Raising the “I Mean Tiny” Dog

I was talking to a friend last week who has a litter of three Chihuahuas - they were 11 weeks old and the biggest one was only 1.5 pounds! Raising a puppy that is less than two pounds takes a special skill and desire. Most do not want to have “Tea Cup” dogs, but occasionally we get one in a litter. A recent conversation with a breeder who specializes in tiny dogs made me realize how little information is available.

The less-than-two-pound puppy needs to get on food and stay on food. They wean later in life, often near 8 weeks. Eating is not different from other puppies, but with tiny puppies, they have little body mass for back up. They need multiple meals a day, and missing a meal makes them prone to hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is best prevented with high calorie supplements two or three times a day, with soft food and granular vitamins several times a day. They should also have small kibble dry food in front of them at all times. There are several supplements that are helpful with weaning, and I would not hesitate to put them into your regimen:
  • Forti-Cal nutritional supplement – Give it to them twice a day minimum, and be sure to feed them afterwards. The vitamins are what are important here; the calories are just a plus. It can also be used for fast energy and strength if you do see hypoglycemia. Forti-Cal is not just helpful at weaning; it should be used for several months after sale as well.
  • Rice baby cereal keeps bulk in the diet and needs to be used after the puppy is hypoglycemic. A three-day course is best twice a day. The cereal moves easily through a syringe and you can add Forti-Cal and granular vitamins to it if you want. This helps keep the intestine moving and appetite up. If they are on a lot of high calorie supplement vitamins are important.
  • Puppies are born with a sterile gut – no bacteria. During the first few days, the mother will seed the puppy with good bacteria (probiotics) while cleaning and mothering them, giving them the ammo to fight against invading bacteria. That's why it's important to give probiotics to orphans or problem puppies the first few days and whenever they have GI upset. It's also helpful during weaning to prevent diarrhea. All products are helpful so choose your favorite – I like GI Synbiotics – and give it daily when needed.
  • Stay away from prophylactic antibiotics! Antibiotics interrupt the GI flora and good bacteria they need. If absolutely needed you can use them - but not without reason.
Vaccines can be a big confusion. It is important not to “knock them down” with combination vaccines! Keep the number of viruses in the vaccine simple for success. Start with simplified vaccine antigens, then build gradually until they are old enough (and big enough) to handle the combination vaccines. The ideal start weight to begin vaccination is over one pound but that can be seven to eight weeks and a little too late for Parvo. By six weeks of age use a Parvo only vaccination with antihistamine and watch that they continue nursing. A tiny dog’s common response to viruses is to quit eating – one of the reasons to limit the virus vaccine to Parvo only! Be careful with combinations and 5-way vaccines when less than two pounds. A Distemper/Parvo combination (Nobivac Puppy-DPv) is well tolerated and needs to be given by 10 weeks. The 12 and 16 week old puppy can use the DPv booster or 5-way vaccine if desired. Continue to make sure they stay on their food!

Never half dose injectable vaccines. No studies have shown that splitting the vaccine is reliable - it results in uneven levels of antigens in each syringe. Instead of half-dosing combination vaccines, it is possible to reduce the number of antigens being put into their small bodies with a simplified vaccine. This means fewer antigens but maximum protection, and the whole vaccine is needed to successfully stimulate immunity. After completing that, it is possible to build on that protection with combination vaccines.

When using intranasal vaccines, the most important thing to remember is to be gentle and keep the intranasal vaccine intranasal. Their tiny nose needs to have a smaller volume of vaccine, so only use half of the liquid diluents to rehydrate the freeze-dried virus/bacteria. With less volume, you'll be less likely to push the vaccine into the trachea and cause the puppy to cough. One easy method is to simply place the drops on the nose and let the puppy pull it in himself. By dripping it over the nose, you don’t force the vaccine at all. Intranasal vaccines are very safe and cause few issues if you keep this in mind.

Reactions can happen with all vaccines. If they become listless and you suspect a reaction, don’t wait to treat - give them antihistamine right away. Liquid children’s Benadryl is one option, giving 1 mg/lb for dogs - only a few drops. Some breeders will pre-medicate with Benadryl, giving it 30 minutes before vaccination to reduce the risk of reaction. This is a good habit - we don't want to lose them for reactions we know how to prevent! They do not react to intranasal vaccines, so we only pre-medicate for injectable vaccines.

One more thing to keep in mind: never give intranasal vaccines while on antibiotics. Antibiotics will kill the modified live Bordetella in the vaccine and you won’t get the immunity you need. Make sure your dogs are off any antibiotics 3 days before and after the vaccine. A week after vaccination is best, but not always achievable.

The tiny dog demands special care and attention to thrive. By providing enough nutrients and simplifying their vaccines, you can consistently raise healthy dogs and make sure they'll provide someone with a new best friend!

The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of a qualified veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.

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