Dog C-Section Facts, Risks, and Recovery

Veterinarian petting dog

Is a dog C-section safe for both mom and her pups? Any operation involves risks but a C-section can be a viable option during a difficult or overdue delivery. It also may be necessary for breeds that are physically incapable of giving birth naturally.

Reasons For a C-Section

A caesarean section, also known as a C-section, is a surgical procedure that delivers puppies from a dam who is unable to give birth naturally. While a C-section is a major surgery, it's generally considered safe. Dr. Turnera Croom states that, "The C-section in a dog is a very safe operation and can even be elective like in human medicine." There are a few common reasons a C-section might be necessary for a pregnant dog.

Internal Bleeding and Infection

If the dog produces a vaginal discharge that is greenish, yellowish, black or bloody, it's possible that there's an internal infection or bleeding or one or more dead puppies. In this case a C-section can save any puppies that are still viable.

Long Past Due

In some cases a dam can still have not given birth even though she's well past her expected due date. A C-section may be performed to remove the puppies, or in some cases a single puppy, to relieve the mother from having to give birth to larger puppies.

Difficult Labor

If a dam is having extreme difficulty in labor, a C-section may be required for the mother's health and the health of the puppies. This is known as dystocia and can be caused by several factors. Typical scenarios can be:

  • The labor has gone on for too many hours without producing any puppies.
  • She has given birth to one or more puppies but more remain and she has not given birth to any in more than four hours. This may be due to exhaustion from the mother which leads to "uterine inertia" where the organ is simply too fatigued to continue with labor.
  • Painful, forced labor due to a puppy that has become stuck or blocked in the birth canal.
  • A fetus that is in the wrong position, such as sideways, can prevent passage successfully through the birth canal.

The Breed Cannot Give Birth Naturally

"Breeders of brachycephalic breeds of dogs with flat faces and short noses, like bulldogs and Boston Terriers, should be prepared to have their litter of pups delivered by cesarean," says Dr. Croom. "Some believe that the risk for a vaginal delivery for these dogs is too high and automatically plan ahead with their vet." These breeds have problems with natural birth is due to their physical structure, including a very narrow pelvis, that makes it unlikely they can give birth without a C-section. Typical breeds with this problem are Boston Terriers, English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, and Pekingeses. Some larger breeds also have a higher incidence of C-sections due to a longer birth canal or hip dysplasia. These include Mastiffs, German Wirehaired Pointers and St. Bernards.

C-Section Complications

When a C-section is performed on an emergency basis, this increases the risk for the mother who will already likely be compromised by exhaustion, internal bleeding, dehydration and even shock. Obviously with any surgery, there are risks to the dog from going under anesthesia, as well as the possibility of contracting infections or internal bleeding. There can also be some risk to the puppies which can be injured or die during the surgical process, though they may be at as much risk or more by not doing a C-section.

Timing of a C-Section

For breeds that need a C-section to give birth safely , these are usually scheduled 62 to 63 days after ovulation. If you're unsure about the ovulation date, Dr. Croom advises that your veterinarian, "can plan the C-section using various counting methods, 1) measuring luteinizing hormone (LH), 2) measuring progesterone levels, and 3) morphology (shape) of vaginal cells. All require the vet to take blood for accuracy, although there are no absolutes with pregnancy!" If your veterinarian does progesterone testing, he or she will be looking for a reading of 3 ng/dl or under. This type of testing can happen daily with results between 3 and 4 ng/ml for a few days prior to a safe surgery date.

Yorkshire Terrier puppy after a C-section

C-Section Recovery Time

Dr. Croom reports that, "How long it takes for a dog to recover physically from a C-section depends on her health and immunity. Another factor is the toll her body may have taken from the 63 days of being a puppy assembly factory." The dam will need to recover from anesthesia which can take between two and six hours post surgery. Another factor is the care of the puppies:

  • "And now with the pups struggling to reach a nipple, Mom may not realistically get the alone time she needs for a speedy recovery," says Dr. Croom.
  • The puppies will also need to be cared for while she is recovering and they cannot be left with her without supervision. A mother that is still groggy from anesthesia and exhaustion can easily crush the puppies with her body weight unintentionally.
  • Once she is home with you and the puppies, your veterinarian may have you place her on a restrictive diet for the first day to prevent vomiting. He or she may also provide you with a puppy milk formula and bottles if there's a chance the dam will not be able to nurse them right away.

Dr. Croom reports in her experience, "Within 3 weeks, she should be totally healed, and ready to focus on weaning those pups."

Limitations on the Number of C-Sections

According to Dr. Croom, "Realistically, there is no limit on the number of C-sections a dam could have in her lifetime. As a matter of fact, as with any surgery, going back into the body cavity allows the veterinary surgeon to use those same surgical scars as landmarks, thus decreasing the amount of new damage. The question here, is whether there is any inhumane activity surrounding numerous, or back-to-back pregnancies by a dam." Many responsible breeders believe that C-sections should be limited to two to three times in a dog's lifetime in order to preserve the health and quality of life of the mother and her future puppies.

Cost of a C-Section

Caesarean surgical pricing will vary by city, county, region and state and will also be affected by other factors like the age and health of the mother. If the procedure is done as an emergency rather than a planned C-section will also add to the price. A C-section can cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000, though it can be higher, especially if performed at an emergency clinic.

Understanding the Risks and Benefits of C-Sections in Dogs

As with any surgery, there is some risk with a C-section, and this risk increases if the surgery is not planned and performed on an emergency basis. If you are the owner of a brachycephalic dog breed, discuss with your veterinarian well before the time of her birth what the plan for the timing of her C-section will be. If you have a dog that requires a C-section due to dystocia, your veterinarian will advise you on the risks involved with doing the surgery for the mom and her puppies and the likely higher risks to both without it.

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Dog C-Section Facts, Risks, and Recovery