Spontaneous Abortion in the Dog

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Overview of Spontaneous Abortion in Dogs

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.

  • Diagnosis of Spontaneous Abortion in the Dog

    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.
  • Treatment of Spontaneous Abortion in the Dog

    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.

    In-depth Information on Spontaneous Abortion in the Dog

    Abortion in dogs can be the result of maternal causes, fetal causes or related to medications.

    Maternal Causes of Abortion in Dogs

    The most common maternal causes of abortion are infection with Brucella or herpes virus.

  • Brucella is a bacteria that is contagious among dogs and can be contagious to people. All dogs in a breeding program should be tested for Brucellosis before ever being bred. Those dogs testing positive should be removed immediately from the breeding program. There is no effective treatment nor vaccine to prevent the spread of Brucellosis.

    Those infected with Brucella usually abort the puppies around 45 to 55 days of the pregnancy. If strict rules regarding the removal of Brucella-positive dogs are not adhered to, Brucella infection can have a devastating effect on a breeding program.

  • Herpes virus is difficult to test for in the mother but can be detected in aborted puppies. Herpes can result in late stage abortions. It can also cause infertility and is a primary cause of fading puppy syndrome.
  • Other less common infectious causes of abortion include Campylobacter, Streptococcus, Leptospira, E. coli, toxoplasmosis, distemper and mycoplasma. The mother can be tested for some of these bacteria if abortion has occurred.
  • Other maternal causes of abortion are related to the uterus and ovaries. Bitches with a history of abortion may have chronic endometritis (inflammation of the uterine lining), uterine cysts or uterine scarring and adhesions. The ovaries may not be able to produce sufficient amounts of progesterone. This hormone is essential to maintain a pregnancy full term. If the blood levels of progesterone are low, the placenta may become unattached to the uterus and the puppy is aborted.
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