Oh Babies: When Pregnancy Becomes an Emergency

The act of birth is a scary yet miraculous event, but it can come with unexpected turns and twists. Unlike humans who give birth in the hospital environment, dogs and cats prefer to give birth in the home environment away from scary noises and sights. This means when your pregnant pet starts showing signs of labor they don’t have to be rushed in to the hospital. Giving them access to a quiet and dark room with lots of bedding, or a large box/crate to stay in, will help them on their path towards normal birth. Still, sometimes things go wrong, and a dystocia can occur. Dystocia is defined as the inability to expel fetuses through the birth canal during parturition (birth). And that’s what happened to Sheba, a 1 year old boxer, the second weekend of September.

Sheba had been pregnant for a little over two months (a normal pregnancy lasts 65 days in a dogs and cats). She started having contractions on Sunday night but by Monday night she still had not produced a puppy, and she started to have green vaginal discharge. She came to TPHCS on Tuesday morning. X-rays revealed at least 6 puppies, and Sheba and her puppies were obviously in trouble.

The two most common causes of dystocia in both dogs and cats are either bloodwork abnormalities in the mother leading to weakness in contractions (both low calcium and low blood sugar can cause this) or abnormalities in the fetuses where they are either too large to pass normally or are in the birth canal incorrectly causing them to get stuck. If a mother has low calcium or blood sugar, sometimes these can be supplemented and the mother will go on to have her puppies or kittens naturally. The suspicion with Sheba was that one of the puppies was aligned wrong in the birth canal and the decision was made to go to surgery.

Caesarean section (C-section) is the emergency surgery performed to remove the puppies or kittens from the mother in a dystocia that cannot be treated with medications. While this surgery has a low risk for the mother, it does pose more of a risk for the puppies or kittens. Normally when a baby is passed naturally through the birth canal that act of stress stimulates changes in the body telling the baby to breathe and react normally. When a C-section happens, the baby does not undergo that normal stressor telling their body to breathe normally, and their body is already sedated by the drugs used to induce anesthesia in the mom.

During a C-section when the puppies or kittens are removed they normally are not breathing on their own, and might have a low heart rate. That’s when the hospital team comes in to play, and gentle stimulation of the babies as well as providing oxygen and clearing airways is done to try to stimulate and revive the puppies. Unfortunately one of Sheba’s puppies (the one in the birth canal) was born dead, but the remaining 5 were still with us when they arrived with the revival team. After 30 minutes of hard work all 5 puppies were crying and moving, waiting for their mom to give them milk. Just another 30 minutes later mom was awake, now spayed so this can’t happen again, and ready to take over for her puppies. We are also happy to report that now, 2 weeks after surgery, all puppies and mom are still doing great.

What we really want the take away points from sharing Sheba’s story to be are when to be alarmed that your mother pet might be having a dystocia. Dogs and cats can be a little bit different, and don’t hesitate to call TPHCS or your local veterinarian to ask questions during the labor process, but typically pregnancy emergencies include:

-when your pet is having strong contractions for >2 hours with no passing of a puppy or kitten

-when there is bright red blood or dark green discharge before birth of the puppies or kittens

-when the mother is acting like she is in obvious pain (crying out a lot)

-when your pet goes longer than 6 hours between contractions and you know there are more puppies or kittens to be birthed (sometimes this might mean taking a trip to the ER to get an Xray to see how many puppies or kittens might be remaining)

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