Pregnancy in dogs is a delicate period that warrants close monitoring and extra care. One of the things confusing and scaring owners is the possibility of puppy death in pregnant females.
How long can a dog live with dead puppies inside her? The exact answer depends on whether the dead puppy was reabsorbed, mummified, or decomposing. The first scenario is most benign and rarely causes issues, but possible only during early pregnancy. The second scenario is relatively rare, and the third one is fatal if left untreated for a couple of days.
In this article, we will discuss fetal death in dogs – the potential causes and the consequences for the mother. We will also answer some popular yet poorly understood topic-related questions.
WHAT MAY CAUSE FETAL DAMAGE AND DEATH IN DOGS?
In dogs, there are several culprits for fetal damage and death. Fetal damage and death can occur at any point of the pregnancy and in any dog, regardless of age and breed. For easier understanding, we will classify the causes of fetal death into various categories.
Cause number 1: Fetal abnormalities
Fetal abnormalities in terms of genetic and chromosomal disorders are not uncommon in puppies. Interestingly, the mortality rates in canine fetuses are much higher among purebred dogs than in hybrids and mixes. Also, the risk of fetal mortality is much higher in inbred dogs.
Cause number 2: Infectious agents
Many infectious agents have the potential to trigger fetal damage and, in some cases, even fetal death. Here are some common infectious culprits:
· Salmonella – unlike many bacteria found in the dog’s gut, Salmonella is a purely pathogenic agent. Dogs can get Salmonella through contaminated food and water and contact with feces from infected dogs.
· Campylobacter – can cause abortion and fetal resorption. If caught early and with proper antibiotic treatment, the infection can be managed before causing permanent damage.
· Mycoplasma – the most common cause of reproductive problems in kennels and other high-density environments (shelters, boarding facilities). Antibiotics are helpful to some extent, but the most important thing is improving the husbandry issues.
· Canine parvovirus – infected adult females do not show any signs of infection, but the virus may trigger fetal death and resorption during the early pregnancy phases. Sadly, there is no treatment for parvovirus in dogs.
· Canine herpesvirus – this virus is most likely to trigger unwanted effects if the female gets infected by the end of her pregnancy (the last three weeks). In such cases, the virus causes a generalized infection which eventually affects the placenta. Consequently, once the placenta is infected, the fetus will mummify. There is no available treatment, and to prevent such infection, pregnant females should be isolated from other dogs during the last weeks of pregnancy.
· Toxoplasma – although more popular in feline friends, this protozoa may cause abortions in dogs too. Females can acquire the infection by ingesting contaminated cat feces and infected raw meat. Since there is no successful treatment, the focus should be put on prevention.
Cause number 3: Maternal hormonal issues
Sudden and intense changes in the hormonal status of the mother may trigger severe fetal damage or, worst-case scenario, even fetal death.
The most common endocrine abnormalities in dogs are hypothyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease), hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s disease), and diabetes mellitus. Sadly, all four hormonal issues are linked with reproductive problems.
Cause number 4: Trauma
Same as in humans, severe abdominal trauma can result in either abortion or fetal resorption. The risk of such trauma is greater in working dogs and dogs engaged in-field training and canine sports (agility, flyball). Therefore, it is best advised to suspend such activities during pregnancy.
Cause number 5: Toxins and medication
Exposure to heavy metals and organic solvents can have a damaging effect or, in more severe cases, even cause abortion. Also, ingesting household poisons and human foods that are toxic to dogs can have the same effect.
Certain medications must not be used in dogs as they can cause fetal death. While some medications like for example, steroids, are directly harmful, others have indirect effects. For example, prolonged use of antibiotics during pregnancy leads to bacterial imbalances in the dog’s gut and increases the risk of pathogen overgrowth, which can harm the fetuses.
Generally speaking, in terms of toxicity, the first trimester of the pregnancy (day 1 to day 20) is the most critical timeframe.
Cause number 6: Uterine torsion
Uterine torsion, as the name implies, is a condition in which the uterus twists around its long axis, thus cutting off the blood supply to the fetuses. The exact causes are unknown, but it is believed that lack of fetal fluid and trauma are predisposing risk factors.
Cause number 7: Hypoluteodism
Hypoluteodism indicates a lack of progesterone – the hormone responsible for protecting and preserving the pregnancy. To avoid declines in its levels, regular monitoring is recommended.
Namely, pregnant bitches should have their progesterone levels checked at least once weekly. If the progesterone levels are low, supplementation is critical to avoid fetal loss.
Cause number 8: Dystocia
Dystocia is the fancy medical term for difficult birth or inability to give birth the natural way. Namely, if a puppy gets stuck somewhere within the birth canal unless extracted in a timely manner, it will suffocate and die.
SIGNS OF A DOG LOSING HER PUPPIES
The telltale signs of miscarriage in dogs are:
· Abnormal vaginal discharge (brown, yellow, green, black, and with a repulsive smell)
· Abdominal pain (usually manifested with hunched body posture)
· Fever (increased body temperature), lethargy, and disinterest in everyday activities.
A pregnant dog may lose her puppies at any time of the pregnancy. If the loss occurs within the first half of the pregnancy (first 30-45 days), the dead fetuses will get reabsorbed into the body. In such cases, the entire pregnancy may go unnoticed.
On the other hand, if the fetuses die in the second half of the pregnancy, they cannot be absorbed and usually start decomposing inside the mother. This is a potentially fatal outcome and requires urgent veterinary help.
Another option is for the dead puppies to get mummified – a process in which the mother’s body creates a protective membrane around the dead fetuses to protect itself. However, eventually, the protective membrane may get infected and cause problems.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF A DEAD PUPPY INSIDE THE MOTHER?
It depends on the exact course of action. As explained above, a dead fetus within the first trimester or half of the pregnancy will not cause any signs as it will probably get absorbed. No signs and symptoms are present in the case of mummification.
However, if the puppies are dead and starting to decompose, the mother will experience progressing and potentially life-threatening changes. In such cases, you can expect the following signs and symptoms:
· Pus-like vaginal discharge
· Fever due to the infection
· Absent food and water intake.
WHAT HAPPENS IF MY DOG HAS DEAD PUPPIES INSIDE HER?
If you suspect your dog’s puppies are dead, you need to call the vet and schedule an urgent examination. The vet can confirm your suspicions using an abdominal ultrasound examination. Basically, the vet will search for heartbeats, and if they are absent, the puppies are dead.
The next step would be to remove the dead puppies as their presence within the womb is life-threatening. In such a case, the vet will perform a surgery – similar to a Caesarean section.
Depending on how long the puppies were dead inside the uterus, there can be permanent uterine damage. If this occurs, the vet will recommend removing the puppies together with the uterus or, in other words performing a spay procedure.
CAN A DOG DELIVER DEAD PUPPIES?
No, a dog cannot deliver dead puppies. This is because puppies generate the signal necessary for alerting the mother’s body to start giving birth. Therefore, if the puppies are dead, there will be no birth-giving signal.
The only way of giving birth to a dead puppy is if the puppy died after the partus started. For example, if there was a lack of contraction and the puppy suffocated while spending too much time inside the birth canals.
HOW DO YOU GET A DEAD PUPPY OUT OF THE BIRTH CANAL?
Depending on the exact position of the fetus within the birth canal, the vet may use a special tool called forceps to get the puppy out. On the other hand, if performing a surgical procedure for removing the dead puppies and uterus, the vet will try to access the puppy stuck in the birth canal through the abdomen.
SUMMING UP: FETAL DEATH AND COMPLICATIONS FOR THE MOTHER
Sadly, just like in people, fetal death is a possibility in dogs too. There is a number of causes that can result in such a scenario – some preventable, others not. In cases of fetal damage and death, the goal is to protect the mother and save her life.
Therefore, if your dog is pregnant, regular check-ups at the vet’s office are imperative. It is also critical to call the vet as soon as you notice something might be going on with your pregnant dog. Prompt attention and treatment can be life-saving for the mother as well as for the puppies.