"Premature delivery in pregnant dogs
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"Premature delivery in pregnant dogs

Dogs
Health & Safety

If you are expecting a litter of puppies from your bitch or are planning to breed from your own dog, for the vast majority of healthy adult dogs of most breeds, the whole process will go off without a hitch, with little to no human intervention required. However, it is important to be aware of some of the potential problems that can occur during the period of gestation and the ultimate whelping itself, and one of the most serious of these is premature labour.

The average period of gestation for a dog is around 63 days, but this can vary due to a wide range of factors, and anything between 60 and 67 days is considered normal. However, if your bitch goes into labour prior to the 60 day mark, this is considered to be a premature delivery, and this is a very serious matter that has huge implications for the survival of the pups, both during delivery and during their first few weeks of life.

In this article, we will look at premature delivery in dogs in more detail-including why this might happen, the problems it can cause, and the chances of survival for the subsequent pups. Read on to learn more.

How much of a problem is premature delivery?

Premature delivery in pregnant dams is reasonably uncommon, although there are various risk factors that can increase the chances of premature delivery in some dogs, which we will examine later on.

As mentioned, if your dog has managed to maintain their pregnancy for 60 days or more, the delivery is considered to be normal-but labour prior to this point is considered premature. For every extra day early that the pups arrive, the lower the chances are of their ultimate survival and ability to grow and thrive as they get older. Deliveries that are 7 or more days early rarely survive.

Why might a dog deliver prematurely?

There are a whole host of factors that can lead to premature delivery in dogs, and whilst some of them can be foreseen as potential problems, others are intangible or harder to identify. Some of the most common known risk factors for premature delivery in dogs include:

  • A young or very old dam. Bitches should not be bred from until they are at least two years old, and should be retired from breeding before they reach the mature stage of adulthood.
  • A bitch that is in poor health or condition upon conception, or during the pregnancy.
  • Inappropriate care and nutrition during pregnancy.
  • Any infection or illness (including sexually transmitted infections that can be passed to the dam during mating) can increase the risk of premature delivery and/or stillbirth rates.
  • Certain health conditions such as hypothyroidism in the dam can lead to a heightened chance of premature delivery. Dogs with known health conditions should not be bred from, although of course a health problem might not be apparent until a problem arises.
  • Treatment with certain drugs and medications, particularly steroidal medications or meds that affect the body’s hormone balance and endocrine system can lead to problems with gestation and carrying a litter to term.
  • Injuries or trauma during the pregnancy can also cause early delivery.
  • High stress levels during pregnancy also increases the risk.
  • Very small and toy dog breeds are more at risk of premature delivery than others.
  • Certain breeds of dog that are known to have more problems than the norm when it comes to mating and whelping are also at higher risk, such as the French bulldog.

It is important to let your vet know if you intend to breed from your dog or your dog is expecting puppies, so that they can talk you through any problems that may arise and help you to identify potential risk factors and what can be done about them.

Can premature pups survive?

Generally, if a bitch goes into labour early, the labour will have to run its course-however, if you know that your dog is at risk and spot the signs of impending labour promptly, your vet may be able to administer medication to stop or delay the labour.

Every additional day that the pups remain within the dam up until the usual 60-67 day window for normal delivery gives them a better chance of survival, but this may not be possible. If your bitch does go into labour early, call your vet immediately and ask them to attend, because the pups, if born alive, will need immediate specialist care in order to stand a chance of survival. This is likely to include round-the-clock care during their first couple of weeks, using an incubator or other temperature-controlled environment, as well a specialist feeding and physical care to help the pups to move, pass waste and generally, stand a chance of survival.

Even with this type of care, premature puppies are not guaranteed to survive and thrive-a lot can go wrong, even after the initial period of intensive care has passed.

Premature puppies are more likely than others to be stillborn or die shortly after birth, and will have an increased susceptibility to illnesses and infections, as well as mental or physical disabilities.

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