Complications After Dogs Give Birth
After-Birth Complications in Dogs
If your dog just gave birth uneventfully, you may be giving a big sigh of relief, because you think the worst has passed. The puppies are suckling strongly, and mom eats, drinks, and takes care of the puppies as she should. Yet your new mom and pups are not completely out of the woods yet.
Complications may occur hours or days after the pups' birth, and sometimes they happen rather quickly, leaving little time to intervene. You have to continue to observe the mom and pups, and care for them after delivery. Below are some developments you may observe, while watching the mom and pups, that may or may not be signs of a complication.
What is normal and what is abnormal after a dog gives birth? If you notice something that is abnormal, even if it is not listed here, do not hesitate to call your vet.
Mother Dog is Not Going Potty
What is normal? Some mother dogs are so overwhelmed they seem to forget to drink or go out to potty as needed. If your dog is too worried to go outside to potty, you can help her in different ways. One way is to avoid crowding the area by inviting people over to see the puppies. As exciting as it is to see a litter of newborn pups, keep the whelping area quiet for the first days. Too much stress, too many noises, or too much interference may cause your new mom to be too worried to leave the pups alone, especially if she is a first-time mom. What can you do? You can try to entice her to come outside to potty, but if this does not work, you may put potty pads indoors near the pups so she can relieve herself while keeping an eye on her litter. Using a DAP diffuser may also help relieve the initial stress she may be feeling.
Mother Dog Is Not Eating
What is normal? While your new mom is very busy and tired the first few hours after giving birth, she should start eating soon to recoup her energy and help the pups grow. Keep in mind that if she ate the placentas, she might not be hungry for some time. As a rule of thumb, expect your new mother dog to eat within 24 hours of the birth of the last puppy, explains veterinarian Dawn Ruben in an article for Petplace. Your dog should be very hungry by this time and should be expected to eat a lot.
Your new mother dog can be allowed to splurge and eat as much as she wants. Make sure you keep that food bowl full of a high-energy puppy food, growth food, or lactation food recommended by your vet. Ideally, you should have been feeding her food like this in the last few weeks of pregnancy, having switched over to it gradually. Keep food and water near the mother so she will eat and drink without worrying about leaving her pups out of sight.
What is abnormal? If the mother dog is not hungry within 24 hours of delivering the last pup, this may be a problem. This may, indeed, be the first sign indicating an after-birth complication.
Mother Dog Is Panting
What is normal? During the first day after giving birth, panting is normal, because the mother dog is exhausted, and all the puppies crawling over her may cause her to feel overheated. The puppy's nails on her tummy may also cause her pain. Not to mention that the pups' suckling stimulates the mother dog's uterus to contract, which may cause panting as well, explains veterinarian Jon Rappaport.
What is abnormal? If the panting continues, it is worth investigating, as it may be a sign of an after-birth complication. Panting may be caused by a fever due to an infection or it may be the first sign of eclampsia. So if the panting lasts for a while and is accompanied by other symptoms, or if her rectal temperature is over 103.5o, she should see the vet.
Mother Dog Has a Discharge
What is normal? For up to three weeks after giving birth, it is normal for the mother dog to have a vaginal discharge known as lochia. The discharge is dark greenish, brownish, or blackish in color and should not have a foul odor.
What is abnormal? Should the discharge increase, rather than decrease, or if it has a foul odor, it is best to have the dog seen. This may be a sign of an infection (see "metritis" below).
Also, according to veterinarian Bari Spielman, a continuous watery and/or bloody discharge may be indicative of the placental sites not receding. Placental sites should normally shrink after delivery and return to normal size, a process known as "involution." If they don't, it's called "uterine subinvolution." The bloody discharge may persist up to 16 weeks and may resolve on its own, but in severe cases may cause a dog to become anemic.
If your dog develops any of the abnormal signs above, do not hesitate to have her seen by a vet.
Here are three of the more common post-partum complications in dogs.
Post-Partum Complications in Dogs
- Metritis. Metritis is infection of the uterus. This infection may be caused by a retained placenta, retained fetuses, birthing complications, or the use of instruments for a surgical procedure. Generally, this condition occurs within the first week after giving birth. Symptoms include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, fetid vaginal discharge, dehydration, fast heart rate, panting, vomiting, and diarrhea. The mother dog will need to be on antibiotics, and the puppies may need to be hand-fed during this time with a replacement formula such as Ebsilac. In severe cases, the mother dog may become septic quickly, requiring hospitalization.
- Eclampsia. Eclampsia, or milk fever, is the depletion of calcium in mother dogs. It is most common in small dogs with large litters, during the first three weeks after giving birth. Symptoms include stiff gait, trouble standing normally, restlessness, pacing, fever, panting, muscle spasms, seizures, and lack of interest in the puppies. This condition can be life-threatening if not treated in time. Treatment consists of replenishing calcium levels. The puppies will need to be hand-fed. Note: Supplementing with calcium during pregnancy will not help; it may actually predispose the mother dog to this condition.
- Mastitis. Mastitis is infection of the mother dog's mammary glands. The mother's nipples may appear hot, red, and inflamed. The condition could be triggered by the scratching of the puppy's nails against the mammary glands. Symptoms include fever, pain upon nursing, withdrawing from the pups, pups not growing, and pups crying. The puppies will need to be hand-fed.
Preventing Complications After Your Dog's Birth
Complications after your dog has given birth can be serious and scary. This is why prenatal care is important. Responsible breeders know this all too well. One of the most useful things you can do is have your vet determine how many puppies your dog is expecting. This way, you know exactly how many puppies and placentas should come out, and you will know right away if a puppy is stuck or a placenta has been retained.
Also, your new mom and puppies should see a vet within 24 or 48 hours after giving birth. This way, your vet can make certain no placentas or dead puppies were retained. If placentas are not expelled in a timely manner they may cause infection of the uterus (metritis). An oxytocin injection may be necessary. Oxytocin is a hormone naturally produced by the dog's hypothalamus, which stimulates the uterus to contract and expel its contents.
Disclaimer: the above article is not to be used as a substitute for veterinary advice. If your dog is sick after giving birth, consult with your vet.
Questions & Answers
My Chihuahua just had puppies about two weeks ago, and now her breasts are hot, hard, and enlarged. What's going on with my dog?
It sounds like mastitis, an infection of breast tissue. This can happen when the pups nurse and use their teeth or nails. Please take your dog to your vet.
One of my puppies is quite a bit smaller than the rest. Should I bottle feed her?
You may have a "runt of the litter." You may need to intervene if this puppy is nursing, having difficulties with accessing the mother, or if it appears weaker than the others. You may also need to bottle feed if the puppy is struggling. You can feed with a puppy bottle using puppy milk replacer. Avoid human formulas.
If the puppy has a hard time latching onto the bottle, you can try to rub some honey on its gums in hopes of spiking her glucose, and increasing her energy so that a few minutes later she'll hopefully have a stronger suckling reflex.
Why does my dog who has just given birth, refuse to eat her food?
If she just recently gave birth, she may be too busy attending to her puppies. She may also be a bit nervous if she is a protective mother. Make sure she is in a quiet stress-free area and that you don't allow too much commotion. It is not a good time to allow visitors.
Also, consider that if she was allowed to eat the puppy's afterbirth (placentas), she might not be hungry.
Of course, feeling ill may also be a cause. Make sure her body temperature is normal (101.5 degrees). See your vet if she has a fever or if she has a discharge that is smelly and pus-like, or if her mammary glands seem red and hot.
My dog is breathing funny when feeding her puppies. It sounds like she is snoring, but it also seems like she can’t breathe. Is this normal?
I find this to be odd behavior. If she breathes this way only while nursing, perhaps she has some discomfort. Maybe the puppies' nails are hurting her, or she has an inflamed nipple. A vet visit may be insightful. If you notice this breathing at other times, it may be worth having her checked out by a vet in case something is affecting her nasal passages.