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Spontaneous Abortion in the Dog

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Spontaneous abortion is the death and resorption or expulsion of a fetus before the pregnancy has come to term. Some people choose to abort unwanted pregnancies intentionally, but abortion can also occur in planned pregnancies. Be aware that it is possible for the dam to abort one or more puppies and still maintain and deliver healthy full term puppies later. Since early pregnancy is difficult to confirm before 16 days post fertilization, abortions early in pregnancy may be diagnosed as infertility.

Abortion after confirmation of pregnancy can occur without any signs of illness. You may not know the bitch has aborted until you realize it is past her due date and there are no puppies. Subsequent examination reveals that she is no longer pregnant. In these situations, the puppies were probably aborted early enough to result in reabsorption.

In late stage abortion, you may see:

  • Abdominal contractions
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Expulsion of the premature fetus (live or dead)

    Causes of abortion can be divided into maternal causes and fetal causes. Maternal causes include:

  • Severe illness from preexisting disease
  • Brucella infection
  • Herpes infection
  • Uterine disease
  • Ovarian disorder leading to low progesterone levels

    Fetal causes are primarily related to abnormal development and early fetal death.


    Diagnosing spontaneous abortion can be difficult. Pregnancy in the bitch can be confirmed 16 days post fertilization. If the abortion occurs before this, there is no way to determine if the bitch aborted or was never pregnant.

    After 16 days, ultrasound can confirm the presence of puppies. If future ultrasounds or x-ray examinations reveal fewer puppies or no puppies, abortion is diagnosed.

    Determining the cause of the abortion can also be tricky. The best way to find out why your bitch aborted and to help prevent future abortions, post mortem (necropsy) examination of the aborted puppy is highly recommended. If the puppy is not available or was absorbed by the mother, specific tests on the dam may help determine the cause.

    Prior to breeding, all dogs should be tested for Brucellosis. This is a bacterial infection that is easily spread from dog to dog and can infect people. It is difficult to treat and there is no vaccine to prevent transmission. All dogs found to be Brucella positive should be excluded from any breeding program.

    Brucella infection typically results in abortion at about 45-55 days of pregnancy.

    Other tests that can be done on the mother include:

  • Blood tests to determine overall health
  • Uterine biopsies can help determine if there is any uterine disease present
  • Blood progesterone levels can help diagnose an ovarian problem related to sustaining a pregnancy.


    There is no treatment to stop abortion. Treatment is aimed at helping to reduce abortion in future litters. The treatment, if possible, is specific for the cause of the abortion. If no cause is found, no treatment will be available and future pregnancies may be normal or result in abortion again.

    Home Care and Prevention

    There is no home care for abortion. Save any aborted puppies for examination by a pathologist to help determine the cause and prevent future abortions.

    Without knowing the cause of abortion, there is no preventative care. For certain diseases or conditions, preventative treatment is available for future litters.

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