UPDATE - 26 July 2006
UPDATE - 30 April 2006
All the puppies have homes with S. Great Gatsby aka Busby making his home with Glen and Jean in New Zealand, S. SVGGQT aka Cutie aka Barrister aka Barry will be heading off to Malaysia in a couple of weeks, S. SVGGKT aka Katie aka Five is making herself very much at home with Rachel and Tony (Kodust RRs), S. SVGGLC aka Elsie aka Kara has settled in with the Brays and Arbee staying home here with me. I would very much like to thank all the wonderful people who have offered me support and encouragement. Now for me it's a matter of holding my breath and waiting until we take the pups off the clindamycin - by all accounts nothing should happen at all but I think I'll be holding my breath on these puppies forever!
I have been learning a great deal about Neospora and would like to offer my thanks to the vet and parasite experts who have so willingly given of their knowledge and skill to help me both understand and deal with this litter. This is not an exhaustive list but at the top as always is my wonderful vet - Christine Kidd of Manly Rd Veterinary Hospital and her assistant Kelly Irving; Dr Glen Coleman and Shirley Turner (University of Queensland); Professor John Ellis (University of Technology, Sydney); J.P. Dubey (ARS USDA); Professor Pat Conrad (UC Davis) and Christina Wistrom (UC Berkeley).
For an excellent overview of neospora (especially if you also have cattle, sheep, goats...) I'd suggest reading Review of Neospora caninum and neosporosis in Animals authored by J.P. Dubey. If you like it a little scarier then try Neonatal Neospora caninum infections in dogs (I know it scared the heck out of me!).
Three of the unaffected girls (Girl 1 - Starridge SVGGEV aka Maggie, Girl 3 - Starridge SVGGKC aka Zahra and Girl 6 - Starridge SVGGLE aka Jamilla have gone to their new homes in Gladstone, Armidale and Brisbane respectively. The last unaffected girl who had been homed the would-be-owners decided it was all too scary and opted not to take her. I do understand their point of view - hey, I find it all very scary too :-) Starridge SVGGLC aka Elsie aka Pet is the cutest kid and I am not rushing to find a home for her - in fact with her white roaning out now I may very well keep her. Apart from anything else she is certainly the best mover of all the girls and always was.
Similarly Starridge SVGGRB aka Arbee aka Big Boy is way too cute for his own good and may very well end up making his home here at Starridge. Starridge SVGGQT aka Cutie and Starridge SVGGKT aka Katie aka Five will all hopefully find wonderful homes in due time.
All the pups are being kept on clindamycin until they are 4 months as a precaution. Latest advice was to keep them on the meds for 8-10 weeks so at 16 weeks they should be all clear. The pups can not be bred from but otherwise are normal active happy puppies who looooove their food. Contrary to all the advice received the pups have dramatically improved - Arbee can now gait quite naturally before showing a hitch in his stride and favouring his right rear leg, Cutie and Five can gait and even when they do limp it is very slight and you need to watch closely to see their slight favouring of the affected leg. Bodes well for these guys to continue to improve as the percentage of good muscle mass increases in proportion to the scarred area/a left by the neospora.
So it seems there is life after a neospora litter - lots of heartbreak and lost breeding potential as the three unaffected girls should by rights all be in the ring and not too many people are interested in showing a pup that ultimately shouldn't be bred from :-( but the pups themselves will go on to lead normal healthy lives and that is far more important than showing or breeding any day. It is still the recommendation that the pups not be bred because there is no guarantee that the neospora are actually dead - they may simply have hidden themselves in tissue cysts and would 'reactivate' when the rejection mechanism is turned off as occurs with pregnancy. The rejection mechanism must be turned off or bitches will 'reject' the foreign DNA (of the sire) that constitutes half of the pups. My pups, like many adults already do, may carry tissue cysts with no symptoms or attack by the neospora as their maturing immune systems can now deal with eliminating the neospora.
When I look back over the photos from the last 8 weeks this eagerly anticipated and long awaited litter appears to contain nothing but healthy beautiful puppies but this litter may very well be the last whelped at Starridge RRs - here's the full story!
At around 4.5 weeks of age Boy Nr 2 (Busby) was walking very strangely (like an arthritic old man) and failing to thrive. Initial diagnosis by the locum vet was aspiration pneumonia and he was treated with Clavulox. He failed to significantly improve and in fact went downhill. The following afternoon, back to the vet, and the diagnosis was upgraded to possible hydrocephalus ('water on the brain' - an excess of cerebral-spinal fluid). Back to the vet the following day for neurological evaluation and measurement against his healthy brother. Busby's neurological responses were so slow as to be nearly non-existent in some instances. He came home to be 'watched' and see what further developments would occur. Over the next five days until his return to the vet for follow-up consultation with a neurological specialist and confirmation of the diagnosis he improved markedly every day until it was apparent that the diagnosis was wrong - something had attacked his central nervous system and he had fought it off. We thought at that point we would never really know what that 'something' was however events have subsequently transpired that have certainly identified it.
Busby's brother (currently being called Arbee) at one day before 6 weeks appeared to have dislocated his hip - even though he was in no pain. The again locum vet (why do pups always do this at night and on weekends?) kept Arbee to x-ray him but decided due to the lack of pain that a more likely diagnosis was an attack by neosporosis caninum. This is an extremely nasty parasite about which not nearly enough is known. Arbee's blood was sent for titer testing to see whether he had antibodies for neospora and he was put onto AntiRobe (clindamycin) - one of the very few drugs to have any affect on neospora. The next day Arbee's sister (Girl No 5) seemed to have developed a slight limp. The following day the pups were given their 6-week vaccinations and health checks by my vet (Christine Kidd - Manly Rd Vet Hospital). Other than the slight limp and strange 'dislocation' the pups were all given an A-okay rating, nevertheless Christine prescribed clindamycin for all the pups on a 'better safe than sorry' basis until Arbee's test results were returned. We were recommended to test Mtarni and another pup as well to give a better picture of what might be happening. (Neospora can be transmitted to pups trans-placentally from the dam if she has a chronic infestation - neospora usually does not affect adults as they're immune systems kill off or send the neospora into hiding without the adult showing any symptoms. Original neospora infestations occur from eating raw beef! All I can say on that one is that I don't BARF and I certainly never will!! - freezing can, but is not guaranteed to, kill neosporosis caninum) I ultimately decided to test Mtarni and all the pups. At time of testing it was noted that Girl 4 was now limping.
Arbee's results finally returned the day after the pups hit 7 weeks. He had a titer of 1:256 which confirmed neospora. The remainder of the tests were returned two days later with Mtarni 1:400, Boy 2 (Busby) 1:25600 (no that is not a mistype - he really had to pump out the antibodies to kill off his infestation and did it without virtue of help from the clindamycin - what a fighter!!), Girl 1 was negative, Girl 2 negative, Girl 3 negative, Girl 4 was 1:6400, Girl 5 1:1600, Girl 6 negative. So I had half a litter full of neospora - now my real heartache began as I tried to get answers to so many questions but just seemed to get more questions instead. Because neospora can be passed via placenta and appears to 're-activate' on pregnancy the first advice received was, if the girls of the litter survived they should never be bred, similarly Mtarni should not be bred again. Boys can not transmit neospora so as long as they survived the infestation then they would be fine. Reading about neospora on the web and talking to the experts at Queensland University (many thanks to Shirley Turner and Glen Coleman for their patience with my many unanswerable questions and for their expertise in answering what could be answered) was scary in the extreme. Neospora causes miscarriages in cattle and dogs. It is often mis-diagnosed or not diagnosed at all especially with dogs. It is suspected that many bitches who 'reabsorb', or whelp dead pups, or have pups that fail to thrive may actually have neospora (remember no symptoms in adults!). Bitches who do have neospora can whelp completely normal litters, smaller litters than anticipated or affected litters like mine. If the bitch is bred again it is, as one long time breeder put it to me and as the literature backs up, a 'crap shoot'. The second litter may be completely normal, smaller or affected - because it is passed trans-placentally there is no way of knowing whether neosporoses will pass the placental barrier, or if they do pass through then in what numbers, whether they will kill the pup/s in-utero or the pup/s will be born with a neospora infestation that activates at birth or anything up to four months later. If a bitch puppy from the original affected litter is bred she is in the same boat - may have a litter that is completely normal, smaller or affected.
Neospora is usually fatal or affects the pup to the degree that euthanasia is the only option. For any pup that has been affected the level of damage done at the start of treatment is usually permanent. I have been incredibly lucky to this point to have had great vets and thus been able to have a quick response with clindamycin saturation of the litter. The affected pups have also been extremely lucky as the damage all appears to be muscular rather than nervous system injury. Neospora attacks muscles (leaving scar tissue) and the nervous system (that can result in loss of function to the limbs (paralysis) or loss of function to any or all of the brain functions). All the pups are doing well and in fact there has been considerable improvement (Arbee still being the worst affected as he moves with a one-step/one-bunny hop gait - however he has gone from the dislocated hip look to a dislocated stifle look which is definitely an improvement). Long term prognosis is good for all the pups :-)
The affected pups will be remaining with me until they are at least 4 months - they will be re-tested and if the antibody levels are stable or lower then they will be assessed for their ability to lead normal lives. Busby already meets that criteria (he is a full-on precocious boy!) and I'm quite certain the girls at least will also easily meet that criteria, and will then hopefully find wonderful homes (actually Busby already has!) My initial advice on the unaffected pups was that the clindamycin be continued for two weeks (they will pass that landmark shortly) and then they can be homed. However, that advice, like much that I have received, may be getting revised.
I believe it is very important for all breeders to be aware of the dangers of neospora infestations. It is impossible to know if, or when, a bitch picks up neospora but I would strongly recommend that you keep neospora in mind if you have problems similar to those mentioned above - neospora can be so easily mis-diagnosed and yet early treatment is vital to save the lives of affected pups and give them the chance of a normal life.