Dystocia in Dogs
Dystocia, difficulty giving birth, has a variety of causes, risk factors, symptoms, and treatments. Dystocia in dogs primarily affects small breeds, especially “toy” dogs, that have difficulty passing puppies through their vaginas.
Dystocia Risk Factors
Dystocia in dogs can occur in any mother during childbirth. Some dogs, however, have more risk factors than others.
Mothers with a high risk of dystocia in dogs include:
- Toy dogs.
- Brachycephalic breeds.
- Those with small litters that do not stimulate the uterus.
- Those passed their due dates, which can force them to give birth to larger pups.
Some dogs have pelvic abnormalities that make dystocia more likely. The baby’s position can also contribute to difficulties during birth.
Unfortunately, dystocia in dogs can cause death to the mother or pups in her litter.
Breeds More Likely to Experience Dystocia in Dogs
Breeds more likely to experience problems during birth include:
While these dogs have a higher risk of dystocia, the condition can occur in any breed.
Common Symptoms of Dystocia in Dogs
Dystocia isn’t always apparent to owners who do not have experience in dog whelping. Some of the most common signs of dystocia in dogs include:
- Contractions that last an hour or longer without passing at least one puppy.
- Continued labor that lasts one to two hours without producing more puppies.
- Excessive pain, which is usually noted by the mother’s crying, licking or biting at her vulva.
- Abnormal discharge, such as a black or green fluid expelled before any puppies are born.
Since dystocia in dogs can lead to death, owners who suspect the condition should seek emergency treatment.
Diagnosing Dystocia in Dogs
Before treating dystocia in dogs, a veterinarian must determine why the mother is having a problem giving birth to her puppies. The veterinarian will first attempt to determine whether the dystocia comes from an obstructive or nonobstructive condition.
In some cases, the reason is obvious just by looking at the mother’s vulva. In other cases, veterinarians may use imaging technology to get a clearer view of the fetuses and the mother’s pelvis. X-rays, ultrasounds, and other imaging options may show, for example, that the mother has a flattened pelvis that blocks the puppies’ birth. Images may also show that the puppies are oversized or in an abnormal position that prevents delivery.
Treatment Options for Dystocia in Dogs
How a vet responds to dystocia in dogs should depend on the condition’s root cause. Treatments options for non-obstructive dystocia include:
- Attempting to remove the puppies manually.
- Administering up to three low doses of oxytocin.
- Administering calcium gluconate slowly through an IV.
When imaging reveals an obstruction that will prevent vaginal delivery, veterinarians should perform a cesarean section to remove the puppies as soon as possible.
Other reasons to perform a cesarean section include:
- Death of the puppies before birth.
- Oversized puppies that the mother cannot deliver.
- Pelvic abnormalities that block delivery.
- Uterine inertia, often caused by prolonged contractions over several hours.
- Abnormal fetal positions that the vet cannot correct without surgery.
- Fetal distress indicated by rapid heartbeats or bowel movements.
Mothers with dystocia often suffer injuries that take time to heal. Owners should take precautions to make sure their dogs recover. Precautions include keeping wounds clean, changing bandages frequently, and using a recovery collar (dog cone) to prevent the mother from licking or biting stitches.
Important Note: Most pet insurance companies exclude claims related to breeding and delivery so make sure you understand specific company exclusions before purchasing a plan for a breeding dog.