A miscarriage in dogs has the same premise as a human miscarriage but is much rarer. A canine miscarriage is defined as the fetuses in the pregnant female dog will no longer result in a successful delivery; for whatever reasons. In the event of a miscarriage, the dog breeder must provide reassurance and gentle attention to the traumatized mother dog.
Root causes of dog miscarriages are multiple and can be provoked by bacterial infections, parasites, hormonal or even genetic conditions. It is difficult to prevent miscarriages in dogs so dog breeders should make sure their breeding females are always thoroughly health checked before planning a mating.
What Is a Miscarriage in Dogs?
The foetuses inside the dog’s womb are no longer viable and will no longer result in a successful pregnancy. The miscarriage may occur at any time from conception until term (which is usually around 63-67 days after conception). In domestic dogs, a miscarriage may also be described as pregnancy loss, spontaneous abortion or absorption of the litter.
Sometimes in the earlier stages of pregnancy, the mother absorbs placental and foetal tissue from the uterus, back into the body leaving no signs that the puppies ever existed – they simply vanish. This can make it extremely difficult for dog owners to detect and may leave you wondering whether the puppies were ever there in the first place. If the mother does not spontaneously absorb her puppies, she may expel them through the birth canal; she may also experience a lot of bleeding. Even then, she may lick and eat the evidence of the miscarriage, leaving you none the wiser.
Canine miscarriages are highly distressing for the mother and you may notice changes to her mood. She may appear depressed and experience a loss of appetite. She may also experience vomiting, weight loss, diarrhoea or tummy pain, all of which will add to her distress. If your female dog experiences any of these symptoms, you must seek medical advice from a veterinary professional immediately – she may require treatment following a miscarriage.
Dog miscarriages are usually caused by a hormone imbalance (usually low progesterone levels) inside the female dog’s exceptionally delicate uterus. Miscarriages may also be triggered by certain bacteria, the most common of which being Brucella canis. They can also be caused by parasites such as Neospora caninum which is found in contaminated food and water and in some fungi. If your dog has experienced a miscarriage consequent of bacteria or fungi, she will need to be treated with even greater urgency as the bacteria or parasite may cause additional health risks.
Signs of a Miscarriage in Dogs
You may find it harder to notice a miscarriage in your dog if it happens early in the pregnancy — when the pregnancy it is less visible. In this case, it may only be behavioural changes that arouse suspicion. If your dog is behaving completely out of character (in ways that cause concern), you should seek professional advice from a vet to confirm a potential dog miscarriage.
Below is a list of the top signs and symptoms that may indicate your dog has miscarried.
A typical sign of miscarriage in a female dog is vaginal bleeding. The secretions will usually be heavy, and the colour can vary from anything to black or dark green to watery and blood-red. The blood can also be texturally thick and full of puss. It is also common for your dog’s vulva to be foul smelling during the blood loss.
Vaginal bleeding and a pungent smell are strong indicators of miscarriage and should be investigated. However, it is also possible that your dog may regularly lick up any blood loss – you may notice she is licking and cleaning her vulva more often than usual. If you suspect your dog has been bleeding but you are unsure, take her to the vet immediately.
Your dog may look less pregnant
If your dog looks visibly pregnant one day and the next she does not, this could be an indication she has miscarried. Your female dog may have spontaneously absorbed her litter or expelled it via the birth canal, leading to a reduction in size of her bloated abdomen. This symptom will be more noticeable in dogs who were closer to term and who expelled the foetus(es) through the birth canal.
Dogs who reabsorb their litter usually do so early on in pregnancy when they look less pregnant anyway, making it harder to detect abdominal changes. It should be noted that most female dogs do not begin to look pregnant until roughly 3 weeks after conception. If your dog miscarries before 3 weeks, it is unlikely you will notice any physical abdominal changes.
Because female dogs are very good at instinctively concealing miscarriages, it is vital that you get in tune with her, so you know when her behaviour strays from the realms of what’s considered normal. Dogs –just like humans– can experience depression and anxiety in response to trauma. If your female dog miscarries her puppies, she may go through a period of “mourning” while she comes to terms with her loss. During this time her appetite may decrease, causing weight loss and dehydration. She may also experience vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain and lethargy. She may whimper in pain and may not enjoy her usual play or walks, instead choosing to stay in her basket and sleep. These symptoms may be caused by a miscarriage or other conditions but should always be checked out.
Expulsion of the foetus
If your dog spontaneously absorbs her litter, they will disappear without a trace. But, if she expels them via the birth canal, you may find the foetus(es) yourself. Sometimes the female instinctively eats the foetus(es) or she may eat them in part, making them difficult to identify. If you find anything alarming and you are unsure what it is, take photos or better, collect the evidence in a suitable container and take it to your vet. Also take note of any other symptoms your dam is experiencing. In some rare occasions, your female dog may need a cesarean section to extract the dead puppies remaining in her uterus.
Common Causes of Dog Miscarriages
Dog miscarriages can be caused by a multitude of reasons ranging from bacterial and viral infections, to hormonal and genetic disorders. Understanding the cause(s) triggering the miscarriage in a dog is crucial in order to avoid a repeat miscarriage at the female dog’s next pregnancy.
Foetal death is overwhelmingly disturbing for both the female dog and the owner and can lead to stillbirth or spontaneous abortion. However, as disturbing as it is, it’s essential to understand what caused the death and if it can be prevented in future. The mother’s maternal condition is an important factor in preventing foetal death – she should be in the best physical condition possible to avoid losing her pup(s). You should also pay attention to warning labels on medication or supplements as some are not suitable for pregnant canines and may cause harm or death of the foetus(es). Certain viruses and bacteria can also cause infection of the brain and spinal cord of the foetus(es) which will eventually prove fatal.
As hard as it may be if you find your canine miscarried foetus(es) — if possible — place it in a ziplock bag and take it (along with your female dog) to the vet for testing. This will help the vet to identify the cause of foetal death much more quickly, which is also important for the health of your dog who may require treatment.
Mothers who have been infected with Brucella canis will usually miscarry much later into the pregnancy at around 45 to 55 days. Before your dog gets pregnant, she should be tested for Brucellosis and should not be bred until she is given the all clear. If your dog miscarries due to B.Canis she is also at risk of infecting other dogs and causing them to miscarry. The bacteria will be contained in any blood, discharge or foetuses that she expels, so these should be quickly and carefully disposed of to prevent the spread of bacteria. B.Canis also has the potential to render your dog infertile or lead to stillbirth.
The devastation that B.Canis can cause is distressing for both you and your dog so be responsible – get your dog tested regularly. You should also ensure that the male dog who you wish to breed your female dog with has been cleared of Brucellosis and can provide evidence of a negative test result. B.Canis can be sexually transmitted and no breeding should take place while either party is infected.
A mycotic abortion stems from mycosis, which is caused by fungus (research paper). The fungus causes the uterus to excessively bleed, which will eventually result in abortion. This excessive bleeding is not only dangerous for the litter, but also for the mother. There are usually no warning signs prior to a mycotic abortion making them very hard to predict. It is unlikely you will know anything about it until after your dog has aborted the litter.
At present, mycotic abortions are somewhat mysterious in nature and its difficult to know how to prevent them. The fungus is present in the natural environment and can be introduced into the body in an endless number of ways. Pay attention to what your dog eats and drinks and avoid taking her to places with stagnant water as research suggests that this is where the fungus originates.
Neospora caninum is a parasite responsible for spontaneous abortion in canines as well as many other animal species. A dog will usually become infected if they ingest contaminated food, water, animal flesh or faeces. It gets into the female dog’s blood stream and passes across the placenta into the foetu(es).
Although transmission of Neospora caninum from mother to puppy is rare, it is still crucial to take precautions and be sure you know what your dog is eating and drinking and where she is roaming. Don’t let her near areas where parasitic or bacterial outbreaks have been reported and if she does abort her pregnancy, take her to a vet as soon as possible for testing and treatment.
Low progesterone levels
If progesterone levels in your pregnant dog drop low enough she may be at risk of losing her pup(s). A simple blood test will usually determine whether your dog’s pregnancy loss was due to plummeting progesterone levels. Often, if progesterone levels are monitored throughout pregnancy and treated with medication when low, losses can be avoided.
A dog with very low progesterone levels will usually be unable to carry the litter for the full 63-67 days. The hormone imbalance can cause numerous issues from uterine bleeding to contractions, resulting in premature labour. If your dog has a history of one or more spontaneous early-term miscarriages, you may want to discuss starting her off on progesterone supplements as soon as she conceives because once she starts to abort her pup(s), there is no stopping it.
There are several inherited disorders and diseases that may cause a spontaneous abortion in your female dog. Endocrine disorders such as Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism and hypoadrenocorticism are commonly associated with pregnancy losses. If your dog has any of these disorders, she may be prone to recurrent miscarriages or complications.
Many genetic defects can be managed or treated to ensure that they do not interfere with the pregnancy, but there is no guarantee that the resulting litter will not inherit these disorders. If you are thinking about breeding your female dog, its best to identify any existing genetic defects prior to impregnation. Do a risk assessment with your vet before deciding whether a pregnancy would be too risky for your dog or her litter of puppies.
Treatment of Canine Miscarriages
Once your female dog begins to spontaneously abort or absorb her litter, there is nothing you can do to stop it, so you cannot really “treat” the miscarriage itself. The only thing you can do following a pregnancy loss, is get to the root of why your female dog lost her litter and try to prevent it from happening in future.
Because there are so many causes of canine miscarriage, the treatment will vary and depending on the cause, their may also be permanent long-term health consequences for the mother. For example, dogs who contracted Brucellosis or a uterine infection will not be able to give birth normally in the future, if at all. Other dogs who experienced pregnancy losses due to causes such as genetic defects or a hormone imbalance should be able to cope with normal pregnancies in future, with the correct management and precautionary measures.
Routine ultrasound scans and blood tests will help to keep check of litter viability whilst making sure that the mother’s hormone and endocrine levels are all in check. The earlier that blood tests identify abnormalities, the earlier medication or supplements can be given to the mother to prevent miscarriage.
Dogs who have experienced pregnancy loss(es) due to bacterial or parasitic infections should be treated with antibiotics a soon as the infection comes to light. Ideally, the female dog should be tested before becoming pregnant to rule out infection. Unfortunately, there are often no visible symptoms, so if the dog becomes infected during pregnancy there is little that can be done to pre-empt a miscarriage. However, you can ensure your dog avoids any risky foods, drinks or locations where there may be a high prevalence of bacteria or parasites – keep a close eye on her and don’t let her stray too far if you aren’t convinced it’s safe.
Recovery From a Miscarriage
As well as receiving the relevant treatment after the fact (antibiotics, close monitoring etc), your dog will also need a lot of rest. The experience of losing her pup(s) will be taxing both mentally and physically. She may still be experiencing physical pain (such as stomach cramps) and may also need time to grieve for her loss.
During this time, it’s important to keep her warm and comfortable and spend time with her whenever possible. Encourage her to eat and drink as normal and limit her daily exercise as not to place added stress on her body– be gentle with her and don’t expect too much from her too soon. Take advice from your vet about how long any overhanging symptoms should last – it will vary depending on the stage of pregnancy and the cause of the miscarriage.
If symptoms linger and you see no improvement in your dog, take her back to the vet – don’t let her suffer. She may experience vaginal discharge in the days or weeks after the miscarriage, but it should decrease and eventually stop with time. Take note of any peculiarities in the discharge and notify your vet, especially if her miscarriage was caused by an infection.