Dystocia (Difficult Birth) in Dogs
Overview of Canine Dystocia – Difficult Birth in Dogs
The act of delivering puppies, or whelping, is usually a natural process for dogs, but there are occasions when normal birth is difficult or even impossible. Dystocia, or difficult or abnormal birth, is a common problem in veterinary medicine. If your dog is about to make you the proud owner of a litter of puppies, you should acquaint yourself with the normal birth process. Otherwise, it will be difficult to determine when and if there is a problem.
Canine labor occurs in two stages. Stage I lasts 6 to 12 hours; your dog will exhibit nesting behavior and her temperature will drop. She will be having contractions, although you won’t be able to see them. What you may see is that she is restless and may be panting. During Stage II, the fetuses will begin to move through the birth canal. Your dog will experience obvious straining and involuntary contraction of the abdominal muscles.
If you suspect that the mother-to-be is not progressing through labor as expected, it is important that you call your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency facility.
When To Call Your Veterinarian
You should call your veterinarian for assistance in the following instances:
- Your dog has been pregnant for over 70 days.
- Stage I labor has gone on for 24 hours without producing a pup.
- Steady strong contractions have continued for over 1 hour without producing a pup.
- Prolonged resting phase continues over 4 hours when there are more pups to be delivered.
- There is a foul smelling vaginal discharge.
- Mother-to-be has excessive vomiting or is extremely lethargic.
Causes of Canine Dystocia
Causes of delivery problems are divided into those problems associated with the mother and those that are associated with the babies.
Maternal Causes of Dystocia in Dogs
- Sometimes difficult birth is the result of problems with the shape and size of the pelvic canal. If the pelvis is narrow, either because the mother was born that way or because of a previous fractured pelvis, delivering babies may be difficult.
- Uterine inertia can also cause dystocia. The uterus is no longer able to contract and push the babies through the vaginal canal. It can occur at any stage of labor and may be associated with uterine exhaustion.
Puppy Causes of Dystocia in Dogs
- Size of the puppies. The size of the pups can cause dystocia. If the puppy is too large, it will not fit in the birth canal.
- Position. Puppies are normally born either head first or rear legs first. Puppies may be in a position that won’t allow easy passage.
- Birth defects. Defects that result in enlargement of certain body parts can make birth difficult. Death of the babies can result in abnormal positioning and can affect uterine contractions.
Diagnosis of of Dystocia in Dogs
Determining when to intervene in a pregnancy is based on your description of how labor has been progressing. But your veterinarian will also want to examine your dog to determine the cause of the dystocia and the appropriate treatment.
First your veterinarian will do a physical examination, including a vaginal exam, to determine whether the pups can move through the birth canal. An x-ray to determine the size, shape and number of pups may also be necessary. This x-ray is not harmful to the mother or babies.
Treatment of of Dystocia in Dogs
If your veterinarian feels the pups can move through the birth canal, there are a variety of medications available to assist labor.
- If the mother-to-be is nervous, your veterinarian can administer sedatives such as acepromazine.
- If uterine inertia is suspected, oxytocin is commonly given to stimulate contractions of the uterus.
- After prolonged labor, the mother may have low blood sugar or low blood calcium. In this case, your veterinarian will give calcium and dextrose injections can help strengthen uterine contractions.
If easy passage is not possible, or if medical treatment is not effective, your veterinarian will deliver the pups by Cesarean section. After surgical delivery, the mother can still nurse and care for her newborns.
If your dog is experiencing dystocia, there is little you can do to help. Keep the mother-to-be in a quiet area with no distractions and call your veterinarian. Monitor labor carefully to detect any abnormalities. If you should find a baby stuck in the canal, apply steady gentle traction to pull the baby out. If there is any question about the progression of labor, contact your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency facility.
There is little that can be done to prevent dystocia. Detecting problems early and getting prompt veterinary assistance will give you and the mother the best chance of delivering live healthy babies.