Dealing with dystocia (Proceedings)


Dealing with dystocia (Proceedings)

May 01, 2011

Many of the reproductive abnormalities that present as emergencies are straight-forward and relatively easy to resolve. Treatment of these diseases, however, requires knowledge of the underlying pathophysiology as well as the options available for dealing with such emergencies. Many breeders are well informed about the latest developments and expect their veterinarians to be as well. This chapter will discuss the most common reproductive diseases that present to the emergency veterinarian and provide treatment options and recommendations for each.


Appropriate management of dystocia requires that the client be well educated and able to recognize signs of impending problems. Once dystocia does occur, there is typically a small window of opportunity in order to save the unborn puppies and kittens.

The first question you need to be able to answer is "What is the bitches expected whelping date". Ninety-nine percent of dogs whelp 63 days after ovulation (the day progesterone rises above 5 ng/dl). By establishing this date, the owner can be appropriately prepared for whelping and the timing of an elective C-section, if desired, can be established. As the expected whelping date nears, the owner should take the bitch's temperature once to twice daily. A fall in temperature below 99°F indicates that the bitch will begin labor in within 24 hours. Owners, particularly first time breeders, should be instructed how to properly prepare a whelping area and how to deal with a normal uncomplicated whelping.

Signs of Fetal Distress

  • Vaginal discharge: Off-colored discharge (green, red, or brown) from the vagina prior to whelping is a sign of fetal distress. If discharge is seen an emergency C-section should be performed if the goal is to have as many alive puppies as possible.
  • More than 2 hours between stage 1 and 2 labor: If a bitch takes longer than two hours between the initiation of labor and the birth of the first puppy a C-section should be considered.
  • A puppy becomes lodged in the birth canal: A small birth canal can result from healed pelvic fractures, vaginal strictures, vaginal prolapse, etc. The puppies may be too big to pass through a normal-sized canal. In some breeds, such as the bulldog, the conformation of the breed is such that the wide-bodied, wide-headed pups frequently cannot pass through the pelvis. Bulldogs also have poor uterine contractility. Caesarian section is routinely done in these breeds. When litters are very small (1 or 2 pups) the pups may become too large to pass easily through the canal. Fetal monsters and anasarcous fetuses may also cause problems.
  • More than one hour passes between puppies: If a bitch is in active labor and more than one hour passes between puppies the bitch should be examined to determine if a puppy is malpositioned or any other problems exist.

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