Can a weak puppy grow up to be strong?

Dear Dr. Barchas, My Shih Tzu pup is still with the breeder. She is 6 weeks old and only nine ounces. The breeder called yesterday...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Mar 9th 2008


Dear Dr. Barchas,

My Shih Tzu
pup is still with the breeder. She is 6 weeks old
and only nine ounces. The breeder called yesterday
morning with concerns that she is not gaining
weight, or being as active as her sisters. We’ve
decided it’s best to let her stay with her
fur-mom until she is about 12 weeks old (insted of
eight weeks) hoping that it gives her time to catch
up.

Also she doesn’t have her teeth yet. The breeder
is going to take her to the vet on Monday, but she
cautions that even if the vet can’t detect
anything, she might have problems when she’s
older.

In your opinion how often do these early problems
point to health issues down the road? I am very
worried and any bit of information will help.

Thank you,

Andrea
Sunnyvale, CA

I am sorry to hear that your girl is getting off to such a rough start in life. I will tell you right away that there is a good chance that your puppy will survive to adulthood. And, if she does, there is a very good chance that she will be a normal dog.

In veterinary medicine, we have several terms to describe puppies in her situation. Old-school, cowboy hat-wearing veterinarians call puppies such as her “poor doers.” Academic types often call them “fading puppies.” I would prefer to say that your puppy is currently “failing to thrive.”

Puppies and kittens that do not grow and thrive appropriately are in delicate situations. They need veterinary evaluations to search for the reason why they aren’t thriving. They need nursing care and nutritional support. And, I won’t lie. Sometimes they don’t make it.

However, most puppies and kittens that start off slowly usually do catch up to their littermates. And, once they have caught up, they never look back. There are no guarantees in this world, but most puppies like yours grow up to be normal.

A very good friend of mine spent the first several weeks of her life in the neo-natal intensive care unit. There were serious questions about whether she would survive. Thankfully, she did. Now she runs marathons, travels the world, and has a master’s degree. She got off to a rough start in life, but in the long term she was fine.

And, if your pup gets through her rough start, chances are that in the long run she will turn out fine, too.