Dystocia refers to a difficult or abnormal birthing process due to abnormal fetal conditions or complications with the pregnant dam. The risk of dystocia is greater in first-time dams, especially if they are still puppies themselves. Dystocia poses a risk to both dam and puppies, often requiring immediate veterinary attention.
The causes of dystocia can be maternal or fetal in nature. Maternal causes may include poor uterine contractions, infection or inflammation of the uterus, gestational diabetes, abnormal pelvic canal, small pelvis, abnormal vaginal vault or vulvar opening, insufficient dilation, uterine rupture or uterine cancer, cysts or adhesions. The age, breed and weight of the dam also contribute to the risk of dystocia. Fetal causes include large puppies, the position or posture of the fetus in the birth canal, or death of the fetus before delivery.
Puppies reach full size, or adulthood, between their first and second years, depending on the breed. However, female puppies reach sexually maturity before adulthood, most of the around 6 months of age, making it possible for a young pup to become a first-time mom. A female dog’s first litter increases the risk of dystocia because of inexperience. Add to that the fact that the young pup is not yet fully grown and the risk increases even more.
Dystocia can occur in dams of any age and breed, but certain breeds are more prone to difficult births. Brachycephalic breeds, or those with the short, flat faces, seem to be more prone to dystocia. Such breeds include Boston terriers, boxers, bulldogs, Pekingese, pugs and Shih Tzus. Toy breeds, such as Chihuahuas are also at increased risk.
When it comes to dystocia, you are looking for signs of distress more than any specific, finite symptoms. The first sign of dystocia is nothing happening. The normal gestational period for a dog is 63 days. If your puppy’s pregnancy has gone past 72 days, something is likely wrong. Before a dog goes into labor, rectal temperature drops below 99 degrees. Contractions should begin within 24 hours. If contractions fail to start, contact a veterinarian. Other signs, once contractions begin, include more than 30 minutes of strong contractions without delivery, more than two hours between puppy deliveries, bloody discharge or obvious signs of pain. A greenish-black discharge before the delivery of the first puppy is another sign, indicative of premature placental separation.
If your puppy or adult dam shows signs of dystocia, contact your veterinarian immediately to reduce the risk to the dam and newborn puppies. Depending on the cause, medications, such as oxytocin to stimulate contractions, may be necessary. If fetal positioning is causeing dystocia, digital manipulation or forceps assistance may help to deliver to the pup. In cases where the health of the mother or pups is at risk or the delivery is just not progressing, a Caesarean section may be necessary.