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Difficult births in dogs



Veterinarians are sometimes asked to terminate pregnancy either because breeding was unintentional or because the female bred may be ill suited to carry a litter. As a general rule, pregnancy termination by medical means should take place very soon after breeding rather than later. Female hormones, PGF2-alpha and cortisone medications have all been used, but none is 100% successful.{{more}} Spaying of any dog at almost any stage of pregnancy is always 100% successful in preventing any unwanted puppies.

DYSTOCIA (and Information on Normal Whelping)

Dystocia defines difficulty in giving birth or as more commonly used, trouble in getting the puppies out of the mother. This can occur for several reasons, ranging from problems with uterine function, obstructions and fetal problems. To properly understand dystocia, let me first describe how a normal delivery should progress.

Normal delivery, or parturition, is generally divided into three distinct stages. The first stage actually occurs before any labor has begun. In this stage, dogs will start to look for and/or build their bed or nest in preparation for the delivery. Their behavior may seem quite nervous or unusual and most will refuse food and water. The breasts will enlarge and should begin to have early milk production. A thick white gelatinous mucoid material will be passed vaginally about 48 hours prior to delivery. Also, rectal temperature will drop below 100 degrees F, usually to about 97-99 degrees F about 24 hours prior to the onset of labor.

The actual process of delivery or labor characterizes stage two. Contractions and straining begin and usually a membrane which appears generally as a fluid filled bubble appears at the opening to the vagina, often followed by passage of a green-black placental sac. Then, more forceful efforts to expel a puppy begin.

The third phase of labor consists of delivery of puppies, delivery of placental parts, a rest phase of 10 minutes to an hour and repeating the process until all puppies are born.

The normal interval between births is 30-60 minutes, although in larger dogs with more puppies, several may be born, followed by a longer rest, then another group. Sometimes 2 pups are born followed by a longer rest. All would be considered normal and many patterns of delivery will be acceptable. Also, pups are normally born face or feet first, so no need to panic.

The question always asked is: “How do I know when the mother is done?” Suffice it to say that when labor stops, she is done. If you are concerned that there may be unborn pups still in her reproductive tract, you could have the females checked 24-48 hours post-partum by your veterinarian to look for any undelivered puppies.

The most common cause of dystocia is that of fetal (puppy) mal-positioning which can occur for many reasons. Oversized puppies, often from small litters in small dogs, may have trouble coming out and puppies with “dome-shaped” heads such as Chihuahuas, and Bulldogs often have trouble being born.

Problems relating to the mother are the other reasons for dystocia. Small pelvic openings or pelvic size compromised by pelvic fractures or soft tissue growth will limit puppy expulsion. Mothers bothered too much by over-interested owners may have trouble. Twisting or tearing of the uterus will cause severe and life-threatening problems. The most common maternal difficulty, however, is known as Uterine Inertia.

Uterine inertia literally means that the uterus cannot push anymore. Primary uterine inertia occurs before any actual second stage labor begins. The reasons for this include advanced age of the mother, few puppies in a large dog, low blood calcium levels, low hormone levels, genetic disorders, obesity, or poor maternal condition in general.

Secondary uterine inertia occurs most often after a long labor and delivery process either due to exhaustion of the mother or greatly decreased blood calcium levels (from all that work being done)!

The clinical signs of dystocia, also known as “WHEN TO GET HELP”, include being in second stage labor for 3-4 hours without a pup being born; more than 2 hours between puppy births; the mother seeming to be in increased distress while in labor; excess bleeding or a foul smelling discharge being passed; a female that is 63-68 days post breeding without delivery having occurred; and more than 4 hours passing between puppies (assuming more puppies are present).

For further information, contact:
Dr. Collin Boyle
 Unique Animal Care Co. Ltd.
Tel: 456 4981