The C-Section

Cesarean Section


Well, I’m not sure who delivered the first baby of the New Year, but I got to deliver the first puppies! Three little girls, all delivered by Cesarean Section! Happy New Years! And preceding them was yet another C-section, safely delivering ten – yes, 10 puppies- to a young mother dog, Zoey, who weighed only 26 pounds before she got pregnant. Wowzers!


I tried to look up the origin of the name “Cesarean or Caesarean” and found a long-winded tale that led me to two conclusions : it was NOT named after Julius Caesar, and we really don’t know from whence the word evolved , except that the Latin word for “cut” is “caedare” and that under Roman law (during the life and times of Julius Caesar) a dead or dying woman was supposed to be cut open to remove her baby. The mother was not expected to live. Grim. It was not until the 1900’s that C-section surgeries were practiced with a reasonable expectation of both mother and child surviving, helped greatly by the discovery of antibiotics and anesthesia and boosted by basic hygiene on the doctor’s part and the sterilization of equipment. Most of the history I dug up related to people.


There is a miracle inherent in the beginning of all life. For a dog the average length of a pregnancy, or gestation is 63 days, for a cat 64 days. Like much in life, these guidelines are by no means guaranteed. If you know the days of breeding, you may start counting from the first date bred, but even then there is no way of knowing if ovulation coincided. Although ovulation testing is available to breeders through progesterone tests these are still relatively uncommon among pet owners. Knowing the due date becomes a matter of importance if you anticipate a planned C-section. For a pregnancy expected to last just over two months, each day counts. Surgical intervention several days early could go wrong very quickly, possibly delivering immature puppies that would not survive. So why would anyone PLAN on a C-section for their dog? Usually because they own a breed that has a large head which is too bulky to deliver naturally through the birth canal, like English and French Bulldogs or a Mastiff. Or maybe the dog has had a prior C-section. For the rest of the world whose dog underwent a C-section, the surgery was done because something went very wrong in delivery and the surgery was necessary to save the life of the mother. It is always hoped that the puppies make it, too.


As your dog nears her last week of pregnancy you have probably noted many changes. She walks slowly. Her belly may be immense and she eats small meals frequently. Her weight can increase by 20% (Zoey went from 26 to 34 pounds). If you follow her temperature rectally, morning and night, you may note that her temperature drops from around 100 down to 96 or 97 degrees – birth is imminent in the next 24 hours. The first stage of labor occurs as the mother dog begins to have small contractions while the birth canal slowly dilates. Your dog may be restless or whiney. The second stage of labor is when the puppies are actually born. Your dog will have strong contractions, you can actually see her abdomen tense and ripple. Often the first puppy will appear within 30 minutes. If your dog pushes like this for more than 4 hours without producing a puppy she needs to see a veterinarian. Statistically up to 40% of pups are born breech or bottoms first. This is ok. It is only if a puppy gets stuck in the pelvis and the pelvic bones of the mom press against the umbilical cord, cutting off the blood supply and oxygen, that a puppy may die.


Zoey’s pups were born on a Friday. Zoey is a fawn and white French Bulldog with little bat ears. This was her first litter, her breeding dates were known. We planned on a C-section delivery because she was a high-risk breed for surgical intervention. Her due date straddled a weekend, so we compromised and set the date for the Friday before. We were a little nervous because there isn’t a reliable blood test to tell you that the puppies are fully developed. We set the time at 11 AM, knowing from x-rays that she was expecting 10 puppies and we needed a bunch of people on hand for puppy care. Friday morning, however, the breeder called and cancelled. It was just too much of a gamble to risk those precious pups’ lives. I understood. With my calendar suddenly cleared I considered my options and thought : long lunch! Yessss! At 10 minutes to eleven I grabbed my car keys and headed out. As I passed the front desk they stopped me. Zoey’s owner had run a brief errand and returned to find little puppy feet dangling – Zoey had gone into labor! Secretly I believe Zoey overheard that phone call cancelling her delivery and said “enough is enough!” She had her heart set on the promised due date. They headed for the clinic. So at 11 am on a fine Friday morning Zoey had her “unplanned” C-section right on schedule and was safely delivered of all 10 puppies! I just now noticed I missed lunch that day.


Christine B. McFadden, DVM


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