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Dystocia in Dogs

Dystocia in dogs refers to labor and delivery difficulties that occur when a female dog is giving birth.

While most litters are born without any issues, difficulties can arise from a small pelvic size of the dog giving birth, large size or specific positioning of the pups, uterine inertia or issues common in specific dog breeds.

Dystocia will usually affect the very first puppy in a litter with only one being delivered.

Symptoms of Dystocia

The most common symptom of female dogs with dystocia is that the labor is not proceeding as it should and can be based on many different symptoms including:

  • More than 30 minutes of strong, persistent contractions without any puppies
  • More than two hours between deliveries of puppies
  • Mother dog displaying signs of pain, licking vulvar area when contracting
  • Bloody discharge
  • Delivery of stillborn puppies (born dead)
  • Trembling
  • Persistent nesting behavior
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Straining
  • Abnormal bloody discharge from the vagina

Breeds at Risk of Dystocia

There are some breeds that are more pre-disposed to Dystocia, particularly the Brachycephalic breeds (those with flat faces):

  • Boxers
  • Bulldogs
  • Pugs
  • French Bulldogs
  • Boston Terriers
  • Mastiffs
  • Pekingese

Dystocia Causes

Most of the causes of dystocia are due to physical abnormalities that will affect the birthing process and include:

  • Oversize fetus
  • Abnormal presentation, position, or posture of the fetus in the birth canal
  • Fetal death
  • Inflammation of the uterus
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Abnormality of the vagina
  • Abnormality of the pelvic canal
  • Small pelvis
  • Cervical dilation is too slow
  • Uterine rupture
  • Uterine cancer or cysts

Other Factors That Can Contribute to Dystocia

  • Age of the dog
  • Sudden changes in the environment before a dog goes into labor
  • Previous history of dystocia

Diagnosing Dystocia

Your vet will need you to evaluate your dog’s health.

Any information about your dog’s lineage or records of your dog’s past births and/or reproductive issues is necessary and helpful.

The vet will examine your dog by touching her vaginal canal and cervix.

Blood work will be done to determine the blood urea nitrogen level, blood glucose as well as the calcium. Progesterone levels will also be taken.

X-rays will be taken which can determine the number, location and the size of the fetuses.

The X-rays will also help determine if the puppies are OK and still alive.

An ultrasound might be taken to see if there is fetal stress or to determine how the placenta has separated.

Treatment of Dystocia

Dogs experiencing dystocia should be helped by a vet until all the pups are born and the mother is stabilized.

The treatment depends on the exact problem. In the majority of cases, the veterinarian will perform a cesarean section (C-section).

Abnormal Position

If the fetuses are in an abnormal position, the vet will try to manipulate the puppy or puppies in the correct position.  If this doesn’t work then they will usually perform a C-section.

Small birth Canal/ Large Fetus

The vet again will try to manipulate the fetus if the puppy is too big or if the birth canal is too small.

Contractions too slow or have stopped

It the contractions haven’t started or suddenly stop, the vet will usually deliver a calcium gluconate IV as well as oxygen and electrolytes.

These medications can help stimulate the uterus to start making contractions or to accelerate them.

Recovery from Dystocia

The vet will usually have your dogs and puppies stay at the vet hospital under observation for 24 to 48 hours.

Once your dog is home, you will need to find a comfortable and safe place for your dog to recover and rest.

If your dog had a C-section, you will usually have to bottle feed the litter of puppies until the mother has healed properly and can nurse on her own.

Spaying a dog with dystocia can help it from re-occurring.

If you plan to keep breeding the dog or dogs, it’s best to plan for a C-section.

Final Things on Dystocia

Only a select few pet insurance companies cover expenses related to breeding and delivery, and they may have exclusions for certain breeds known for having difficult births.

Make sure you review exclusions carefully before enrolling in a policy if you plan on breeding your dog.

For more information on other dog health issues that might occur, our dog glossary is a great resource.


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