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Dystocia is a medical term referring to the difficulty in giving birth. It may be as a result maternal factors (uterine inertia, inadequate size of birth canal) or and fetal factors ( difficulty passing the fetus through the pelvic canal).

Dystocia is a common small animal emergency. Acording to a survey, a high number of dystocia cases in bitches has been as a result of Uterine inertia.

A pregnancy lasting more than 68 days is considered abnormal. Breeds of dogs that commonly experience dystocia include bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers. In addition, it is more common for a dog to experience dystocia with the first pregnancy.

Normal Delivery in Dogs

Normal birthing can vary some from animal to animal, but knowing the signs of normal versus abnormal birthing can help an owner decide if their pet is experiencing a medical emergency.

Outlined below are the normal signs of birthing that owners should know to expect;

  • Signs of lactation can be seen within 1-2 weeks prior to parturition (birth).
  • Stage 1 of delivery: 12-24 hours prior to parturition, restlessness, loss of appetite, panting, and nesting behaviors may be seen, as well as occasional vomiting. Body temperature will drop below 99 degrees. A clear vaginal discharge may be present.
  • Stage 2 of delivery: Start of visible abdominal contractions and delivery of fetuses. May last 1 to 24 hours, although shorter times are associated with better outcomes.
  • Stage 3, delivery of placenta/fetal membranes: Usually a placenta is delivered between each fetus, often accompanied by green and/or black discharge.

Symptoms of Dystocia in Dogs

The symptoms depend on the cause of the dystocia, but the most common are:

  • Labor starts less than 56 days after conception
  • Labor has not started after 70 days
  • Bloody discharge
  • Green or black discharge for several hours without delivering
  • Vomiting
  • Strong contractions for more than an hour without delivering
  • Fetus trapped in the birth canal
  • Straining more than two hours without delivering
  • Longer than five hours between delivering puppies
  • Fever higher than 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.5°C)
  • Extreme lethargy or weakness without delivering any puppies

Diagnosisosis and Treatment in Dystocia in Dogs

Diagnosis of dystocia is based on physical exam findings / history, radiographs to evaluate fetal size and position, and/or ultrasound to evaluate fetal viability and distress.

Early intervention with medical or surgical therapy will allow for the best survival of both the mother and her puppies.

Medical treatment of dystocia is generally attempted first unless there is a reason that a C-section should be immediately performed. Reasons for recommending a C-section may include a very large puppy, malpositioned puppy, abnormal pelvic bone structure that would preclude natural delivery (previous fracture of the pelvis) or complete exhaustion of the mother.

Medicines that are used to help the mother deliver the puppies naturally include oxytocin that stimulates uterine contraction, calcium and intravenous fluids containing electrolytes.

In the event that natural delivery is not possible, a C-section will be performed. With the animal under anesthesia, an incision is made on the abdomen to expose the uterus, and then the puppies are removed from the uterus. To ensure their safe recovery, the puppies are then cared for by an intensive care unit technician.


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