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Abnormalities of Dog Pregnancy

Dean Eby

June 30, 2021

It’s a very exciting time when your dog is pregnant and you’re expecting puppies. In most cases, things will go smoothly and you’ll end up with several new puppies in just a few months’ time. Occasionally, things don’t go as planned though, and complications arise in your dog’s pregnancy.

Abnormalities can occur during the early stages of pregnancy, while your dog is whelping, or after pregnancy is finished and all the puppies have been delivered. No matter when you discover an abnormality, it can be disheartening and scary. While your dog is pregnant, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for any possible abnormalities with its pregnancy so that if there is a problem, you have a good chance of catching it early and doing something about it.

To ensure you have the information you need to accurately gauge your dog’s pregnancy, we’ve put together the following information about the most common abnormalities of dog pregnancy. Keep an eye out for these symptoms, but hopefully, you’ll never see them and your dog’s pregnancy will go by without a hitch!divider-dog

During and Before Whelping

Not every complication with pregnancy happens while your dog is still pregnant. Many won’t become an issue until after your dog has finished whelping. However, the abnormalities we’re about to discuss happen during pregnancy and birth.

Pregnant,Basset
Image Credit: Litvinov Dmitry, Shutterstock

Dystocia

What Is it?

Dystocia is essentially a catchall term for difficult births. As such, several different things can cause dystocia. This is the main and most common abnormality that affects pregnancy and birth in dogs.

Causes

There are seven main causes of dystocia:
  • Breed – Certain breeds are genetically predisposed to dystocia. Boxers, for instance, are at higher risk than almost any other breed.
  • Puppy Size – If a puppy is overly large it can result in dystocia during birth. Oversized puppies may not fit inside the birth canal. This is most often a problem with litters that consist of a single puppy.
  • Puppy Position – Most of the time, puppies are born head or feet first. On occasion, a puppy will get turned sideways in the birth canal or come out bottom first. When this happens, the puppy often gets stuck, resulting in complications.
  • Developmental Defects – Certain developmental defects can lead to puppies’ body parts becoming enlarged. This can lead to difficulties fitting in the birth canal.
  • In Utero Deaths – When puppies die in utero, their bodies can contort into unnatural positions, which can affect contractions and sometimes cause the puppy to get stuck.
  • Pelvic Canal – Even if the puppies are of normal size, if the mother’s pelvic canal is too small, it could lead to difficulties with delivering puppies. This is particularly the case with breeds that have large heads.

When to Call the Vet

Dystocia can be a very serious problem. If any of the following occur, you need to call the vet and get some professional assistance:
  • Your dog’s vaginal discharge is bloody or smells foul
  • The pregnant mother is extremely lethargic
  • The mother can’t stop vomiting
  • Stage one of labor begins when your dog’s temperature drops and generally lasts 6-12 hours. Call the vet if 24 hours pass after your dog’s temperature drops.
  • Regular contractions persist for more than a half-hour without any pups arriving
  • The time between births exceeds four hours
  • The mother is pregnant for more than 63 days without going into labor

Treatment

After you determine there’s a problem and you contact your vet, your vet will first need to perform a physical examination. This will allow your vet to determine whether or not the pups can move through the birth canal. The examination might consist of a vaginal exam, X-rays, and more. Once your vet diagnosis the issue, treatment can begin.

A variety of treatments might be used, including but not limited to:
  • Medication
  • Calcium and dextrose injections
  • Cesarean section

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False Pregnancy

Aside from dystocia, the other most common abnormality that occurs before whelping is false pregnancy. This is a rather common occurrence that usually happens around the end of the heat cycle. The dog will gain weight, their mammary glands might swell, and they could even start producing milk. Behavioral changes may accompany these physical changes as well. You might even witness your dog nesting or see a drop in appetite. False pregnancies aren’t usually treated because they tend to fix themselves within a week or two.

Litter-of-Small-Breed-Newborn-Puppies-Nursing-on-Their-Mom_anna-hoychuk_shutterstock
Image credit: Anna Hoychuk, Shutterstock

After Whelping

When it comes to abnormalities that occur before and during whelping, most of them are classified as dystocia. But there are several abnormalities that only present themselves after the whelping is complete and all the puppies have been delivered, including the following:

Mastitis

Mastitis is a condition that’s more common in cattle, though you will see it in dogs with some regularity. This is an infection of the mammary glands that occurs only in nursing females. This includes both bacterial and fungal infections, though bacterial infections are most common. You can help prevent the possibility of mastitis by keeping your dog’s whelping box clean and dry, along with any spaces dedicated to raising the puppies.

Metritis

Metritis is when the lining of the uterus becomes inflamed because of a bacterial infection shortly after giving birth or experiencing an abortion or miscarriage. If left untreated, metritis can cause sterility and even septic shock, resulting in a lethal condition. Some symptoms of metritis include a swollen, soft abdomen, dehydration, dark red gums, fever, bloody or foul-smelling discharge from the vulva. Dogs with metritis might also neglect their puppies or experience reduced milk production or depression. Curing this condition requires hospitalization for fluid therapy and possibly even for shock.

Eclampsia

Eclampsia is when a nursing dog’s blood calcium levels drop drastically, creating a life-threatening condition. It’s most common to see eclampsia in the mother when puppies are between one and four weeks of age. It can be caused by loss of calcium during pregnancy or lactation. Alternatively, it might be from a dietary deficiency during pregnancy or a hormonal problem associated with the parathyroid gland. Signs of eclampsia include restlessness, panting, stiff movement, muscle spasms, and convulsing. In rare cases, affected dogs might become aggressive, disoriented, or experience a high fever.

Hemorrhage

Sometimes, hemorrhages occur during whelping. If you see significant blood flow following whelping, it could be a serious emergency and you should contact the vet right away. Other signs of hemorrhage include dehydration, constant vomiting, green vaginal discharge, weakness, and lack of appetite.

Subinvolution of Placental Sites

Subinvolution of placental sites or SIPS is when the placental sites fail to repair properly. This causes several weeks of bloody uterine discharge and is most common in dogs under three years old that are whelping their first litter.divider-multipet

Conclusion

While most canine pregnancies go off without any complications, there’s always a possibility of something going wrong. Knowing the signs of abnormalities ahead of time can allow you to spot an issue when it first starts, which might give you a better chance of curing the underlying problem without major health effects for the mother or puppies. Hopefully, your dog will never experience any of these complications, but if they do, at least you’re prepared to spot the first signs and take action.


Featured image credit: Gladskikh Tatiana, Shutterstock

Dean Eby

An avid outdoorsman, Dean spends much of his time adventuring through the diverse terrain of the southwest United States with his closest companion, his dog, Gohan.  He gains experience on a full-time journey of exploration. For Dean, few passions lie closer to his heart than learning.  An apt researcher and reader, he loves to investigate interesting topics such as history, economics, relationships, pets, politics, and more.

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