Canine and feline reproduction: 3 interesting questions I got during my last trip

If you ever attended to one of my talks, you must have heard me saying that I truly believe that, instead of fighting each other, vets and breeders can - and should! - work together (and I know what I am talking about, remember, >90% of my clients at the vet school were breeders!). And last week, I had the opportunity to deliver this very message to my fellow vet colleagues working in the canadian atlantic provinces. 4 days, 5 talks (2 of them during the NBVMA – New Brunswick Veterinary Medical Association- and 1 to the vet students at the Atlantic Vet College in PEI) and great discussions around canine and feline reproduction. Here are three interesting questions I received that I think are worth sharing with the rest of our PRO community.

1/ Should we let newborns suckle a bitch/queen suffering from mastitis?

Mastitis in the bitch/queen is usually of bacterial origin. Increased number of bacteria/bacteria’s toxins in the milk can lead to the development of what we refer to as toxic milk syndrome in the newborns (classical symptoms observed being enlarged painful abdomen, neonates crying after suckling, neonatal diarrhea, weight loss…). Fortunately, we have very efficient treatments today to cure bitches/queens suffering from mastitis – mainly based on the use of appropriate antibiotics. However, should we systematically hand-rear puppies/kittens after this disease has been diagnosed in the mother? I personally think that’s a hard question to answer.  Indeed, since the treatment administered to the bitch will usually diffuse through the milk, newborns will then somehow be treated and protected at the same time (keep in mind however that not all antibiotics can be used in this case, this should be discussed with your vet!). There is however a risk for neonates to develop diarrhea (related to the treatment or the bacteria). I usually don’t want to take this risk and ask the breeders to bottle-feed the puppies/kittens: this will require more involvement from them (bottle-feeding, especially if dealing with a large litter, is a lot of work; remember!) but less risks will be taken. The point is that there is no perfect approach, and the two of them can be considered. One rule of thumb then: always speak with your vet to see what will fit you best! 

2/ If the bitch once had a C-section, does this mean C-sections will always be required?

I believe this comes from human medicine, since a woman who once required a C-section will always give birth by C-section afterwards.  In my experience, this is not true in the bitch and queen. I had cases where we once did a C-section, and at the following pregnancy the animal gave birth naturally. I think the most important thing today is to focus on predisposing factors that can increase the risk of dystocia. We did a study few years ago in the bitch; you can have a look below to see the results.  Again, speaking with your vet is important and if any risk is identified, scheduling a C-section might be the best option.

3/ What about performing a vaginal toucher in a pregnant bitch to detect if the cervix is open or not?

I often hear about that and I think it also comes from human medicine (because this is what a human obstetrician will do, right?). However the anatomy is quite different in the bitch. The vagina is very long and the cervix is located very far away from the vulvar opening... It is therefore totally impossible to palpate the cervix when performing a vaginal toucher. This can only be done by using vaginal endoscopy (= a small camera introduced in the vagina of the bitch). This tool can be really helpful in cases where uterine inertia (=the uterus does not contract during parturition) is suspected: if the cervix is wide open, the bitch is definitely ready to give birth and the vet surgeon will be able to quickly propose the most appropriate therapeutic approach for this case.


Remember we are all part of the same PRO community! Don’t hesitate then: share with us your experiences, ask your questions and let us know what you think! Social networks enable us to keep the discussion going, so whether you are a Facebooker or a Twitter-addict, you can – and should!- be part of it!

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Comment by Emmanuel PRO Technical Service on October 9, 2013 at 7:47am

Thanks for sharing this with us Catherine! I totally agree that keeping an eye on the mother and puppies during lactation is of outmost importance, I often recommend to palpate the mammary glands at least once daily. In case of mastitis, it is usually possible to feel a more compact zone inside the mammry tissue, this is not always possible especially in chronic cases but it will help detect acute cases before damage is done on the puppies.

Comment by Catherine Betts on October 8, 2013 at 2:06pm

Speaking to the issue of mastitis in the bitch and whether to allow pups to continue to nurse:  I have had two different bitches over the years that developed mastitis.  In both cases, it was caught very early and the bitch was put on antibiotics immediately upon discovering the mastitis.  Pups continued to nurse of the bitch in both cases although I did wrap the bitch to prevent pups from suckling off the teat nearest the infected area.  Pups did ill effects and both were large litters for the breed.  The milk from the infected teat was never discolored or anything so I think the key to both situations was the very early diagnosis and quick administration of antibiotic...the advantage of a small breeding program and having moms in the house where I can keep a very close eye on them throughout the 8 weeks!

Comment by Catherine Betts on October 8, 2013 at 2:00pm

I definitely agree that once a C-section, NOT always a C-section.  It depends on why the C-section was performed in the first place.  In my case, I had a bitch that had a C-section to deliver the last puppy from her first litter.  First puppy was stuck and it took us (me and the vet) a long time to get it out (nearly 2 hours).  She delivered the second and third pup naturally and then just shut down.  x-ray showed one more puppy so we had to c-section her to get the last puppy out.  Her second litter - 2 years later - she had 7 puppies issues whatsoever.  Last litter was also a natural delivery. She was a terrific mom and to date, has been my only c-section in 10 years of breeding.


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