CAESARIAN SECTION: BEFORE AND AFTER
Prolonged labor or whelping problems often lead to a C-section that can cause litter rejection, no milk, and other hormonal or behavioral problems resulting in high puppy mortality.
It is up to you to make a radically unnatural caesarian whelping as easy and natural as possible. Many vets fail to prepare the bitch owner for potential problems following a Caesarian. Read on, and tell your pregnant friend that you are trying to understand her just half as well as she understands you.
The Cesarean section is most often needed in toy dogs or breeds with disproportionately large heads and narrow pelvic girdles. The odds of a C-section increase when the dog is also short coupled and “firmly packed." For example, Bulldogs and Pekinese are at double risk due to their unique heads and pear-shaped, rather inflexible bodies. Bullies and Bostons, Chihuahuas and Chows: the list of breeds likely to be sectioned is complex and variable.
This is not meant to suggest that breeders should sacrifice the wonderful features of type that distinguish such breeds. The problem is that new generations of breeders are having a difficult time coping with Caesarian sections and the confusing aftermath, vets are not taking the time to prepare bitch owners, and experienced dog breeders are less inclined to waste time passing on stock-sense to new breeders who are too often here today, gone tomorrow. Those who become passionate about creating a canine masterpiece have fewer and fewer resources for common sense advice.
Reality is you can expect whelping problems with some breeds. Whelping difficulties caused by anatomical characteristics, obesity, poor muscle tone, or hormone imbalance can sometimes be prevented but when breeding selection and bitch care fail, the only remedy is surgical intervention. Because we adore the handful of breeds that are affected by breeding and/or whelping difficulties, we accept the risk but smart bitch owners need not accept that bitches delivered by C-section will be bad mothers, reject, or kill their puppies. You are about to learn some important solutions for such problems.
Please understand why there is a higher rate of apathy or aggressive behavior exhibited by short coupled breeds. It is more difficult for a Boston to reach around to lick the genital area. For a pregnant Frenchie, it is almost impossible! Those physical limitations combined with a higher Cesarean rate and the predisposition towards offspring rejection are directly connected. But there are ways to reduce the after-delivery complications of C-section.
Successful breeders have already made the acquaintance of a breeder's best friend, Common Sense. Novice breeders burning up the internet and the midnight oil can learn new/old techniques to help a mother dog through a healthy pregnancy and reduce the odds of a caesarian section.
One solution is well within the bitch owners control. A December 2012 news release from a research team involving nine studies that included more than 200,000 people should not be ignored by dog breeders. The International Journal of Obesity concluded that babies born by cesarean section were “33% more likely to be overweight or obese.” Tell that to your pudgy pregnant bitch as you resist the urge to give her another treat and instead, take her out for a brisk walk!
Anticipating A Caesarian Section
Very few vets are on call for their clients. Economics outweigh loyalty so you are likely to be directed to the emergency clinic at 2:00 AM. The decision is up to you but opting for a scheduled caesarian should be an informed decision made well before her expected delivery date, which by the way, can be as much as five days prior to the traditional sixty-third day.
If you think there is the slightest risk of surgical delivery, be prepared and talk to your vet. Explain that you don’t want an appointment time for surgery, that you prefer to allow the bitch opportunity to deliver naturally and failing that, you want her to experience as much natural labor as is safe for her. Most vets will advise against this plan but you may be fortunate (or persuasive) enough to have a vet willing to concede to physical and statistical logic.
Caesarians may be necessary to spare the bitch but if disregarding the dam's schedule in order to deliver puppies on the office schedule is too inconvenient for you or the vet, you should both get another profession.
Of course breeders dread the late night or weekend delivery. So do obstetricians and in the modern world, some doctors routinely induce labor but there are significant risks to both mother and fetus. Since there is no safe, effective way to induce canine labor, the practice of elective caesarian has grown by leaps and bounds. While doing a C-section can save the bitch and/or puppies in an emergency, it should never be done as a matter of convenience. It’s not only the surgical risk you would rather not face, there are important psychological reasons to avoid preemptive cesarean section when at all possible.
The Importance Of Pre-Delivery Nesting
Even if you plan to have her surgically delivered, the dam should be allowed to progress as far as is practical and possible into labor. She needs to concentrate on licking her nipples and vulva (and everything else within reach) and with your good vet standing by, it is safe.
The pre-delivery licking coincides with the release of endorphins and hormones which lay an important foundation for the bonding behavior between mother and whelp. The first time dam who is trotted off to surgery without benefit of the nesting, licking, cleaning behavior is one who will likely never develop good mothering skills. She is more apt to reject or be frightened by those odd squirmy little things she awakens to find in her bed.
Conversely, the dam you allowed to become serious about licking, digging, and arranging her bed can be taken straight into surgery and home as soon as possible. That way, she will take up where she left off as soon as she's regained her wits.
Preventing Post-Surgical Hormone Imbalance
Insufficient mothering instinct or rejection of newborns is usually the result of hormone imbalance and there are ways to prevent that. The first is so simple that some of you will laugh and less experienced breeders may raise an eyebrow.
Take a zip lock bag for the placenta you will bring home. Right. If it is an Emergency vet clinic don’t let them poo-poo your much greater knowledge about your breed and the potential aftermath of caesarian delivery. The afterbirth is loaded with hormones and nourishment she was meant to consume. If you are fortunate enough to have her labor progress during your regular vet’s office hours, he will expect “the bag” into which he will put the last placenta and umbilical cord.
The veterinary assistants will have cleaned her up. Too bad. When you get home, you are going to mess her up again. This is especially important if she was sectioned without being allowed to go into labor. You, the now wise breeder, will have allowed her to perform as much of the pre-delivery routine as is safe. Then, when you gathered the bitch, receiving box (and of course, your credit card!) you will have included the zip-lock freezer bag. Don’t worry about it “spoiling” unless you anticipate more than four hours from collection to arriving home, in which case, take a cooler to refrigerate the afterbirth.
Upon returning home, settle the bitch and hope she takes notice of her newborns. You can try rubbing the whelps across her vulva but my advice is to take no chances. Prepare the placenta by placing the plastic bag in really warm water, remembering her temperature is 101.5, not 98 degrees. When she is alert enough to respond to you, dip the pup’s rear quarters into the bag, then dump the whole mess under her tail and discreetly place a pup there.
If she was plucked from the nest in the midst of cleaning herself, her reaction should be classic. Still in some pain, she associates it with the normal process of giving birth, and instinct demands licking and cleaning. So what will she do? Sniff at the mess you’ve discreetly made, then clean it up, ingesting all the hormones and fluids from the placenta, just the way nature intended. With no hovering interference to break her concentration, she should then begin to lick her messy whelps. You can now sit back, relax, and admire motherhood functioning as nature intended.
C-Section Rejection Of Newborn Puppies
As you’ve gathered by now, it is how we deal with the immediate aftermath of a C-section that will determine the surgery's effect on the dam and her whelps. Deprived of the right to dispose of afterbirth in her own way, she has been short-changed on the hormones produced by labor and whelping.
The female dog is programmed to cherish and protect her offspring with her very life. Rejection is almost always a miscarriage of common sense that needlessly puts dog breeders through weeks of sleepless nights, round the clock feedings, constant worry and often, an erroneous decision not to breed the bitch again.
If you gave her newspaper or paper towels to shred, arrange, and rearrange during the nesting period and if you settled her in a private “den” area that she made her own, the new mother can be expected to settle in comfortably with her new family after a Cesarean delivery.
Oxytocin, The Bonding Hormone
Following a Caesarian section, she may be low on the all-important oxytocin hormone. Worse yet, if a bitch is spayed concurrent with a C-section, she may not have been given an oxytocin injection, commonly known as a “clean out shot.”
It is not only the hormone that immediately bonds every mother to her infant, oxytocin stimulates milk let down. Whether or not the dam had ovaries and uterus removed, hormonal releases which are normal to the birth process were cut short by Caesarian surgery. Her milk letdown may be delayed and if that happens and oxytocin isn’t given within a few hours, her milk may never come down. Watch her and the whelps closely and have a shot ready.
After The Caesarian
She may have mood swings. She may be restless. Both can be aided by a bowl of warm milk, calcium and vitamin “C” appropriate for her size, and if you are comfortable with herbs, a bit of valerian and skullcap as well as raspberry tea leaves (1) for a great tip.
She should be in a cool darkened room to sleep and recover. A serving of warm raw calf’s liver can be offered the first time she seems hungry but food should be otherwise limited to milk, broth, or a light gruel of oatmeal for the next 24 to 48 hours after which she can go back on her regular high quality diet. Offer water free choice.
Take her out to eliminate only when she lets you know she is ready. You can encourage her to change sides but if she resists, do not force her. Change her bedding only after 24 hours and do so while she is outside with a friend or family member. Be sure to leave some small pieces of her original bedding. She really doesn't want clean sheets right now...
Handle the pups daily, but gently. Gradually expose them to bright light only after the eyes open. Play music for them. Enjoy them. Love them and be proud as they leave for new homes and new adventures.
You are a good dog breeder!
(1) Raspberry Tea Leaves, honey, vinegar and other tips for People & Pets
Related Article: Rx For Whelping from hand rearing to heat lamps, the Cuddle Curl, and more.