What does natural labor look like for a dog and when is emergency assistance needed? Will your dog need a C-section when it's time to give birth? Here, our Boulder and Westminster vets explain everything owners of pregnant dogs should know about C-sections for dogs.
A Dog's Pregnancy
The gestation period for dogs lasts approximately 63 days. There exists a narrow timeframe of only 4 days, specifically days 61 to 65 after ovulation (not after breeding), during which a safe elective cesarean section can be performed on a dog.
When puppies are prepared for natural birth, they will experience an elevation in cortisol levels, which serves as a trigger for labor in the mother.
There are 3 natural stages to a dog's labor. Difficulties can occur at any point during the process, so it's important to be aware of signs of problems.
The first stage of your dog's labor can last anywhere from 6-12 hours and is marked by behavioral changes such as panting, shivering and other noticeable symptoms of anxiety. Once your dog's cervix is dilated, labor will progress to stage 2.
If after 12 hours your dog hasn't moved on to stage 2 labor, contact your vet right away since an emergency c-section may be needed.
This is the delivery stage of labor, during which your dog strain and contract. A puppy should be born within the first 1-2 hours of this stage.
If there has been no arrival of puppies within a span of 2 hours, contact your veterinarian or make your way to the nearest 24/7 animal emergency clinic. Your dog may require an emergency cesarean section. In the event that your dog is capable of delivering her puppies naturally, she will progress to the final stage of labor.
The third stage of your dog's labor should start between 5-15 minutes after a puppy arrives. This is when she will deliver the placenta. Expect discharge at this point.
If labor is going as it should, your dog will alternate between Stages 2 and 3 as each of the puppies are born.
How much time your dog will take to rest between birthing each puppy will vary from one dog to another, but this rest period can last as long as 4 hours. If you know there are more puppies to come but it has been more than 4 hours since the previous puppy was born, go to your nearest emergency vet for emergency care. Your dog may require a c-section.
Other Signs That Your Dog is in Trouble
Here are a few more signs to look for that may point to labor difficulties and the need for emergency care.
- Weak contractions for 2 or more hours without producing a puppy.
- Your dog has been actively pushing for 30-60 minutes without birthing a puppy.
- Symptoms of illness include fever, pain, bloody discharge and vomiting.
If your dog is in labor and shows any signs listed above, take her to a veterinarian or emergency vet immediately.
When Elective C-Sections are Recommended
Many viable, healthy pregnancies in dogs can proceed without assistance. However, an elective c-section may be recommended in some circumstances. Your dog might require a scheduled c-section if:
- There is only one puppy, which may not produce enough cortisol to induce its mother's labor
- Puppies are very large
- Your dog is suffering from any underlying health issues
- Your dog is one of the breeds not capable of a safe vaginal delivery, including the Boston Terrier, French Bulldog, Pekingese, Bulldog, Scottish Terrier, Mastiff, German Wirehaired, Miniature Bull Terrier, Clumber Spaniel or Dandie Dinmont Terrier
If a cesarean section is necessary for your dog, it will typically be scheduled around 63 days after ovulation, aligning it with the ideal due date within a 24-hour timeframe.
The question often asked by pet owners is, "How many c-sections can a dog have?" It is important to consult your veterinarian to obtain an accurate answer as it may vary based on your dog's health and other factors.
While it is technically possible for the veterinarian to utilize the same surgical scars and landmarks to minimize new damage during subsequent c-sections, responsible breeders generally advocate against subjecting a dog to an unlimited number of c-sections.
Instead, it is recommended to limit the number to 2-3 c-sections throughout the dog's lifetime, in order to ensure the well-being of the mother and her puppies.
Your veterinarian will be able to evaluate your dog's condition and provide guidance on whether a c-section is necessary and safe for your furry companion.
How To Prepare for Your Dog's C-Section
Leading up to your pup's c-section there are a number of things you can do to prepare:
- Stop using flea and tick products on your dog 1 week before her c-section
- Apply an Adaptil (DAP) collar 3 days before the scheduled surgery
- Give your dog a bath a day or two before the surgery so that she is as clean as possible at the time of her c-section
- Do not provide food on the day of the surgery
- Speak to your vet about any medications your dog is taking- they will let you know if you should withhold medications on the day of surgery
- Water may be given until you leave for the vet's office
When it comes to dog c-sections and how much they will cost, your veterinarian will be able to provide an estimate, which may be impacted by a number of factors such as age, weight, physical condition, time and place of the c-section procedure and number of puppies.
What to Take Along to Your Vet's Office
There are a number of things that you should take along when it's time to head to the vet for your dog's c-section, including:
- Your changed cell phone
- Tarp, table cloth or other easy clean covering for your seats or carpets in the car
- Large crate to keep your dog in
- Blankets and towels
- Heating pad and a way to power it - to keep puppies warm
- Plastic laundry basket, ice chest without the lid, or strong cardboard box to carry puppies home in safely
- Bulb syringe and DeeLee mucus trap should be on hand in case your dog gives birth en route to the vet's office
What to Expect On Surgery Day
Most vets request that you to arrive an hour or two before the scheduled c-section surgery. Common procedures leading up to a c-section include:
- Vaginal examination to check for signs of active labor
- Imaging such as X-rays or ultrasound
- Placement of an IV catheter
- Shaving your dog's abdomen
- Blood tests
- Wrapping tail to keep clean
Once all of the pre-op procedures are completed your dog will be taken to the surgery suite where she will receive anesthesia and the c-section will be performed.
After Your Dog's C-Section Surgery
Once you're back home, it's important to keep a close eye on your dog and her puppies. Your vet will give you detailed instructions on how to care for and monitor both the mom and the puppies, including any pain medications your dog may need.
By carefully following your vet's guidance, you can promptly identify any potential problems before they become more serious.
While a c-section is a common procedure, there are still some risks of complications after a dog's c-section. It's important to discuss these with your veterinarian prior to the procedure. Risks and complications related to c-sections in dogs include:
- Adverse reaction to anesthesia or other medications administered during surgery
- Dystocia (if your dog has previously suffered from this in the past) and/or uterine inertia
- Bleeding, blood clots, wound infections
- Damage to uterus
- Serious complications if incision scars tear open (occurs in some cases)
- Injury to puppies during the c-section. Other risks to puppies include fetal absorption, fetal putrefaction, malnutrition, breathing difficulties and placental ruptures
Following surgery, recovery time from anesthesia typically ranges from 2-6 hours. Recovery time from the procedure will vary based on your dog and whether there have been any complications during or after the procedure, and the toll on her body for the 63 days prior to labor.
Certain aftercare measures can aid the recovery process. Ask your vet about how you can best care for your dog and her puppies after c-sections.
When To Call The Vet
How long it will take for your dog to recover from her c-section will vary based on her overall health, difficulties during pregnancy, and other factors. Most dogs will fully recover within about 3 weeks.
If your dog shows signs of fever, stops eating, isn't drinking, develops a swollen mammary gland, or shows signs of infection at the incision site it's time for an urgent call to your vet.
Also contact your vet if the puppies aren't nursing well, seem fussy, have dark-colored urine or aren't gaining weight.