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Retained Placenta in Dogs

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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A retained placenta is a syndrome characterized by the failure of the mother to expel the placenta – the organ that joins the mother and offspring during pregnancy – shortly after the birth of the newborn. The placenta is usually passed within 15 minutes of the birth of each puppy, and can take longer in cats. A retained placenta is extremely uncommon in dogs, and even less common in cats. It is most often seen in toy breed dogs.

Causes

  • There is no one specific cause of a retained placenta
  • Large litter sizes tend to be affected most often
  • Dystocia (abnormal or difficult labor) has been implicated

    What to Watch For

  • Green, fetid vulvar discharge
  • Fever
  • Inappetence
  • Listlessness

    Diagnosis

    The major problem with this syndrome is its diagnosis. It is extremely difficult to count placentas, largely because the bitch often ingests them within seconds of expulsion.

  • Thorough abdominal palpation can be helpful in the diagnosis in certain cases. Feeling a mass in the uterus can be indicative of a retained placenta, although this needs to be differentiated from a retained fetus.

  • It is important to obtain baseline blood tests, including a complete blood count (CBC), biochemical profile, and urinalysis. Although most often within normal limits, there may be evidence of infection, inflammation, or other organ involvement in the sick patient.

  • Abdominal ultrasound is helpful in visualizing the presence of a placenta within the uterus.

  • An exploratory laparotomy (abdominal surgery) is sometimes the only means of definitively diagnosing a retained placenta.

    Treatment

    Treatment for healthy bitches with retained placentas is generally not necessary unless the patient is ill.

  • An injection of oxytocin, a medication/hormone that causes contraction of the uterus, is often recommended.

  • An ovariohysterectomy is curative and may be considered if the bitch will not be bred in the future.

  • Surgical removal of a retained placenta is indicated if medical treatment is unsuccessful and the bitch develops metritis, which is an infection/inflammation of the uterus.

  • In valuable breeding animals where an ovariohysterectomy is not desirable, a combination of hormonal and antibiotic therapy may be considered, although should be used with caution in the patient who is ill.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Pet owners should be instructed to monitor their pet's temperature and observe for signs of systemic illness (lethargy, inappetence).

    There is no specific way to prevent retained placentas, aside from not breeding and/or neutering your female dog.

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