Premature Labor in Dogs
There are several conditions that can cause a pregnant dog, or dam, to experience premature contractions leading to preterm delivery of puppies. Bacterial infections, viral infections, death of one or more fetuses, ovarian cysts, hormonal imbalances, injury, malnutrition, a change in environment/moving, and basically any kind of stress that can send a dog into mental and physical distress can lead to early labor. In some cases, a dog’s breed may genetically predispose it to preterm labor.
Preterm delivery in dogs is defined by a birth that occurs before the ideal 60 days of gestation. Generally, puppies born at 58 days of gestation, or later, have a high chance for survival.
Symptoms and Types
- Delivery before 58 days in dogs
- Bloody discharge or tissue
- Excessive vocalizing/barking
- Loss of appetite
- Drop in temperature
- Dam may seek more attention than usual; clingy
- Bacterial infection
- Lyme disease
- Viral infection
- Hormonal imbalance
- Sudden drop in progesterone suspected
- Low thyroid levels in older females
- Non-infectious uterine or vaginal disease
- Ovarian cysts
- Emotional disturbances in household: fights, screaming
- Move to new location
- Cold temperatures
- Receiving vaccinations while pregnant (especially those for distemper and hepatitis)
- Dog (breed) shows
- Loud noises
If you find that your dog is experiencing early labor you will want to consult with your veterinarian. You will need to begin by giving your veterinarian a thorough history of your dog’s health before and during pregnancy, her onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have brought this condition on. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on your dog, while being careful not to bring on any further undue stress. Standard laboratory tests may include a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, an electrolyte panel and a urinalysis to make sure that there are no underlying diseases that are causing the premature labor symptoms. The blood tests will show whether your dog’s progesterone levels are abnormally low.
Ultrasound imaging will be performed to diagnose fetal death or abnormal position of fetuses, which may cause a difficult delivery. However, an ultrasound will also give your veterinarian a visual on the fetal heartbeats along with more fetal detail. If the puppies are stillborn, or if they die shortly after birth, they should be necropsied by your veterinarian to determine the cause of death.
If your dog is going into labor early, immediately contact your veterinarian or call the nearest emergency veterinarian for guidance. Your dog will most probably require medical treatment, either for an illness or to remove stillborn fetuses.
Living and Management
If your dog is pregnant you should not expose her to other animals in the three weeks before delivery and in the three weeks after giving birth. Even animals that have been living in your own house in close proximity with your dog should be segregated from her during this vulnerable time. As much as possible, keep the dog isolated in a warm, quiet room, where she can create a nesting area for herself and her puppies.
Some dogs feel the need to be alone, while others have no problems giving birth with someone nearby. Some will even feel more comfortable with a trusted human companion nearby. If you can, provide both options to your dog. Do not give your dog any medications during pregnancy without first consulting with your veterinarian. This includes flea medications and vaccinations. If your veterinarian is treating your dog for anything, make sure to tell the doctor that your dog is pregnant. For example, you may allow your veterinarian to deworm your dog while it is pregnant, as long as you inform your veterinarian about the pregnancy.
Do not board your dog in a kennel or otherwise move it unless you have no other option.
If your dog has bloody vaginal discharge while still preterm, call your veterinarian for advice immediately. You may want to consider taking your dog to the veterinarian for a pregnancy check-up at 30 days of pregnancy to be sure that the pregnancy is progressing as it should.
Most of the same precautions regarding medicines and vaccination hold true for the time following birth, while your dog is nursing her puppies. Always consult with your veterinarian before giving your dog anything that might make its way into her bloodstream and milk.
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