A cesarean section (C-section) in dogs is a surgical procedure in which puppies are delivered through an incision in the mother’s abdomen and uterus. It is important when natural birth is risky or impossible due to factors like small birth canals, oversized puppy heads, or complications like dystocia. C-sections save the lives of both mother and puppies and are essential in ensuring the well-being of these animals in challenging birthing situations.
Cesarean sections, commonly called c-sections, affect the following breeds a lot more frequently than the others: Boston Terriers, English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Mastiff, Scottish Terriers, Miniature Bull Terriers, German Wirehaired Pointer, Pekingeses, Dandie Dinmont Terriers, and St Bernards.
Purebred dog breeds that often undergo a cesarean section during the birthing stage of their pregnancy require surgery due to small birth canals, too big heads for the puppies, or unexpected dystocia. The surgical operation for cesarean sections is called a hysterotomy. The methodology and technique have been perfected over the decades. Planned c-sections for dogs are safe but there is still a bit of a risk for unexpected cesarean sections, both for the mother and the puppies.
Additionally, with canine cesarean sections, the mother does not have the occasion to instinctively bond with her whelps. Indeed, they are hand-removed by the veterinarians. Although this is generally no problem whatsoever, the mother may take more time to properly bond with her own litter of puppies. Make sure they are growing at a healthy pace.
Reasons for C-Section
- Small Birth Canals
- Oversized Puppy Heads
- Large Litters
- Uterine Inertia
- Health Concerns
- Brachycephalic Breeds
1. Boston Terrier
The Boston Terrier requires a lot of human intervention when it comes to personal care and attention and because of their small sizes, pregnant dams are usually prime cases for C-sections. These breeds account for the highest percentage of litters who undergo C-sections claiming a whopping 92.3%. Because of their disproportional heads and fetal-pelvic disproportion, a natural parturition is at times impossible. Boston terriers have gone through extensive breeding selections that have resulted in the size of the babies not accommodating for the size of the birth canals. Over time, this results in changes in the overall shape of their bodies.
Another major cause for concern in these terrier breeds are the high proportion of litters that result in “water puppies”, or Anasarca. Commonly dubbed as a “walrus”, this condition is marked by a puppy absorbing too many liquids inside the womb due to blood issues and thus becomes overwhelmingly engorged. This does not allow for a safe and successful natural delivery, requiring an emergency procedure. Water puppies are also in danger of preventing other puppies in the litter being born.
Studies done by The Kennel Club show that the Boston terrier dams are more likely to suffer uterine inertia as opposed to a physical blockage, leading to extreme subsidence in contractions. Two other less common reasons for reproductive issues are false pregnancy and prostatomegaly. These pups are also known to sometimes get stuck sideways in the birth canal which can be very detrimental to delivery. Moreover, these breeds belong to the brachycephalic type due to their large head which is hard to pass through a natural birth. Genetics are not known to play a role; however, they do exhibit abnormal flattened birth canals (dorso-ventrally flattened pelvic canal).
2. English Bulldog
The English Bulldog, like all other Bulldogs, is known for their large heads and are usually the best candidates for a cesarean procedure. These breeds account for 86.1% proportion of their litters that undergo C-sections. Like the American Bulldogs, this canine breed is known to produce large litters. Large litters tend to tire out the dam during a normal delivery and thus making her too weak to push. On average, dogs can produce up to 6 pups in a litter, anything above this number is considered a large litter and these Bulldogs can often produce up to 12 at a time. Another concern regarding large litters is the mother cannot feed more than 8 puppies, therefore requiring additional assistance for artificial feeding.
Like the Boston terrier, these Bulldogs are prone to Anasarca. This condition is common amongst these short-nosed dog breeds. If one of the puppies are affected, a C-section will be required as they can disrupt a natural birth and compromise the health of the mother as well as the litter.
These Bulldogs are also prone to dystocia because of their fetal-maternal disproportion. The pup’s heads are not proportioned with the mother’s pelvic size. They also suffer from dorso-ventrally flattened pelvic canals. Due to breeding selection for peculiar features, these Bulldogs have changed their shape and form. Additionally, the English Bulldog belongs to the brachycephalic group for their large heads and short snouts. These large heads make it quite impossible for a dam to experience a natural whelp. Some C-sections have been reported to be elective as to avoid breathing problems in the dam as well.
A more recent breed, the Olde English Bulldogge is a healthier version of the world-renowned English Bulldogs with a lot of health problems bred out. The Olde English Bulldogge is a lot less prone to c-sections.
3. French Bulldog
The “Frenchie” is the smallest of the various Bulldog breeds and has similar features to the English bulldog. This breed accounts for a proportion of litter of 81.3% born by C-sections. The French Bulldog shares the same problem in terms of head size. The hips are narrow and disproportioned with the head which makes it incapable of experiencing a natural birth. In fact, some of the stud dogs of this breed have no capabilities of mating naturally because their small bodies do not allow for proper breeding positions on top of the female. For this reason, the females normally have to be artificially inseminated.
The French Bulldog, like her English counterpart, is susceptible to experiencing anasarca, a severe case of edema that causes swelling, and will require an emergency C-section to avoid disrupting the natural birth process. According to The Kennel Club, female French Bulldogs are more likely to suffer from dystocia due to a physical blockage as opposed to uterine inertia. Other common issues in reproduction that are less prevalent include irregular heat cycles, pyometra, and cryptorchid. The aberrant heat cycles may be due to an impaired thyroid. Again, as with the English Bulldog, this breed belongs to the brachycephalic group because their facial skeletons are short in comparison to their craniums.
The Mastiff, although different from the previously mentioned Bulldogs do share some aspects in that they tend to have large heads. With that being said, because of their short heads, they belong to the brachycephalic dog breeds. The Mastiff breed has a 64.6% proportion rate for litters born by C-section. It’s quite common for a female mastiff to produce a large litter, some have even reported having 16 pups! Considering their average litter size is roughly 8 pups, this is still a concern for natural whelping. They will often need a cesarean section to avoid delivery exhaustion in the mother.
The main reason, besides having an abnormally large head, for necessary cesarean surgery is because these breeds tend to have long birth canals. This can prolong the process of a vaginal birth, thus raising the chances of any complications occurring, or worse, death. In fact, many puppies have been lost for this reason. Furthermore, mastiffs are hard to breed naturally and they do not succeed well with artificial insemination. These breeds are often impregnated by a surgical implant and they don’t always go into natural labor, thus needing to go the surgical route.
5. Scottish Terrier
For the Scottish terrier, the frequency of C-sections results in a 59.8% proportion of litters. These terriers belong to a class of long-headed breeds which puts them in the dolichocephalic category. They have a dorso-ventrally flattened pelvic canal that does not allow for the dam to experience natural whelping. These breeds tend to have a longer head in proportion to their skulls.
In Sweden, a study on insurance data in dogs who underwent C-sections was made from the year 1995 to 2002 and it concluded that Scottish terriers were at the highest risk to experience dystocia during parturition, along with other breeds such as Chihuahua, Pug, Pomeranian, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The Kennel Club reports that these dams suffer dystocia more often from uterine inertia than a physical blockage, while some other less prevalent cases were due to vaginitis, pyometra, infertility, and agalactia.
6. Miniature Bull Terrier
These bull terriers are actually one of the most high-maintenance dogs to own and actually require a lot of work and attention from the owner in order to keep them happy. In terms of breeding, these dogs do not usually make the best of mothers as they tend to be quite aggressive and unloving towards their young. Roughly, about half of these litters, 52.4%, are born by caesarean section. This type of bull terrier is a dolichocephalic breed because their facial skeleton tends to be long in comparison to their cranium. The size of their heads along with having large chests make it nearly impossible to pass through a normal delivery and many times require a C-section.
Additionally, many of these female breeds have been reported to suffer from an extreme drop in temperature that has required an emergency caesarean procedure. These breeds tend to be prone to dystocia mainly caused by an equal ratio of physical blockage and uterine inertia.
7. German Wirehaired Pointer
These breeds are considered the hunters. The German wirehaired pointer is another class of dog breed that is prone to cesarean sections. They have a 47.8% C-section rate, so that makes up about half. It’s not very common for these breeds to perform C-sections because of physical limitations, but rather it’s been reported that many of these incidents are selectively chosen to perform cesarean to preserve the breed.
Aside from that, the German wirehaired pointer is very susceptible to hip dysplasia, a condition in which the bones of the hip and the thighs are not aligned. This can prove to be extremely detrimental to a pregnant damn during whelping. Another cause for C-section in these dams could be due to the size of the litter. An average litter consists of 8 to 10 puppies, which can cause exhaustion in the dam during a natural delivery.
This is, yet, another class of dog breed that shares the similar body shape as that of the bulldog and terrier. This dog breed belongs to the brachycephalic cranial group with their flat faces and large eyes. The Pekingese, or “Peke”, tend to have large heads, too big to fit through the birth canal of the mother. Their bodies are also disproportioned as they are narrower in comparison to the head structure, thus causing dystocia during a normal delivery. This breed has a C-section rate of 43.8% of litters.
According to The Kennel Club, the Pekingese tend to suffer from dystocia with most of the litters experiencing more bouts of uterine inertia as opposed to a physical blockage. Furthermore, other reproductive factors that are known to cause these dams to experience whelping difficulties include infertility, pyometra, and irregular heat cycles.
One of the major setbacks in pregnancies involving the Pekingese is their susceptibility to eclampsia. Due to a lack of calcium in the dam, this condition usually occurs during late pregnancy and it can be life-threatening. Although it’s more common for eclampsia symptoms to appear after pregnancy and during nursing, it is possible for it to affect the dam during parturition. When a mother experiences eclampsia during whelping it will slow down her labor tremendously and require a caesarean section.
9. Dandie Dinmont Terrier
This rare, Scottish breed are known for their short legs and long backs. These dogs have a slightly lesser proportion of litters who undergo C-sections which come out to 41.4%. This is a rare breed, therefore the gene pool for this breed is small. Because of this, many breeders opt to have elective C-sections to preserve the litter and not risk losing any of the whelps.
The dams of these breeds who experience dystocia during labor have about an equal percentage of uterine inertia and a physical blockage in terms of causes, according to statistics provided by The Kennel Club. Additionally, Dandie Dinmont Terriers have a tendency to experience false pregnancies, cryptorchid, infertility and also pyometra. During an incident of pyometra, the uterus is at great risk of infection that can compromise a successful delivery or the survival rate of both mother and pups. They are also prone to intervertebral disc disease which can cause a lot of pain in the mum and even paralysis. If the mom suffers from this condition during pregnancy she may need an emergency procedure to birth her babies.
10. St Bernard
The Saint-Bernard comes last on the list with only a 41.2% proportion of litters born to C-sections. Saint Bernards are known for their hefty sizes, with the male often outweighing the female by a large ratio. Although the saint Bernard carries a large head, they belong to the mesocephalic group of breeds because their facial skeleton is about the same size compared to the length of the cranium. These breeds often experience uterine inertia due to their large bodies and big heads. However, many of these dams also suffer from dystocia due to physical blockages as well, which is about an equal ratio to the number of C-sections performed due to uterine inertia. Saint Bernards are also susceptible to pyometra, a condition in which the uterine cavity gets infected and fills up with pus. This can be a dangerous situation during a delivery and may require an emergency surgery.
In addition to the aforementioned causes of a C-section, St Bernards are well known to produce fairly large litters. A large litter of more than 7 whelps can wreak havoc on the mother and the entire whelping performance. An average litter for a Bernard is about 9 or 10 puppies with some cases even reaching 16 puppies! Because of this, these breeds tend to tire easily and get exhausted from the birthing process often requiring veterinary intervention.