The V Brace For Puppies


by MICHAEL GUY, RN LEAHCIM PEKINGESE Brockville, Ontario, Canada


Several years ago I was fascinated by an article in the OE regarding braces for puppies that seemed to flatten in the chest, "swimmer puppies." It was not until some time later that I had the chance to put this valuable knowledge to use...


Friends had a litter of puppies that appeared to be doing very well. At about 10 days after birth, Mrs. puppy owner called me in tears. Mother dog had picked up a puppy and removed it from her box leaving it for dead. The puppy was gasping for air, cold and dehydrated. She had rushed it to the vets, but they could only recommend euthanasia. I reread the article and went and got the puppy from the vets. I made a chest brace out of a 1/2 inch section of a plastic vacuum hose ‑ it fit perfectly. Within minutes of applying the brace the puppy's breathing improved. He was severely dehydrated and the next 12 hours were touch‑and‑go. I rehydrated him with subcutaneous fluids and syringe‑fed the little guy glucose and water. He seemed to come around all of a sudden and was searching for food. Back to his mom and in the nesting box, his mother accepted him brace and all. He is now five years old, a very loved companion with no signs of his earlier problems. Although pet quality, he has a massive spring of rib that many breeders would envy.


Several years went by without any problems, then a puppy male of my own developed similar problems at about 11 days old. It was very concerning that he was a very healthy robust puppy, showing alot of promise, LARGE SPRING OF RIB, and very content. I promptly made a circular brace as described in the OE, He did not seem to respond well and continued to have difficulty nursing. I examined the puppy and found while he had a flatness to his chest he also had an exag­gerated ridge on the sides of his rib cage. Almost an outward bow.


I remembered various prosthetics used with chil­dren, I had seen several during nursing training. They were corrective braces, opposed to supportive or preventative. Hence the V brace was made. It was manufactured from a 1‑inch strip of lightweight, flexible, alu­minum flashing. Forming the brace is almost akin to sculpture. You must examine the puppy, applying firm corrective pressure with your fingers to the sides of the rib cage, correcting the outward bowing. The sides of the V brace replace your fingers and apply the necessary pressure. The bottom point of the V should not be in contact with puppy, allowing a space over the pup­py's sternum or breastbone. This serves two purposes. One, is it is very uncom­fortable for the puppy to lay flat down on his stomach, so he tends to choose side‑lying. The second purpose is that without pressure on the sternum it can again become convex as it should be. The brace is covered with bandages or gauze to prevent irritation to the puppy. I found that straps and halters do not work well with this brace. I simply held the brace in place and used surgical tape to tape directly to the puppy, over coat and all; adjustment made after three days.


The puppy responded very well, was able to feed well and had no breathing difficulties. The brace was removed at 3 1/2 weeks of age. On physical examina­tion by my vet, no abnormality was found; the youngster continues to do well and has a LARGE SPRING OF RIB.


Recently a fellow breeder had similar problems with a few unrelated litters. Her vets had her convinced that she had a genetic problem. They were at a loss to help her. Consequently a puppy died in a litter. The feeding difficulties con­tinued combined with breathing diffi­culties and the puppies tended to suc­cumb to pneumonia. I had not made a connection; I thought the vets would know best. It occurred again in another litter that this breeder had. Over the phone I heard the concern and the resignation to the impending loss of another stricken puppy. I wanted to see the puppy; at least I would know what this disorder looked like. When I saw the puppy I saw the same structural problems I had seen in my own puppy. This puppy was breathing ‑ drawing her sternum in and out. There was very little abdominal breathing, or movement of the abdomen with each breath. Promptly a V brace was made.


Applying the brace was not easy, the bitch puppy objected to having the manner in which she breathed, changed. She was no longer able to draw her sternum in and out, but was forced to breathe from her abdomen, normally, as a puppy should. The puppy screamed for almost a full half hour before eventually calming down(I could see this part of the procedure being too much for alot of people.) During the adjustment, monitor the color of the tongue: a nice pink color means all is okay and oxygen is getting in, so bear with it. The resulting puppy, Angel, is doing just fine. NO genetic abnormality, no signs of any breathing difficulties.


I have learned several things from the event:


1. Vets are often at a loss with very young puppies. They normally only deal with pups 6 weeks & older. Consulting breeders is far more useful in this early stage.


2. The more we breed for largechested dogs the more prevalent this will become. The young soft bones are very prone to manipulation and may need support until the soft cartilage develops a stronger structure. (Various bracing is commonplace in bulldogs.)


3. The puppy most likely to develop the problem is generally the largest, well fed, quiet, puppy with good "spring of rib." They generally sleep unless feeding, and seem to spend most of their time with stomach down, rarely laying on their sides.


4. Early, prompt intervention is needed before puppies develop difficulties. Pneumonia, once developed, even if very responsive to antibiotics, will leave some permanent damage.


5. In the recovery phase these puppies may require other supportive interventions to get on track. They often are constipated puppies and may need enemas; they may require hydration or supplemental feedings.


I hope that this information is of help to others. I can only speculate how many people have experienced similar problems. It seems likely that this problem is rather common in the Peke world, having seen it several times in totally unrelated animals. I would be very interested to hear stories from others to identify the extent of the problem. There tends to be an unwritten rule in dog breeding that one does not discuss such problems for fear of being identified as a breeder with such‑and‑such problem. It is my belief that those who deny problems are either not being truthful or simply find it common place to lose puppies in the prenatal period and never really get too concerned, "allowing nature to take its course." The truth is we are Peke breeders; Chinese royalty before us and present day breeders, perpetuated an abnormal animal genetically suffering from Dwarfism. It would not exist in nature and would quickly be a victim of natural selection. The best way to deal with such problems is to be aware of them, and to share our experiences in the hopes that all can learn and benefit.


Thanks to the OE for publishing this information, and always being there to help.