As a parenting writer who nursed her own sons, I thought I’d read about and covered every conceivable angle on breastfeeding.
And then came this: A Colorado woman who reportedly says she saved an orphaned puppy from death by — you guessed it — putting him to her breast.
“I didn’t know what else to do, I was desperate and I just couldn’t bear sitting there watching it die,” a woman told Colorado TV station KRDO, a story that was later picked up by The Huffington Post.
The woman, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of backlash, said the lab-mix puppy wouldn’t drink canine formula from a bottle. Her story attracted attention after the woman, who was fostering a litter of orphaned puppies, posted a photo of the dog on her breast to Facebook.
“Literally what clicked in my head was like, put him on you, just pray to God he will take something and not die,” she said. (See the interview with KRDO down below.)
I’ve never owned a pet so it’s tough for me to imagine how I’d feel if I were faced with a similar situation, but even devoted animal lovers told me it wasn’t a step they’d take.
“I wouldn’t have done it,” said Shannon Reeder-Stamp, who runs ADOPT US Animal Rescue in Cincinnati, Ohio and says she always has dog formula on hand. “It’s kind of odd. Sweet, but odd.”
Veterinarians I spoke with said that, when a puppy refuses a bottle, there are better alternatives.
“We teach people how to tube feed ill puppies all the time with puppy formula,” said Dr. Melissa McDaniel, a veterinarian in Connecticut. “People pass a small red rubber feeding tube through the mouth into the stomach as shown by their veterinarian and feed a calculated amount of formula a certain number of times a day.”
Dr. Marlene Kalin, a veterinarian in Montreal, said the puppy would have been better off nursing from a “surrogate” canine mother.
“I would have called around to veterinary hospitals, humane societies, even a breeder for example,” Dr. Kalin said. “They’re not that hard to find. There are a lot of pregnant and nursing dogs out there.”
Given the differences between human and canine anatomy, Dr. Kalin questioned whether the puppy was really able to get any milk.
“You need an extruded nipple — you need an option that would go into the puppy’s mouth,” she said. “They suckle like people do, but we’ve got soft lips and round mouths. A dog puppy has a muzzle that’s more conical.”
“Maybe what she thought was happening wasn’t really happening,” Dr. Kalin said of the breastfeeding dog’s foster mother. “Maybe there was a little bit of tongue movement … but there was really no draw on the milk flow.”
Dr. McDaniel said that if the puppy did indeed nurse, temperature might have had something to do with it.
“Ten bucks says the puppy wasn’t nursing or taking a bottle because it was cold … The owner was warm, so it nursed,” she said.
The dog, named Tubs, survived and is now drinking formula, but veterinarians agree that human milk doesn’t provide puppies all the nutrients they need. Dr. Kalin also raised concern about intestinal parasites — a woman who nurses a dog and then nurses her child could pass the baby some nasty germs.
Fortunately, that wasn’t an issue for the Colorado foster mom — she told KRDO that her 15-month-old child is no longer breastfeeding.
Believe it or not, there is a precedent for this sort of thing — the Huffington Post cites the U.K.’s Closer magazine, which reported that one woman said she’d regularly breastfed her dog for two years.
Clearly the Colorado case is far less extreme and, in at least one sense, laudable.
“It’s beautiful that she wanted to save this puppy,” Dr. Kalin said.
Generic puppy photo via morgueFile
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