Goals of Treating Dystocia
The goals of treating a bitch with dystocia are to facilitate the delivery of live, healthy puppies with minimal damage or distress to the dam, and also to avoid unnecessary surgical intervention if reasonably possible.
The reproductive capacity of a valuable bitch is very important to most breeders. If the bitch is suffering from uterine inertia or intractable pain, or if there are obvious physical obstructions that prevent a normal vaginal delivery, surgery will be necessary to save the lives of the puppies and the life of their mother. This surgery is called a cesarean section, or a C-section for short. Puppies born under significant stress during delivery and during the immediate period after birth tend to have an increased risk of neonatal death. Sometimes, a veterinarian can manually help to deliver or “pull” a puppy that is stuck or positioned incorrectly in the birth canal. This must be done gently and very carefully and, despite the phrase “pulling a puppy,” it is more of a gentle assistance to the bitch than an act of actually tugging the puppy out. Sterile gloves, lubricant gel and a kind and patient nature may help the veterinarian assist the bitch in passing her “stuck” puppy without surgery.
Occasionally, depending upon the results of blood work and the duration of the dam’s dystocia, the veterinarian may administer calcium gluconate and oxytocin to give a boost to - or “jump-start” - the delivery process. This protocol should never be attempted if a fetus is lodged in any part of the uterus or pelvic cavity or if the uterus has twisted (torsioned) or torn. Oxytocin is a hormone that is a powerful stimulant to the frequency of uterine contractions; calcium gluconate increases the strength of those contractions. Administration of calcium in any form, and/or oxytocin, should only be done under the strict supervision of a veterinarian. If these substances are administered too soon, too rapidly or in the wrong dose, severe side effects can occur as a result of placental compression resulting from the unusually strong and frequent uterine contractions. The mother may develop abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), and the puppies may suffer from hypoxia, which is a lack of sufficient oxygen supply. In the worst case, the bitch’s uterus may rupture if oxytocin and calcium are given too early in labor, too frequently, too rapidly or in too large of a dose. Sadly, uterine rupture usually causes the death of the mother and all of her puppies.
The outlook for a bitch with dystocia, and for her litter, is usually fair to quite good, so long as she and her puppies receive timely medical intervention and appropriate follow-up care.