So, your dog is pregnant. This may have been planned or purely by accident. Either way, the process of a canine giving birth can be exciting, but also stressful. If everything happens beautifully and naturally, that’s wonderful, however, what happens if things don’t go as planned? What happens when your pregnant four-legged friend runs into trouble? To recognize what is abnormal, you should first understand what normal birth entails.
Canine parturition (birthing) is divided into three stages:
- Stage I is when the uterus is contracting and the cervix is dilating. These signs will likely not be visible to you, but what you might see is that your pet becomes restless, nervous, and starts hiding. Nesting behaviors can be seen during this stage. They will commonly be creating a bed, adjusting blankets, and finding a location in the environment where they feel comfortable enough having puppies.
- Stage II is the active delivery of the puppies. This can last anywhere from 2 and 24 hours.
- Stage III is the expulsion of the placenta, which may be consumed by the mother following delivery.
A difficult birth is commonly referred to as dystocia. It is typically seen in older dogs, with the highest incidence noted in brachycephalic breeds (English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, and Pugs to name a few). It can be caused by a variety of factors both maternal and fetal in origin. The mother can be older, obese, experiencing electrolyte abnormalities (such as low calcium or low blood sugar), or suffering from systemic illness. The puppies may be breached, too large to pass through the birth canal, or may have died in utero. Any one of these factors can lead to dystocia.
How do you know when your pet needs to be seen for a difficult birth?
Here are a few scenarios that warrant examination by a veterinarian right away:
- Puppies are more than 2 days overdue.
- Generally, the canine gestation period is 57 – 72 days from breeding (on average, around 63 days).
- More than 3 hours have passed between puppies.
- Some litters only have one puppy. Having your veterinarian take a radiograph (x-ray) during the pregnancy will help predict how many puppies to expect.
- Your dog has been having strong contractions for over 30 minutes without birthing a puppy.
- You see a puppy stuck at the birth canal for over 10 minutes.
- Green or hemorrhagic (frank blood or bright red blood) discharge is noted from the vulva.
If you DON’T see any of the aforementioned signs, remain calm. You can always call your veterinarian from home to ask for advice prior to making the trip to the ER. The best environment for a dog to give birth is likely in your home, in a dark, secluded place where they feel comfortable. If no problems arise, do not travel to the hospital, as this can lead to maternal distress and possibly predispose your dog for dystocia.
If you are planning on breeding your dog, know that dystocia is always a risk. It is almost a guarantee in brachycephalic breeds. Be sure to establish a trusting relationship with your primary care veterinarian to ensure your dog receives proper care throughout the pregnancy. If a pet is suffering from dystocia, a c-section may be needed. This procedure may be required for any pregnant dog, so planning financially for this surgery is something any pet owner should be prepared for. Though dystocia is a possibility, knowing what to look for and early intervention should help provide the best outcome for both mother and offspring.