How do I know if my dog is having complications during pregnancy? For years we did not know how to help female dogs do a better job of raising puppies. The past 20 years have brought a lot of information about managing fertility and gestation for puppies that fight to live. Prenatal vitamin requirements and a better understanding of newborn puppies have brought about new management goals for female dogs.
Once pregnant, nature will help get the pregnant cat or dog through gestation, resulting in live newborns on the ground. If that means taking all the fat and protein from mom’s tissue, then that is what will happen. The current litter will not suffer. The next heat cycle is when you will pay for the deficiencies, such as not cycling, long intervals between heat, not getting pregnant, and small litters.
If the diet is adequate, a component we often see in deficit for reproducing females is vitamins. We want breeding females to have all she needs and some excess, so the body will reproduce to take advantage of the excess. That is how the cat and dog evolved in the wild, and they still hold that reproduction principal today. Queen cats usually have smaller litters if there is a minor imbalance. The female will cycle at longer intervals (yearly) or have a weak unpredictable heat. If we are to manage the pregnant mom effectively, we need to have predictable, fertile heat cycles.
Most Female Dogs Have No Problems
When we talk about female dog problems, our goal is to get the female dog back to a predictable heat cycle and pregnant. When issues arise, having a plan to correct is the difference between removing the female from your breeding kennel and keeping her. Managed correctly, most females are healthy while pregnant!
Dog Pregnancy Complications
What problems do dogs have during pregnancy and what are the signs of pregnancy problems in dogs? Let’s take a closer look:
Won’t Settle or Open After Being Bred
The best conception rate is when females are bred one to three days after ovulation. That is a pretty wide window to hit! Females who do not conceive after breeding is a common issue with middle-aged females; this is usually easy to correct. Often these are females that have shown for several years and skipped cycles. The common age is four to five years and on the 3rd litter.
- Caution – Be sure it is not a male dog problem.
- Why did the ovary not ovulate? You will read that timing of breeding is the #1 reason for missing a female, but we find that true for only the casual breeder. The show breeder and the commercial breeder have a good idea when to breed and know that ovulation is at the end of standing heat. Females do not have the same heat cycle every time.
- For commercial and show breeders, the female is often not ovulating at all. They “hang follicles” that are mature, and then the follicles regress without ovulating. Often the result is false pregnancy and resulting mastitis.
- Put her on Breeder’s Edge B Strong or Doc Roy’s® Daily Care Vitamins to be sure we are adequate (plus some) in minor nutrients.
- To correct, failure to ovulate we may use Chorulon® HCG or Cystorelin. This helps females to complete their ovulation. Progesterone blood tests can be run at a human hospital – same test. Many vet clinics have this test in house or can send to a veterinary reference laboratory.
Most female dogs become pregnant with HCG or Cystorelin and do not have this issue with subsequent breeding – problem solved. If we don’t get pregnant with HCG or Cystorelin, then we need to ultrasound for endometritis.
Recognize early and save the litter! These pregnant females are bellying down; their protein and glucose demand goes up, and the diet is inadequate. The pregnant dog is off food, then she gets sick and her breath smells like “cleaning fluid,” which is caused by Ketones breaking down mom’s tissues.
- Anorexic – no appetite caused by protein malnutrition. If prolonged, you can lose newborn pups and/or mom.
- Rx: Improve diet: High quality puppy food or Royal Canine Starter Mousse canned food – force feed if needed.
- If Ketosis progresses, you may need to terminate the pregnancy to save mom.
*Preventing Ketosis is the reason why we put moms on puppy food the last two to three weeks of pregnancy.
Dog Pregnancy Discharge
Uterine involution follows whelping and is not complete until approximately 120 days following birth. (Dr. Threlfall)
Dog Vaginal Discharge
Vaginal discharge, other than clear mucus post-breeding, is abnormal. If it smells at all, she may have an infection. Uterine infection, also known as pyometra, is treatable! Have the female examined by your veterinarian to be sure of your diagnosis because the treatment will abort her if she is pregnant. Get her on antibiotic as soon as you see it to prevent toxicity from infection. Left alone, uterine infection can become life-threatening.
Lochia or uterine discharge is normal for 4+ weeks.
- Pale brown to pale green color. Discharge increases after nursing – Oxytocin release causes milk letdown and uterine contraction.
- Serum – mucus-like with no odor. If it does not smell, do not worry about discharge post-whelping.
- If it smells, it is abnormal – treat it! This is metritis. An ultrasound can assess if there are retained puppies and/or retained placenta.
Rectal temp of 103º is not unusual for several days post-whelping. Temp has nothing to do with infection, just the muscle activity of birth, being in the warm environment where you re housing the pups, and the hormonal changes.
Treatable with Prostaglandin F2a
- Lutalyse 10 to 50 mcg/kg three to five times a day for three to six days until no discharge is seen.
- Causes abdominal cramping (vomiting, loose stool, salivation).
- Clavamox or Sulfa-Trimeth antibiotic for three weeks.
- Sulfa-Trimeth during next heat cycle, two weeks before and two weeks after next whelping. Avoid Sulfa-Trimeth in Dobermans, Samoyeds and Golden Retrievers.
Mismating or Unwanted Dog Pregnancy
Management is the best prevention here, but if an unplanned breeding does happen, the goal is terminating the unwanted pregnancy while preserving the reproductive life of the female. The female must be over 18 days pregnant for the F2a to work. Be sure the female is pregnant using ultrasound before putting through the F2a abortion.
- Discuss the use of prostaglandins with your veterinary professional prior to proceeding with treatment.
- The side effects include: increased salivation, increased heart rate, increased respiration, increased defecation, increased urination, increased gagging, vomiting, ataxia, and mild depression. These side effects begin 20 minutes following administration and last 20 minutes. Females can be aborted starting treatment at 23 days of gestation using this procedure for medical reasons. Avoid prostaglandins in brachycephalic dogs and dogs with a history of respiratory disorders.
- The advantage of this treatment is that it is physiologic; F2a is made by the body. There are no long-term effects on the female, and there are no short or long-term effects on reproductive health.
Mastitis in Dogs
Mastitis milk won’t hurt the puppy, but a puppy won’t nurse bad milk.
- E-Coli is #1, Staph and Strep all cause mastitis. Use an antibiotic to cover.
- Clavamox (Amoxi-Clavulonic Acid) is my choice if eating.
- Common co-infection is usually uterine. Watch for discharge and treat as above.
- Milk out gland or hot pack – Warm H2O bath and cabbage leaves.
- Pain Rx: Carprofen or Meloxidyl can help with pain, inflammation and fever management.
- Bad case – May need to surgically remove gland-like abscess.
- Mastitis may reoccur next whelping. To prevent issues, put mom on probiotics, bather her prior to whelping with Vet Basics ChlorConazole Shampoo and use Breeder’s Edge Nurse Maid wipes on her mammary region and rump. Call if you need help with which antibiotic to choose.
Mom puts puppy to the side and does not care for it or the sick puppy is left behind when the healthy littermates swarm to find mom.
- Puppy is chilled – Rectal temp below 95ºF. Hypothermia is the #1 cause of death in the newborn. (Anderson)
- Tube feed puppies only warm fluids and electrolytes such as Breeder’s Edge Puppy Lyte until rectal temp is 95ºF. Then give electrolytes/milk. Warm slowly over several hours depending on degree of chilling. Once warm and nursing, return to mom. Losses are high during warm up if warming too fast.
- Chilled puppy has decreased suckling reflex and gut motility as well. For problem litters warming and Doc Roy’s® Forti Cal™ on the tongue solves most nursing issues.
- Fresh frozen plasma and antibiotics may be indicated if the pups are sick or septic.
There are other issues such as milk fever/eclampsia. Most female dogs have no problems. When issues do arise, having a plan to correct is the difference between removing the female from your breeding kennel and keeping her.
If you have more questions on how do help avoid dog labor complications, call us at 800.786.4751.
Article originally written by Donald Bramlage, DVM, Revival’s Former Director of Veterinary Services.
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Written by: Marty Greer, DVM
Director of Veterinary Services
Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.