Canine labor complications

Written by rena sherwood
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When a dog goes into labour to give birth to puppies, it is called "whelping." Problems can occur during whelping that can lead to the death of the mother or the puppies or both. Quick action by the owner can help save these canine lives. Since whelping can take place any time of the day or night, a pregnant dog's owner should know how to contact an emergency veterinarian if the regular vet is off duty.


Dystocia occurs when the puppies are larger than the mother dog's birth canal. The puppies get stuck in the canal during whelping and die. The mother dog may also die, from the decomposition of the foetuses. Dystocia happens mostly to dog breeds with big heads and narrow waists, such as English bulldogs, Boston terriers, pugs and Chihuahuas.

Symptoms of canine dystocia include the mother not being able to give birth to a puppy despite being in labour more than one hour; whining, crying and other signs of pain while she's in labour; and not whelping a single puppy more than 70 days after mating. If the mother dog has whelped one or more puppies and is still in labour after a half-hour, she probably has another puppy stuck inside of her birth canal and needs veterinary attention.

Uterine Inertia

According to "Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook," another common whelping problem is when the uterus stops all contractions (uterine inertia). Giant breeds of dogs such as Great Danes or Irish wolfhounds are prone to this problem.

This can happen during the birth of a large litter, when the mother's uterus is stretched out and exhausted. Uterine inertia can also happen when the mother is large and there is only one small puppy in the litter. It can also happen to a first-time mother who is scared of the pain and is not sure what is going on.


"Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook" notes that toy or small breeds may develop hypocalcaemia (low blood calcium). This can happen in larger female dogs while they are nursing, but in small dogs it can happen during whelping. The mother dog will go into seizures, uncontrollable tremors or shock.

Early Placental Separation

In a normal whelping, the placenta separates from the puppy right before it goes into the vagina. According to "Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook," the puppy should come out of the mother first, followed by the placenta. But early separation from the placenta in the uterus or cervix can result in a puppy's death. In early placental separation, the mother dog passes only dark, greenish-black thick material (the placenta) but there is no sign of a puppy.

Uterine Torsion or Rupture

Torsion or rupture is a severe internal injury to the uterus during whelping. The mother may suddenly pass large amounts of blood without any puppies, placentas or discharge. She may also show symptoms of extreme pain, such as whimpering, screaming, a sudden drop in temperature, thready pulse, unconsciousness or gums turning pale.

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