Stillborn Dogs – Causes, Symptoms, Prevention and High-Risk Breeds

Stillborn Dogs – Causes, Symptoms, Prevention and High-Risk Breeds

Even the most knowledgeable and experienced breeders can still produce litters with stillborn dogs. This article has been created to help educate you on the reasons why and preventative measures.

A stillborn dog is one who has died within the womb and before birth. The reasons behind this are very far spread. Including the health and fertility of the mother, breed type, and litter size to name a few. Miscarriages may terminate a full pregnancy but few breeders know why one puppy may have died while the rest lived. There are ways to help avert stillborn births as much as possible and we will be detailing them here.

Let us answer your general questions about stillborn dogs, and make sure to read through our other articles on fetal absorption.

What is a stillborn dog?

When a puppy dies before birth, this is known as a stillborn death. The death will take place within the womb and can affect the whole litter or just one individual. When a dog miscarries, this is defined as the termination of pregnancy. A miscarriage will terminate a dog’s whole pregnancy whereas the number of puppies born stillborn in a litter may vary. However, a miscarriage will still lead to all the puppies birthed being known as stillborn. To clarify, all miscarriages produce stillborn dogs, only some stillborn deaths originate from miscarriages.

Stillborn dogs may die or be birthed at any time during the pregnancy. The death of a puppy could be within the first week of pregnancy or could be during birth. Stillborn puppies in a womb of otherwise healthy individuals can be hugely detrimental for the litter and mothers’ health. Furthermore, when the puppy dies, this timing can influence the pregnancy birth date and lead to an undeveloped litter. These then may pass or be born as weakened premature puppies. The prevention of stillborn births, therefore, could save the remaining litter and the mother’s life. Hence why the knowledge for breeders is so crucial.

What causes dogs to be stillborn?

There are many different reasons for a stillborn birth of which we will explain here:

  • Breed: Certain dog breeds will be predisposed to have more difficult births and higher stillborn numbers in birth. These breeds struggle usually because of poor health, large head sizes (Mastiff) compared to their bodies, or narrow frames (Greyhound).
  • Dystocia: Defined as difficulties during birth. This may be because of puppy size, hip-width in the bitch, vulva defects or vaginal/urinary tract infections. These lead to pain and excess muscle contractions.
  • Bacteria or viruses: Infections from bacteria and viruses can be passed from the mother to the puppies. Both from within the womb and during birth. This may lead to stillborn birth at any time during the pregnancy. Or death from the litter hours afterward depending on the disease.
  • STI: Dogs and their litters can be affected to the point of death due to the severity of STIs. Checking both your bitch and stud before mating can prevent this. If they are infected, do not breed from them again. The STIs affect the bitch and pregnancy differently depending on which STI it is. But they may reduce oxygen intake, proper development, and blood circulation for the puppies in the womb
  • The mother’s health: When a bitch becomes pregnant in poor health, biologically, her body will terminate the pregnancy if she cannot physically support it. Age, stress, nutrition or weight will influence this.
  • Drugs: Whether it be prescription medication or over the counter herbal remedies, medication does have the possibility of negatively affecting pregnancy. Puppies can be born stillborn from medication effects alone.
  • Defects: Often, when a puppy in the womb has severe physical or mental defects, the pregnancy may be terminated biologically or an individual may die within the womb.

Can you resuscitate a stillborn puppy?

It is very unlikely that you will be able to revive a stillborn dog. But it is not impossible, although it is situational dependent. If you are trying to resuscitate a stillborn puppy, follow these steps.

  1. Remove any liquid stuck in the throat of the puppy using a suction bulb.
  2. Gently turn the puppy onto their back in your hand, supporting their head
  3. Try to stimulate blood flow by rubbing the back and neck alongside gently moving the puppy

This technique is the best available for resuscitating newborns but it is still unlikely to work.

canine dystocia
Labor is divided into three phases and problems can arise in any of the three phases.

How to prevent stillborn puppies in the pregnant dog?

Firstly and most importantly, a bitch and stud should have thorough health checks. This should include bacteria, viruses, physical and STI checks. Identify physiological abnormalities on the bitch such as abdominal growths or vulva deformities. Check that you have two healthy individuals with minimized risks of passing on illnesses. This decreases the chance of both difficulties during birth or ill puppies, both of which could lead to stillborn pups.

You should continue to check the bitch’s health. Consider individual differences such as age when choosing a female. Stress is another factor which can cause an increase in hormones, redirection of blood and other biological influence which can have a negative impact on puppy health. Techniques to minimize stress in the bitch include:

  • Keep her living environment calm, not too cluttered nor too loud
  • Make sure she has access to water at all times and her diet is sufficient for a pregnant dogtoc
  • Allow her to exercise when she wants to but taking a pregnant female to a busy dog field can be counterproductive. This often depends on the female and the stage of pregnancy.
  • Your dog should have a private area to retreat to when she wishes it

Any medication you give to your dog, prescribed or herbal, should be noted. Either type can contribute to stillborn births depending on the kind. However, never take your dog off of vet prescribed medication without consulting them first, this could affect the health of the female dramatically. Research the effects of medication on pregnant females and contact your vet before trying to mate the bitch.

If you have any concerns or simply wish for a professional to check out your dog, we highly recommend taking your dog to the vet. They can give physical health checks, medication recommendations, and individual advice.

What dog breeds are the most at risk of stillborn dogs?

According to a study in 2012, these are five breeds prone to stillborn births.

  1. Dogue de Bordeaux: Due to the breeds large head size, narrow hips, and large litter numbers. Unfortunately, it is no surprise this breed has a high number of stillborn births. With the difficulties attained in pregnancy due to litter size alone, many of the puppies are unable to attain the oxygen they need. Whilst others are starved oxygen due to the narrow birth canal along with longer birthing times.
  2. Dalmatian: This breed often births larger litters, hence why the stillborn rate is higher than most breeds. Breeders argue that longer legs prolong labor times and lead to complications and stillborns.
  3. Rhodesian Ridgebacks: Due to the desired ridge deliberately bred into this breed, their lower back, stomach and even leg muscles can often be weakened. This can lead to a longer birth due to difficulties with pushing and thereby less oxygen being provided to the puppies.
  4. St Bernard: Naturally born with very large heads, often the mother may struggle to birth each of the puppies. When the puppies are crowning, the mother will struggle to push the large circumference of the head out of her vagina. Each puppy, therefore, may get stuck in the canal. During this time they may have the chord wrapped around their throats or even begin to suffocate depending on the location of the amniotic sac.
  5. Pug: Although small, this breed has a large head and predominant shoulders, both of which can be difficult for the mother to birth due to size. Furthermore, the larger bone structure of this breed can mean each puppy struggles to find room in the womb and may gain fewer nutrients due to the litter size.
Dog Whelping Timeline
Read our article detailing the dog whelping timeline.

Can I breed a dog who went through a miscarriage again?

It depends on why the individual has miscarried. If she miscarried because of hormone imbalance or genetic abnormalities in the litter, she should be able to carry again after recovery. Taking her to the vets and asking their advice along with ultrasounds and blood tests to monitor her hormone levels and general health can make sure she is healthy enough to become pregnant again. Do not mate the bitch until she has fully recovered and a vet recommends you do so.

If a dog has miscarried because of STI, age or bacteria such as Brucellosis will not be able to carry a pregnancy again. Support these dogs to their full health and do not attempt to breed from them again.

You should only decide on whether to breed the female again once you discover why the miscarriage has occurred. It is always best to contact a vet for a professional opinion on this and aid as to how to help her properly recover.

What should I do with a puppy born dead?

When a puppy is born dead and you have decided when you should take the steps to remove it, it can be difficult to know what to do. You can contact your local vet and they will dispose of the body, you may be given the option to have ashes given back depending on each vet clinic procedure. Similarly, animal control will also dispose of the body, although it is unlikely you will be able to gain ashes back.

You will also have the option, depending on the area, to visit a pet crematorium. These places may offer to cremate, place the puppy in a casket or bury them on their land for a fee. If you ask for cremation or a casket, these can be returned to you a buried on your property in you have land.

Should I remove puppies dead at birth?

Allow the mother time to grieve over her lost puppies. Often a mother dog knows how many puppies she has delivered and if you immediately remove the body, she may become agitated and even aggression. This could put you, her and the rest of the litter at risk. Leave the puppy with her, do not clean it so it remains smelling like her own. She will usually understand that the puppy has passed away after a while due to its temperature change and lack of movement.

If your dog or her puppies seem ill, remove the body immediately. Let the mother grieve but after a few hours to a day the body should be removed. Leave it longer and it may begin to rot and cause harm to the mother, puppies and yourself.

causes of puppy absorption
Younger female dogs and first-time canine mothers tend to be more at risk with puppy absorption.

Can old age cause stillborn puppies?

Yes. Puppies and pregnancies can be terminated biologically due to the female not being able to carry the pregnancy or if it puts her own life at risk. When a female dog is older, she will struggle to carry extra weight due to energy, her mobility may be lessened and she may not be able to birth the puppies due to the amount of energy required. Therefore the body the probability of there being stillborns in an older dog is much higher than a younger because she will not be able to physically support a pregnancy.

There isn’t a specific age too old for a dog to breed as each breed differs. It is best to do your research on the breed you are breeding from. Both the mother and father should be researched if the mating is between two breed types. Vet recommendations are always the best course of action when it comes to your dog’s health.

Can having stillborn puppies cause trauma to the bitch?

Physical trauma is possible but depends on why the puppies were stillborn. It is more likely that what caused the puppies stillbirth could negatively affect the bitch. Such as infection, which can cause scar tissue to the womb or vaginal lining.

Although it is unheard of for the bitch to go through permanent emotional trauma because of a stillborn, it is common for her to mourn and even become depressed. Depression manifests itself in different ways such as lethargy or reluctance to eat, it is important to know your dog and monitor these potential changes.

Are genetic problems an issue to result in stillborn puppies?

Genetic problems can be passed from mother to puppies, this is known as being hereditary. These medical issues can lead to stillborn births. A mother with a mild genetic disability may lead to a serious physical abnormality in the pup, causing it to be terminated and become stillborn. Therefore, just because a puppy has a genetic abnormality does not mean it will be birthed stillborn, but it does increase the likelihood.

It is important to note that if both the mother and father carry recessive genes for a genetic problem, you may have two perfectly healthy individuals with the capability to produce multiple stillborn births. Having said that, breeding from a female or male that already has genetic issues will increase the probability of hereditary issues in the puppies. Therefore it is always recommended to only breed from healthy individuals to try to avoid this.

Is it safe for a dog to eat stillborn puppies?

In nature, a mother will often eat her young to dispose of a body before it can affect any of the other puppies. However, when it comes to breeding our dogs, avoiding the scenario is often best.

Firstly, depending on the reason for the stillbirth, it may cause the mother harm. If it died due to genetic abnormality, the bitch is fine biologically to consume it, but it may have died from infection or bacteria so it is best to remove the body.

Furthermore, by letting a female do this once, if you continue to breed from her she may actively pursue this behavior. This means that she could start consuming an unhealthy stillborn before you can remove it. Or worse, consider eating live young. Preventing this behavior with her first litter is the best course of action.