He’s just a little over a year old, but Stuey the Cavalier King Charles pup has had more medical diagnoses and procedures than most people will have in their lifetime. Born with a cleft palate and a whole host of other genetic issues, Stuey is now an advocate for health testing in breeding dogs to prevent the kind of inherited diseases that almost cost him his life. If little Stuey hadn’t found a human who could deal with his problems (which include hydrocephalus, an accumulation of fluid on the brain, and syringomyelia, a chronic disease of the spinal cord), he probably wouldn’t have survived his first month alive.
“I’m a veterinary technician,” explains Stuey’s human, Jen Roberts. “A breeder brought him in when he was two weeks old, and he was barely alive because he couldn’t nurse effectively. [The breeder] was trying her best, but I figured I’d give it a shot, so we all decided I would take him and do what I could.”
According to Roberts, the veterinary world didn’t always support animals with issues like Stuey’s, but times have changed.
“Before, if they had a cleft palate, they’d always be put down. But nowadays that doesn’t have to be the case.”
At 2 weeks old, Stuey had survived the fate of many cleft palate puppies who’d come before him, but his future still wasn’t certain. He weighed less than 8 ounces, and caring for such a tiny puppy with such vast needs was a challenge — even for a veterinary professional like Roberts.
“It was mostly trial and error,” she says of Stuey’s early life. “It definitely took a whole village to keep him going at first — different doctors and people I worked with.”
When Stuey came home with Roberts, he was fed with a syringe, and when that didn’t work very well he was switched to tube feeding.
“Basically we had to go past the cleft palate so the food wouldn’t go out his sinuses,” says Roberts. “Tube feeding didn’t work very well because he wouldn’t tolerate it. We tried I don’t know how many other ways to feed him.”
Stuey even had a stomach tube at one point, but eventually Roberts was able to start the pup on a hand-feeding regime, which works well. Little Stuey now tips the scales at 8 1/2 pounds.
“He’s a lot healthier now. I still have to hand feed him twice a day. He can eat, but he won’t because he doesn’t have a sense of hunger,” says Roberts, who has to monitor Stuey closely because he inhales water.
“We can’t feed him things like canned food, because that would go right into his sinuses.”
Despite having had four cleft palate surgeries in his short life, Stuey still has a shorter than usual soft palate, and that’s why liquids can still get into his sinuses. He can’t have any more corrective surgeries, so the close monitoring at mealtimes will continue forever. Luckily for Stuey, he’s in a loving forever home that can help him be as healthy as possible.
“He basically became our child, and we couldn’t think of not having him,” Roberts says of the little guy.
And it’s not just the humans in the house who love Stuey. When Roberts took him in she already had two dogs and two cats, but the little puppy was quickly adopted by his new fur family.
“He came in, and my Chihuahua instantly became his surrogate mother. She stayed with him 24/7. She still looks out for him,” says Roberts, who created a Facebook page for Stuey in the hopes of educating others about the use of genetic testing in ethical breeding. She says proactive testing of breeding dogs could save future puppies from the myriad health problems poor Stuey has dealt with.
“They can test them for different diseases, like the heart issues, the dry eye, and the syringomyelia, which is his neck problem,” says Roberts.
Syringomyelia is a very serious condition that involves fluid-filled cavities that develop in a dog’s spinal cord, near the brain, and it is common to Cavaliers. Unfortunately, this neurological disease is progressive and can lead to all kinds of medical issues, including stiffness, pain, and limb weakness.
“We’re just spreading the word about health testing so that other dogs don’t have to deal with what he’s dealing with — these preventable, inherited diseases.”
Stuey’s medical record may be longer than his leash, but this little guy does not give up. Despite being on daily medication and suffering impaired motor skills and learning abilities, Stuey is a perfectly happy pup. He prefers dancing to feeling negative. He has changed the life of his family and those of his Facebook fans, who find his resilience inspiring. Roberts hopes his story proves to people that puppies born with problems can still survive and thrive in a family.
“We just enjoy every day we have with him,” says Roberts. “He’s just incredible.”
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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.