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Q&A: Why Did the Puppies Die After My Dog's C-Section?

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

Though the vast majority of canine c-sections are successful, sadly, that isn't always the case.

Though the vast majority of canine c-sections are successful, sadly, that isn't always the case.

Did My Vet Miss a Puppy During My Dog's C-Section?

"My English bulldog gave birth by c-section. The ultrasound showed 4 puppies. A different vet performed the c-section and said there were only 3 in there. One was born with an umbilical hernia that began bleeding. He was rushed to the ER vet and they said his intestines were coming through and he would likely not survive the surgery, so we had to put him down. The same night another puppy died mysteriously.

The remaining puppy is doing well now, but my dog, after birthing, has passed/expelled a lot of abnormal discharge. I didn’t know anything was abnormal until I examined and found puppy claws and fur in the discharge. It started approximately 3 weeks after the c-section. This continued with more pieces coming out each day. More claws and eventually the spine and ribs of a deceased puppy.

What happened? It’s obvious to me the vet left one inside. If it was stillborn and wasn’t removed, is this what would happen? Is it possible she just forgot one and it eventually died and decomposed?

My dog seems ok, she is eating, using the bathroom, normal temp, etc. I can’t help but think the vet was grossly negligent and possibly why we have had so many issues." —Aimee

Why Canine C-Sections Go Wrong

It is possible that your dog was in labor for too long before the puppies were removed by c-section, which would account for the death of the second puppy. In veterinary medicine, we do not have the same protocols for decision delivery interval (DDI) that are used in human medicine (1) and sometimes surgeries and anesthetic times are too long and some puppies do die.

Smaller Care Teams

I realize it is very hard to accept, but compare how much you paid for your own dog's c-section to what a woman pays when she goes into the hospital and has the same procedure done (often about $20,000 to $50,000). The lower cost means that there is not usually a team of obstetric nurses to take care of each puppy as they are born, nor is there an anesthesiologist for each surgery.

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Bicornate Uteri

As far as the discharge you described, it is hard for me to say for sure, but it is definitely possible that a puppy was left in the uterus when it was checked. I cannot be sure if both horns of the uterus were taken out of the body at the same time, but if not, the lost puppy may have slipped back into the other side while the veterinarian was opening up the other side. (2)

It is also possible that the puppy was small and lodged lower down in the uterus and was not found during the surgery, but there are no statistics available on how long it would take for the fetus to break up and pass.

Fetal Mummification

Sometimes, the fetus will mummify and remain inside the dog, possibly causing the female to become infertile later on. (3) If your dog has passed the fetus, the prognosis is much better than it would be otherwise, but she may still require antibiotics to help clean out the uterus.

Tips for Moving Forward

If your dog is a valuable breeding animal, it would be a good idea to have an ultrasound done of her uterus and find out if there is still anything left inside her that might impact future pregnancies. Contact the veterinarian that performed the surgery and tell her of your concerns. (If you do not want to see her, go to a different clinic but have the exam and all tests documented.)

Even if your dog seems okay, she may have a latent infection and might need antibiotics to clear up an infection in the uterus. If the cervix is still open, the veterinarian might choose to give a hormone that will cause the uterus to contract and expel anything left inside.

I am glad to hear she is still eating but am sad to hear about the outcome of the surgery and the loss of the puppies.

Sources

  1. Proctor-Brown, L. A., Cheong, S. H., & Diel de Amorim, M. (2019).
  2. Jasny, M. (2022). Visiting Vet: A rough start to the new year. The Martha's Vineyard Times.
  3. Lefebvre R. C. (2015). Fetal mummification in the major domestic species: current perspectives on causes and management. Veterinary medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 6, 233–244.

This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Dr Mark

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