Whelping: Dog Pregnancy Complications And Solutions
If pregnancy for any species can be summed up in a phrase, it is this: “pregnancy complications happen.” Whether you are a human, a walrus, a tortoise or a dog, there are times when being pregnant and giving birth become anything but easy, simple or safe.
As a parent to a female dog in particular, this is why it is so critical to learn more about dog pregnancy, whelping and caring for newborn puppies.
Inmost cases, a pregnant dog will successfully deliver her litter and care for her puppies on her own, leaving you to handle tough chores like snapping cute puppy pictures and posting them on Instagram. But in a smaller percentage of cases, you may need to step in as a surrogate mama to her newborn puppies – or even make a choice between the life and health of your dog or that of her puppies.
In this post, learn more about the most common dog pregnancy complications before, during and after whelping day.
Gestation Period for Dogs
At just 58 to 68 days long, dog gestation happens for a remarkably brief period of time. There are all kinds of smart evolutionary reasons for the briefness of the gestation period for dogs, ranging from the dangerous vulnerabilities of caring for newborn puppies in the wild to the need to get back to helping the pack with the hunting.
But in the world of the domestic dog, it can often feel like, in the blink of an eye, you go from learning your dog is pregnant to watching your dog giving birth!
On such a truncated timetable, this also increases the urgency of recognizing and responding to dog pregnancy complications as quickly as possible.
Whelping Complications Before Puppies Are Born
Learning how to tell if your dog has a false pregnancy is very important because dog false pregnancy is a real condition that can cause both you and your dog some amount of distress.
While it rarely requires a vet’s care, false pregnancy does require some care on your part to minimize your dog’s symptoms.
Basically, false pregnancy occurs when your dog does NOT become pregnant when she goes into heat, but because of hormonal fluctuations she believes she is pregnant and begins to act like she is pregnant. She may exhibit all of the classic signs of pregnancy, including increased desire to rest or nest, decreased appetite, swollen teats and “mothering” of toys or stuffed animals.
In nearly all cases, the treatment is simply to do everything you can to control her space so she is not able to act on her maternal instincts. In rare extreme cases, you may need to take her to the vet for treatment with prescription medication.
If she is acting pregnant, but not growing, your dog may have a false pregnancy.
The very most common dog pregnancy complications of pre-whelping are miscarriage or early abortion. This can be brought on by a number of conditions, including but not limited to those listed here:
- Canine brucellosis. This bacterial infection is asymptomatic until it causes miscarriage (usually at 35 days), stillborn puppies or death in utero.
- Herpes virus. This virus is particularly dangerous to the puppies if your dog becomes infected very early or very late in her gestation period.
- Toxoplasmosis. Infection from this organism causes miscarriage or puppy birth defects.
- Mycoplasma/ureaplasma. Typically contracted in conditions of overcrowding, premature birth is the least dangerous of the potential complications this condition causes.
- Hormone deficiencies. Low progesterone can induce premature birth.
- Infection. Whether caused by bacteria or a virus, infection can threaten the health and viability of both mom and puppies.
In Utero Puppy Death.
Sometimes, one or more puppies may fail to thrive during gestation. Unfortunately, your dog will still need to pass these puppies on whelping day or she is at risk of developing dangerous post-whelping complications.
However, you may not know she hasn’t whelped out all the puppies, which is why a post-whelping vet checkup within 24 hours is critical for her health.
Failure To Whelp
There are many potential causes of a failure to whelp. One of the most common causes is an abnormally large puppy or a puppy with an overly large head.
If your dog is straining to whelp without any signs of a puppy emerging, or if she has overshot her whelp date by several days, it is time for a vet visit to determine the cause.
Placenta Before Puppies
If your dog passes the placenta or blood before she has passed a single puppy, this could indicate two puppies are trying to emerge at the same time or that a puppy has died in utero and must be retrieved or whelped out later. It is best to take your dog to the vet right away if this occurs.
If you’re dog passes a placenta before producing any puppies, it is very important to call your vet.
Whelp Issues After Puppies Are Born
Eclampsia is serious.
Eclampsia, also known by its common name of “milk fever,” is a very serious post-whelping medical condition that can be fatal if left untreated. Inadequate post-whelping calcium levels (caused by an underactive thyroid gland) can lead to the onset of eclampsia.
While it is most common for eclampsia to show up after whelping, it can actually develop at any time during the dog gestation period. It is more common for first-time dog mamas and smaller or “toy” breeds.
When your dog begins walking stiffly, pants, whines, seems disoriented, scratches at her face, experiences muscular tremors, vomits or has diarrhea, stops caring for her puppies, has high fever and/or dilated pupils, these are all signs that she has eclampsia.
She should be rushed to the vet and you will likely need to assume care and feeding of her puppies while she gets treatment.
Metritis, also known as “inflammation of the uterus,” is most often caused by bacteria that induces the uterine lining to swell and become inflamed. Symptoms of metritis typically begin in the week following whelping.
If your dog’s abdomen has become swollen or there is a dark-green, smelly vaginal discharge, these are signs of metritis. When fever, listlessness, lack of appetite, suppression of maternal instincts, cessation of milk production, dark red gums and/or rapid heart rate, this means the metritis is progressing.
You should contact your vet immediately and take over care and feeding of the puppies right away.
Mastitis, also known by its common name of “mammary gland infection,” can be caused by the presence of bacteria in the mammary glands.
If your dog’s milk teats feel hard and look swollen, the milk that comes out looks abnormal and discolored and your dog becomes listless or refuses to let her puppies nurse, you will need to step in and feed the puppies with a milk replacer formula.
If just one teat is inflamed, it may still be mastitis and you will notice that the puppies will likely not nurse from it.
If you suspect mastitis, call your vet.
Endometriosis or Retained Placenta
When placenta(s) or non-viable puppies remain inside the uterus or birth canal post-whelping, this can lead to infection and/or development of endometriosis.
If your dog begins to show signs of fever, listlessness, appetite loss, a decrease in production of milk, an unpleasant vaginal discharge or maternal rejection of her puppies, these are all warning signs of endometriosis. Your dog should be rushed to the vet for treatment immediately.
If the uterus ruptures or bursts, the mother dog may begin to heavily hemorrhage blood. Like milk fever, this is a potentially deadly medical issue and your dog should be rushed to the vet for treatment.
Blood is simply part of whelping, but if you suspect your dog to be hemorrhaging blood, you must deal with this emergency immediately.
Inadequate Or No Milk
There are a number of possible causes for inadequate or no milk production on the part of the mother. There may be illness or a nutritional imbalance at work. The mother dog may lack the maternal instinct to care for her puppies.
If there is not enough milk to feed the newborn puppies, you will need to feed them a milk replacer formula and take your dog to the vet for diagnosis and treatment.
Having Goat’s milk on hand is a great idea.
Even if all goes well, you can use it later to supplement mom’s milk.
Maternal Rejection or Harm To Puppies
In certain cases, a mother dog may refuse to care for her puppies or even attempt to cause them harm. Some dogs lack maternal instincts for a variety of reasons, but the most common reason this can occur is that the mother dog is suffering from illness or injury post-whelping.
Crying, whimpering, shivering puppies or puppies that have signs of visible fresh injuries are cries for help and signs that maternal rejection or harm is taking place.
In this case, it will be necessary for you to act as a surrogate mother to her puppies while you take your dog to the vet to get treatment.
That Was a Lot of Bad News About Dog Pregnancy,
So Here’s Some Good News
After reading through this list of potential whelping complications, it is very important to remember two things:
- The vast majority of whelping is completely normal! The most likely possibility is that your dog will whelp on time and normally and immediately begin feeding and caring for her healthy puppies.
- Your vet is your ally in the whelping process. If there do happen to be complications, your vet will be your go-to expert for help.
In most cases, whelping difficulties can be prevented by making sure your dog has regular vet check-ups plus appropriate pre-whelping tests, along with nutritional supplementation as recommended by your vet.
Your vet will also be able to advise you pre-whelping day on any potential issues due to prior medical history, age, health, weight, breed or other issues that may be specific to your dog.