How Dystocia Affects Dogs
Prolonged parturition – or an abnormally long duration of labor and whelping of a litter - is called “dystocia.” Dystocia can result in very serious consequences both for the mother and for her puppies. In many cases, a cesarean section (C-section) will be necessary to save the life of the dam and as many of her puppies as possible. Unfortunately, in some cases, especially in puppy-mill and backyard breeding situations, the mother and her litter may die as a result of complications from dystocia.
Symptoms of Dystocia
The chief complaint of owners of bitches with dystocia is the perception that labor and whelping are not proceeding as they should be. This can be based on several different things, including:
- An abnormally long time between deliveries of puppies
- A prolonged period of labor with no puppies being born
- Delivery of stillborn puppies (born dead)
- Presence of a puppy in the birth canal without obvious abdominal contractions or movement of the puppy. If this persists for more than 5 to 10 minutes, an assisted delivery via c-section probably is warranted.
- Active labor (bearing down; strong contractions) for more than 60 minutes without delivering a puppy
- Agitation in the dam
- Persistent nesting behavior (digging, circling)
- Fatigue, exhaustion
- Straining as if to defecate (tenesmus) – when persistent, this suggests an obstruction in the birth canal or uterine inertia
- Abnormal discharge from the vagina and vulva that is dark greenish and smelly; this is called “uteroverdin”. It may or may not contain fresh red blood. This dark vaginal discharge suggests that the placenta has separated from the uterine lining and indicates the need for immediate intervention. A foul-smelling vaginal discharge under these circumstances suggests that one or more of the fetuses have died.
Dogs at Increased Risk
Brachycephalic breeds – those with broad top skulls, flat faces and almost nonexistent muzzles – have a much higher incidence of dystocia than do other breeds. They include French Bulldogs, Boxers, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Pekingese and Pugs, among others. Certain large and giant breed dogs, especially Mastiffs, also reportedly suffer from dystocia more than the average breed due to uterine inertia. Dystocia most commonly affects the very first puppy in a litter. It is also more common in so-called “singleton litters”, where there is only one puppy to be whelped.