Dystocia is not an uncommon problem in dogs, though cats rarely have difficulty giving birth. Dystocia can result for a variety of reasons. Females that have bred with larger males may have puppies or kittens that are too large to be delivered naturally. If the female had trauma to the pelvis (hip bones) and the size of the birth canal has been reduced, dystocia will likely develop. Some breeds of dogs and cats have more problems with dystocia because of their physical characteristics such as Bulldogs (large heads and wide shoulders) and Himalayan and Persian cats. Small breeds of dogs with large litters can develop low blood calcium that can result in poor uterine contractions. Any breed of dog with a large litter (more than 10 puppies) can develop uterine fatigue and be unable to deliver the last few puppies.
There are no strict guidelines to describe when every dog or cat is in dystocia and requires veterinary attention. Each animal will be different and the most simple advice is that if you have a question about the delivery process, please do not hesitate to seek veterinary consultation by phone at any hour of the day or night. The stress of an unnecessary trip to the veterinary office can cause the delivery process to cease or be delayed.
There are some absolute indications during the delivery process to seek veterinary attention immediately. Once again, if in doubt, please call for information!! The following are examples of situations that require immediate attention: 1) A dog or cat that is having obvious vigorous contractions for 15-20 minutes without delivering a puppy or kitten; 2) A puppy or kitten that is partially delivered (still in the birth canal yet visible) and the mother is having vigorous contractions; 3) green discharge from the vulva without a puppy or kitten being delivered; 4) 1-2 hours between a puppy or kitten and the mother is having contractions the entire time.
The main treatment for dystocia is a Cesarean section, though medical therapy with oxytocin can be indicated in some instances. The sooner a dog or cat with dystocia is presented to the veterinarian, the best chance there will be for survival of the puppies or kittens.
Some facts about the normal delivery of puppies and kittens:
- Breech presentation (backwards) occurs in 40-50% of births and is considered normal in the dog and cat.
- Most dogs and cats will eat the placenta (afterbirth) as the puppy or kitten is being delivered, therefore, owners may not be able to account for all of the placentas. Some dogs and cats will promptly vomit the remains of the placenta.