There are many reasons why you should X-ray for puppy count and those will be addressed later in the article, but first let’s address the elephant in the room: it’s common for people to not want to X-ray out of fear of exposing puppies (and mothers) to unnecessary radiation.
Pregnant Dog X-Rays
Yes, pregnant dog X-Rays were a concern back in the 1960s. Today, with modern X-ray machines, the amount of X-ray exposure will NOT put the pregnant dog or the pups at risk of radiation exposure. Studies showing damage were done in the 1960s before we had rare earth film or digital X-rays. By the end of the dog pregnancy, the fetal development is complete so this is safe.
As a veterinarian, I highly recommend canine pregnancy X-rays for a variety of reasons. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian so you can make the best choices for your litter.
Should I Do a Puppy Count X-ray
When it comes to the health of the mother and the pups, it’s best to not leave medical decisions up to chance. Puppy count X-rays are the most accurate way to know how many puppies are expected. While ultrasound is useful for confirmation of pregnancy for dogs and other animals that have litters, it is not an accurate method of counting.
Additionally, if you have any suspicion the mother has not completed her delivery, a follow-up X-ray with your veterinarian can also be a lifesaver. The most accurate and invaluable way to know if she is finished whelping, and that all pups have been delivered, is a puppy count X-ray.
Tips and Tricks to Great Puppy Count X-rays
- Take the mother to the veterinary clinic while fasting. Try to schedule the appointment in the morning so she is happier about the fasting.
- Be sure she has had a chance to urinate and defecate before the X-rays. If she is reluctant to go to the bathroom while walking, you can use an unlit match (yes, really) and/or a glycerin suppository to aid in encouraging this. Arrive at the veterinary appointment far enough in advance to have a relaxed time to walk her.
- Use a veterinary clinic that takes digital X-rays or has great film technique. Work with your veterinary team to help them learn to give you an accurate count. This means showing this information to them and being supportive of them working with breeders. Be nice to ALL of the veterinary team. A plate of cookies or a pie helps them want to work with you and other breeders – just kidding (but not really, we love cookies). Ask them to use a “grid” or increase the X-ray exposure by 10% if the first X-rays are not clear enough to be diagnostic.
- Ask them to take two X-rays in succession, a right and a left lateral in either order. This means the mother will lay on the X-ray table with her right, then her left side down, or vice versa. Stretching her out a bit helps. They need to get the last rib to her thigh on the exposure. If they miss, try again. And again, this amount of X-rays exposure will NOT put her or pups at risk of radiation exposure. Studies showing damage were done in the 1960s before we had rare earth film or digital X-rays. By the end of the pregnancy, the fetal development is complete so this is safe.
If the exposure is not diagnostic for a count, have their team try again. They should be able to get an accurate count unless you are having more than 10 pups. If there are more than 10, you should schedule a C-section!
If you have questions on X-rays for puppy counts or pregnant dog X-Rays, call a Pet Care Pro at 800.786.4751.
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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.