Breeding, Reproductive Health Advice

Managing Pregnancy Problems in Dogs

November 29, 2022


Managing Pregnancy Problems in Dogs

Last updated: August 2, 2016

For years we did not know how to help females do a better job of raising puppies. The past 10 years have brought a lot of information about managing fertility and gestation for babies that fight to live. Prenatal vitamin requirements and a better understanding of babies have brought about new management goals for mom.

Once pregnant, nature will help get the pregnant cat or dog through gestation, resulting in live babies 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 mom 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. Queens 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 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

Won't Settle or Open After Being Bred
The best conception rate is when females are bred four days before or three days after ovulation. That is a pretty wide window to hit! Open females 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 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 backyard 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 this the same every time, so they also know when she usually stands and how many days.
  • 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 on Doc Roy's® Daily Care Vitamins to be sure we are adequate (plus some) in minor nutrients.
  • To correct, we use Chorulon® HCG or Cystorelin. This causes females to ovulate, no choice.
    • Use at the last two to three breeding, or use when progesterone testing tells you she is ovulating.
    • the past, we have used this only in the last breeding, but females can stand up to eight days after ovulation, so use when you AI if not progesterone testing for ovulation. It has increased our success!
      • Progesterone 2 ng/dl in estrus 6 ng/dl ovulated two days ago, breed and use HCG.
      • Can run progesterone at human hospital – same test. Some vet clinics have this test in house.

Most 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.

Pregnancy Ketosis
Recognize early and save the litter! These pregnant females are bellying down; their protein demand goes up, and the diet is inadequate. Mom 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. Lose babies and/or mom.
  • Rx: Improve diet: High quality puppy 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, post-breeding, is abnormal. If it smells at all, you are infected. 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.

Post-Whelping Discharge
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!

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 and the hormonal changes.

Treatable with Prostaglandin F2a

  • Lutalyse 50 mcg/LB/bid/ three to six days until no discharge is seen.
  • Causes abdominal cramping (vomiting, loose stool, salivation).
  • Sulfa-Trimeth antibiotic for three weeks.
  • Sulfa-Trimeth during next heat cycle, two weeks before and two weeks after next whelping.

Mismating or Unwanted Dog Pregnancy

Management is the best prevention here, but if it does happen, the goal is aborting 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 before putting through the F2a abortion.

  • Start at the 100 ug/lb dosage SQ with expanded volume with saline to 10 cc / every 12 hours / four days.
  • 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 53 days of gestation using this procedure for medical reasons.
  • 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.
    • Sulfa-Trimeth 25 mg/lb 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.
  • Pain Rx: Carprofen, Banamine
  • Bad case – May need to remove gland-like abscess.
  • Mastitis reoccurs next whelping. To prevent issues, put mom on an antibiotic one week before and two weeks after her due date. Call if you need help with which antibiotic to choose.

Female Culling

Mom puts puppy to the side and does not care for it.

  • Puppy is chilled – Rectal temp below 95ºF. Hypothermia is the #1 cause of death in the newborn. (Anderson)
  • Tube feed only warm fluids and electrolytes 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 as well. For problem litters warming and Doc Roy's® Forti Cal on the tongue solves most nursing issues.

There are other issues such as milk fever. Most females 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 need help, call us at 800.786.4751.

-Dr. Bramlage
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health

Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival's Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.