babies were healthy. Our anesthesia team worked really hard on her, also, and so did our fourth-year student, Ali (Carriker). The surgical team, including resident Dr. Brittany Ciepluch and professor Dr. Lisa Howe, was instrumental in the success of the case.
“Everyone did a great job,” she said. “It was truly a team effort.”
Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive Director of Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; firstname.lastname@example.org; 979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)