Post Partum Complications
Complications can occur during whelping, and they may also occur after whelping. The following is a list of complications that may occur after whelping.
Retained Foetal Membrane
Retained foetal membrane is not a common condition but may be hard to diagnose. Retained foetal membrane is often suspected if a green or black discharge persists after labour. Where suspected it is not uncommon for the veterinarian to inject the bitch with oxytocin in an endeavour to assist her in the passing out of the retained membrane. Antibiotics are also often prescribed.
Subinvolution of Placental Sites
Some degree of vulval discharge is normal for a week or so after whelping. Subinvolution of the uterus at one or more of the placental sites is suspected if the discharge persists. Bleeding may also continue at the margin of the previous placental attachment. In some cases, bleeding may last for weeks or months after the whelping before it resolves naturally. Oxytocin and antibiotics are of no assistance in these cases. Affected bitches usually appear normal with no signs of illness or weakness unless the bleeding is so marked that anaemia results. Desexing is required in cases of anaemia.
Post Partum Metritis
Metritis is an infection of the uterus and can be associated with a retained puppy or foetal membrane. Affected bitches normally present with a foul smelling red discharge from the vulva. They are depressed, off food, initially have a temperature rise and produce no milk. The puppies often cry due to cold and hunger (resulting from lack of available bitches' milk).
These cases can be fatal without appropriate veterinary care. The bitches are usually placed on intravenous fluids and antibiotics, and in cases where a retained puppy or membrane is suspected they are given oxytocin. In severe cases uterine lavage is required. Surgical intervention is needed where there is a retained puppy.
Post Partum Haemorrhage
The bleeding usually comes from the uterus, but can be from the vagina. In some cases it may be associated with blood coagulation problems.
Fresh blood clots are noticed being passed out frequently from the vagina in affected bitches. Such cases are often treated with oxytocin and antibiotics. Blood transfusion or desexing may be required in severe cases.
Eclampsia occurs when the puppies drain calcium out of the bitch. The condition is most commonly seen in the small breeds especially in peak lactation, but can occur late in pregnancy.
Affected bitches initially appear nervous, pant, whine and hypersalivate. Uncontrollable muscle contractions occur almost to the extent one would expect to see in a fitting dog as the condition worsens.
Fortunately, affected bitches can be treated successfully via slow injections of calcium. Once detected and treated it is important not to put the puppies back on the bitch because further feeding from the bitch will cause another eclampsia episode. The puppies need to be hand reared until weaning.
Oral calcium supplementation may be tried in bitches at risk after whelping, but should not be given prior to whelping as the supplementation may depress the functioning of concerned endocrine glands and, subsequently, escalate the problems.
Cannibalism (Eating of the Puppies)
Cannibalism can occur where the bitch has a single puppy or where a puppy has an obvious defect such as a cleft palate or where the puppy is undersized compared to the rest of the litter. Nervous bitches may also bite their puppies if disturbed especially by strangers.
Prolapsed uterus is rare and is noticed where part of the uterus is seen to protrude through the vulva.
Where the prolapse is small it can be repositioned manually by pushing it back into position. Where it is more extensive it may be necessary to open up the abdomen to enable the uterus to be pulled back into position. In some cases, the prolapsed portion is rotted and amputation may be required.
Mastitis is an infection of the mammary glands that primarily occurs during lactation. It often occurs where milk remains static in the affected gland(s), this is often due to the lack of suckling of the affected teats by the puppies.
In severe cases the mammary glands are hot, firm and painful and the bitch shows signs of illness where she becomes depressed, off her food, runs a fever and fails to adequately care for her puppies.
When mastitis is diagnosed the bitch is placed onto appropriate antibiotics (determined by culturing a sample of the infected milk) and anti-inflammatories, and in more severe cases placed onto intravenous fluids. Where the affected mammary gland(s) become(s) abscess and burst(s) the affected tissue may need to be treated as an open wound.
In some cases the puppies will require hand rearing.