Dog C-Section Facts, Risks, and Recovery

Updated October 11, 2022
Chihuahua and just born puppy sleeping after Caesarean

Is a dog C-section safe for both mom and her pups? Any operation involves risks, but a C-section can be a viable option during a difficult or overdue delivery. It also may be necessary for breeds that are physically incapable of giving birth naturally, such as the French Bulldog. Whether this is a planned surgery or something expected, you can feel confident with these facts and tips.

Reasons For a C-section

A caesarean section, also known as a C-section, is a surgical procedure that delivers puppies from a dog who is unable to or has difficulty giving birth naturally. While a C-section is a major surgery, it's generally considered safe. Dr. Turnera Croom states, "The C-section in a dog is a very safe operation and can even be elective, like in human medicine." There are a few common reasons a C-section might be necessary for a pregnant dog.

Internal Bleeding and Infection

If the dog produces unusual vaginal discharge that is greenish, yellowish, black, pus-like, or bloody, it's possible that there's an internal complication, such as an infection or bleeding. In this case, a C-section can save any puppies that are still viable.

Long Past Due

In some cases, a dog may be well past her expected due date and still not have given birth. If medication to stimulate uterine contraction isn't successful, a C-section could be necessary to ensure the safety of both the puppies and the mother dog.

Difficult Labor

If a pregnant dog is having extreme difficulty in labor, a C-section may be required for the mother's health and the health of the puppies. This is known as dystocia and can be caused by several factors. Typical scenarios can be:

  • The labor has gone on for too many hours without producing any puppies.
  • She has given birth to one or more puppies, but more remain and she has not given birth to any in more than four hours. This may be due to exhaustion from the mother, which leads to "uterine inertia," where the organ is simply too fatigued to continue with labor.
  • Painful, forced labor due to a too-large puppy that has become stuck or blocked in the birth canal.
  • A fetus that is in the wrong position, such as sideways, can prevent passage successfully through the birth canal.

Some Breeds Cannot Give Birth Naturally

"Breeders of brachycephalic breeds of dogs with flat faces and short noses, like Bulldogs and Boston Terriers, should be prepared to have their litter of pups delivered by cesarean," says Dr. Croom. "Some believe that the risk for a vaginal delivery for these dogs is too high and automatically plan ahead with their vet."

Lilac brindle French Bulldog dog pregnant for 8 weeks with big belly

These breeds have problems with natural birth is due to their physical structure, including a very narrow pelvis and broad head, that makes it unlikely they can give birth without a C-section. Typical breeds with this problem are Boston Terriers, English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pekingese, and Chihuahuas. Some larger breeds may also have a higher incidence of C-sections, including Mastiffs, German Wirehaired Pointers, and Saint Bernards.

C-Section Complications

When a C-section is performed on an emergency basis, this increases the risk for the mother, who will already likely be compromised by exhaustion, internal bleeding, dehydration, or even shock. With any surgery, there are risks to the dog from going under anesthesia, as well as the possibility of contracting infections or internal bleeding. There can also be some risk to the puppies which can be injured or die during the surgical process, though they may be at greater risk by not doing a C-section.

Timing of a C-Section

For breeds that need a C-section to give birth safely, these are usually scheduled 62 to 63 days after ovulation. If you're unsure about the ovulation or conception date, Dr. Croom advises that your veterinarian, "Can plan the C-section using various counting methods, 1) measuring luteinizing hormone (LH), 2) measuring progesterone levels, and 3) morphology (shape) of vaginal cells.

All require the vet to take blood for accuracy, although there are no absolutes with pregnancy!" If your veterinarian does progesterone testing, they will be looking for a reading of 3 ng/dl or under. This type of testing can happen daily with results between 3 and 4 ng/ml for a few days prior to a safe surgery date.

C-Section Recovery Time

Dr. Croom reports, "How long it takes for a dog to recover physically from a C-section depends on her health and immunity. Another factor is the toll her body may have taken from the 63 days of being a puppy assembly factory." The mother dog will need to recover from anesthesia, which can take between two and six hours post surgery.

The puppies will also need to be cared for while she is recovering and they cannot be left with her without supervision. A mother that is still groggy from anesthesia and exhaustion can unintentionally crush the puppies with her body weight. Your veterinary team will closely monitor both mom and puppies to make sure they're thriving before sending them home.

Dog with caesarean section nursing puppies

Once your mother dog is home with you and the puppies, your veterinarian may have you place her on a restrictive diet for the first day to prevent vomiting. They may also provide you with a puppy milk formula and bottles, if there's a chance the dam will not be able to nurse them right away.

Because a C-section requires a large abdominal incision, you'll need to care for your new mom as you would after any surgery, which means limited activity and close attention to any post-op medications. Dr. Croom reports in her experience, "Within 3 weeks, she should be totally healed, and ready to focus on weaning those pups."

Limitations on the Number of C-Sections

According to Dr. Croom, "Realistically, there is no limit on the number of C-sections a dam could have in her lifetime. As a matter of fact, as with any surgery, going back into the body cavity allows the veterinary surgeon to use those same surgical scars as landmarks, thus decreasing the amount of new damage.

The question here is whether there is any inhumane activity surrounding numerous, or back-to-back pregnancies by a dam." Many responsible breeders believe that C-sections should be limited to two to three times in a dog's lifetime in order to preserve the health and quality of life of the mother and her future puppies.

Cost of a C-Section

Caesarean surgical pricing will vary by city, county, region, and state and will also be affected by other factors like the age and health of the mother. Whether the procedure is done as an emergency rather than a planned C-section will also add to the price. A C-section can cost anywhere from $500 to $3,000, though it can be higher, especially if performed on an urgent basis at an emergency clinic.

Understanding the Risks and Benefits of C-Sections in Dogs

As with any surgery, there are some risks with a C-section, and these risks increase if the surgery is not planned and is instead performed on an emergency basis. If you are the owner of a brachycephalic dog breed, discuss the timing of her C-section with your veterinarian well before the time of her birth. If you have a dog that requires a C-section due to dystocia, your veterinarian will advise you on the risks involved with doing the surgery for the mom and her puppies and the likely higher risks to both without it.

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Dog C-Section Facts, Risks, and Recovery