Singleton Puppy Syndrome
June 6, 2022
When a pregnancy-confirming ultrasound or puppy count X-ray, confirms a singleton puppy, you probably have some questions.
My Dog Only Had One Puppy, Is That Normal?
A singleton is a litter of one puppy. And when this happens, not only are you heartbroken, you are now facing some extra challenges that may come with the singleton puppy pregnancy, delivery and beyond. Most dams will have multiple pups in a litter.
Singleton Puppy Whelping: Will My Dog Need a C-Section?
In general, C-section is recommended or required when there is only one puppy. That is because labor in the dog is initiated by the pups, not the mother. There is no clock set on the dam’s ovaries or uterus. Labor starts when the pups produce enough cortisol to start labor. When there is only one pup, there is plenty of room in the uterus, meaning the pup is not crowded, stressed, and therefore does not produce the cortisol needed to kick labor into gear. This is the first problem.
Second problem – the placenta is programmed to last 63 days. So, the female may stay pregnant too long, allowing the placenta to fail. A failed placenta, which can occur by day 64 or 65, means the puppy does not get the blood flow needed to supply oxygen and nutrients to the pup, allowing the pup to die in utero. After all you have done to have a puppy, this is a tragedy. And often when this pup dies, the female may still need a salvage C-section to remove the deceased pup. She may not deliver the pup – at death, the pup loses its surrounding placental fluid and may “Velcro” into the lining of the uterus. At this occurrence, she is likely to run a fever and become very ill. If there is no intervention, she may proceed to have her uterus rupture, which can progress to emergency surgery and possibly the female’s death.
This is why progesterone testing at the time of the breeding is so essential. Knowing the female’s ovulation date and calculated due date (63 days after ovulation) will save you from having her go past her due date with the associated dire consequences.
“Reverse” progesterone testing, testing for the progesterone to drop at the end of a pregnancy, is not recommended in cases of small litters. The progesterone may not drop in the case of small litters as it does in a “normal” sized litter. So, don’t use progesterone timing at the end of the pregnancy as it is not accurate in the case of a singleton pup.
A large breed, maiden female is likely going to need a C-section if there is only one (or maybe 2) puppies. A small breed dam or a dam who has previously had successful labor and deliveries may be able to deliver the singleton pup vaginally. This is especially likely if the puppy is delivered headfirst, allowing the pup to be delivered and start breathing more effectively than if the pup is delivered posteriorly (tail first – normal in 40% of deliveries). In these cases, you may not need a C-section. However, if the female fails to go into labor by day 65 based on progesterone testing or if she struggles to deliver the single pup, you are faced with an emergency C-section and associated additional costs.
Careful monitoring of the pup’s well-being after day 62 of pregnancy should be initiated. This may include serial ultrasounds or fetal heart rate monitoring with a fetal doppler to assure the pup has a strong heart rate, over 180 beats per minute. If there is any indication of fetal (dropping heart rate to 160 BPM or lower) or maternal distress, an emergency c-section is essential.
If a C-section is planned for a singleton, speak to your veterinarian in advance about uterine biopsies at the time of the C-section. IF there was good timing and good semen quality, a uterine biopsy at the time of the c-section may offer clues to why there was only one pup or why she resorbed other littermates prior to delivery. The author will biopsy at the site of a normal placental attachment and at a site of resorption. As long as you are there surgically, you may as well find out all you can. The biopsies should be sent to a pathologist with expertise in uterine pathology.
The bottom line is many times, a scheduled C-section is the most cost effective and safest way to deliver a singleton pup.
Singleton Puppy Problems: Lactation and Nursing
Milk production can go one of two ways with a singleton. Either the female may lactate enough for an entire litter with only one puppy, or she may not produce any milk because only one puppy cannot stimulate adequate milk production. So, you may have a chubby puppy or a hungry puppy. Be prepared for both.
A singleton puppy has to count on only their lips to latch and stay upright while nursing. When there is a lineup of littermates, there is support on both sides, keeping the pup from rolling off. A singleton has to expend additional energy and heat nursing alone. To support this pup, you can make rice or bean filled socks, heating in the microwave, for both heat and side support. This allows the singleton pup to concentrate on nursing, and he or she will not expend extra energy trying to hang on, stay upright, and stay warm. This is a great way to find a new use for those singleton socks hanging around your laundry room!
If mom over-lactates, collect the additional colostrum (first milk) and milk, and freeze it for a future litter if needed. It is good for a year in your freezer. Label this carefully so your family knows what is stashed in your freezer. Monitor the weight and weight gain of the singleton puppy carefully to avoid joint issues associated with excessive weight as a pup. An average weight gain should be one to two grams per day per pound of anticipated adult body weight.
If mom is unable to lactate adequately, have Breeder’s Edge® Oxy Momma™, metoclopramide, bratwurst and oatmeal on hand to improve her lactation. Also have a colostrum supplement such as Breeder’s Edge® Nurture Mate™ or fresh frozen plasma (16 cc per pup) ready to use if needed. And have on hand bottles and syringes with the Miracle Nipple® and milk replacer formula such as Breeder’s Edge® Foster Care handy if needed. Be prepared. Don’t wait to get these items until they are needed. Most stores don’t carry what you’ll need and by the time you place an order online, that will be too late.
If another female with puppies of approximately the same age and size is available, grafting the singleton pup onto a foster mom may be the best solution, both socially and nutritionally. Be aware moving a pup into another facility could expose the facility and the pup to outside diseases so choose your allies carefully.
Singleton Puppy Behavior Problems
Neonatal Period (First Two Weeks)
In a normal litter, there is a lot going on. There are warm pups against the others, there is jostling for position at the nipple, there are heartbeats that can be felt. However, the singleton pup is just that – a singleton. So, this singleton pup only has the mother to keep him or her warm, to feel a heartbeat from and is not bumped and knocked off the nipple. As a result, this pup may end up spoiled; spoiled by his mother, spoiled by you, and spoiled by the new owner. This can mean this pup needs extra help learning the feel of touch, other pups, humans, and to understand how to cope with frustration of not getting her or his own way. To simulate littermates, it is advised by behaviorist Dr. Patricia McConnell to use small stuffed animals several times a day to nudge the singleton off the nipple. This will teach touch and frustration, and hopefully minimize the chances that this spoiled pup will turn aggressive when confronted with situations to cope with.
Pediatric Period (Weeks Three to Six)
During this period, the pup should be with his or her mother and start being introduced to other pups of an appropriate age and size. Be sure to expose the pup to as many novel surfaces, toys, sights, sounds and experiences as is safe. Do NOT overwhelm the pup with exposure to too many people or to dogs who are not appropriate in their interactions with little puppies. Additionally, if this pup did not receive colostrum or plasma, either do a titer to assess antibody levels to customize a vaccination protocol or start vaccinating for parvovirus earlier than you might ordinarily do for other pups in your facility.
Singleton Puppy Behavior Problems
When the singleton puppy leaves the nest, make sure the new puppy owner is dog savvy and conservative in their exposure of the pup to new people and situations. Current research suggests that we need to be thoughtful about not overwhelming puppies with intense human interactions.
Behavior concerns seen in singleton pups are failure to learn bite inhibition, lack of social skills around people and other dogs, inability to cope with frustration and social tensions, failure to develop impulse control, and fear of being in enclosed spaces.
An adult dog, preferably the mother, or an experienced patient adult dog, can help teach the pup social skills. She should be able to discipline the pup and set boundaries. The pup needs to learn pack behavior, how to play and socialize with other dogs. Bite inhibition is best taught by other puppies and dogs.
With careful planning and experience, a singleton pup can still have 100 experiences in 100 days without overwhelming him or her. Environmental enrichment can include introducing a variety of surfaces (10 bathmat types), tastes and smells (a variety of safe fruits and vegetables), miniature agility equipment, safe children’s toys that make interesting noises and random movements, and household items that become toys (rinsed out laundry soap bottles, cardboard paper towel tubes and cardboard boxes).
If you have more questions, call us at 800.786.4751.
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Written by: Marty Greer, DVM
Director of Veterinary Services
Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 35+ 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.