Dogs’ and cats’ postpartum examinationsare crucially important.
First, examining the mother and the puppies or kittens within 24 hours after birthing allows your pet’s doctor to assure you that all of the offspring have been born. Leaving an unborn youngster in the uterus is likely to be fatal to the puppy or kitten, and at least dangerous to the mother.
Sometimes those “left behind” can be detected by palpation (feeling the uterus through the abdomen) and sometimes a radiograph (X-ray) is needed.
While the uterus and placenta are warm, comfortable, safe places for the duration of gestation, when the time comes to be born, ya gotta go! It is not unusual for a mother pet to become tired during birthing and simply lack the energy to expel all of the fetuses. This problem can be sometimes be alleviated with an injection of the hormone oxytocin, which strengthens uterine contractions. Injections of glucose for energy and/or calcium to increase muscle strength can also help. Please keep in mind that these medications are associated with a certain amount of risk and are for use only by veterinary medical professionals.
Sometimes puppie(s) can be “milked” from the uterus in concert with contractions. Again, there is a certain technique to be used by those trained in the method, but it can sometimes avoid Caesarean section.
In those cases where a puppy or kitten is retained, and none of the above efforts have produced, emergency Caesarean delivery surgery is required. Prior to beginning the operation, pet owners should decide whether ovariohysterectomy (spay) procedure should be performed while the abdomen is open. Pets who have one episode of dystocia are likely to be so-affected again. Dystocia is defined as “difficult or abnormal labor or delivery.” Its etymology is from the Greek prefix dys meaning “difficult, painful or abnormal” and tokos, meaning “birth.”
The second-most-common complication of birth is the retention of fluids and tissues associated with the placenta. Anything left behind in the uterus after birth is going to decompose, having been separated from its blood supply and source of oxygen and nutrients. Picture the decomposition of formerly-live tissues inside the body and one can easily imagine the toxicity that will ensue. Such problems can usually be avoided by the administration of the hormone oxytocin by injection. Oxytocin will increase contraction of the uterus as well as stimulate additional milk production by the mother, which will aid her in feeding the newborns.
Each and every new puppy and kitten must be examined thoroughly for birth defects, as well as problems from delivery. It is not uncommon for the stump of the umbilicus to be excessively long or to bleed. Birth defects such as cleft palate, if detected immediately, will alert your pet’s doctor to the need for tube feeding, which will help to avoid aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia results from food, milk, saliva or other materials “going down the wrong way,” entering the respiratory tract, where an intense reaction by the body, coupled with infection, can be fatal.
Other birth defects can also be detected at this time, and options for their treatment can be addressed.
After delivery, the new arrivals’ next visit to the doctor will be at 2-3 weeks of age for another examination as well as a fecal flotation. As always, finding problems early is the best way to prevent painful, expensive complications. The postpartum examination is designed to do just that.
See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.