C-Section for Dogs

Updated Nov. 16, 2023
A mother dog lays in a field with her pups.

This is the first litter for your pup. You’ve been watching your pregnant dog carefully with the guidance of your veterinarian.

You thought you planned for every contingency. You carefully screened both parents for genetic diseases before breeding, tested for contagious problems, and fed them a good diet.

Now the big day is here, and you aren’t sure whether things are progressing normally. You know that a Cesarean section (C-section) for dogs may be needed, but how do you know when it's time?

What Is a C-Section in Dogs?

Dog pregnancies last around 63 to 65 days, which can differ from the actual dates of breeding by up to 10 days based on the date of conception. This can make it a little confusing when predicting when your pup is ready to give birth.

A C-section is the surgical delivery of puppies through an incision in the mother’s abdominal wall and uterus.

This is generally recommended only for dogs that are not able to deliver puppies vaginally and is not without risk to the mother and puppies.

Although generally considered safe, complications can occur, including reactions to anesthesia or other medications administered, bleeding, wound infections, blood clots, damage to the uterus, and injuries or fatalities to puppies during and after surgery.

During this time, you might notice a decrease in appetite, weight gain, swollen belly, enlarged nipples, nesting behavior, and irritability. During pregnancy, it is best to schedule multiple veterinary visits to help monitor the progress of both mother and pups.

Most dogs should be able to deliver puppies without a C-section, although some breeds (mostly those with a large head and narrow pelvis) are more likely to require one. This includes EnglishAmerican, and French Bulldogs, as well as Boston Terriers and Pekingese.

With their vet’s permission and guidance, some breeders of these at-risk dogs will plan for an elective C-section, rather than wait and see if the dog can deliver naturally.

Signs That Your Pup Needs a C-Section

It will be up to a veterinarian to determine if a C-section is necessary. Some of the factors they may take into consideration include if there is color to the vaginal discharge (such as pus-like, bloody, green, or greenish/black). 

All vaginal discharge before birth should be clear or a whitish, stringy-type discharge. If your dog has been having contractions for more than four hours with no puppies born, your veterinarian may take steps to intervene. 

Another sign of worry is when more than two hours have passed between puppies, particularly if your dog continues to strain or act restless.

Puppies out of position in the womb (normal is either head-first or tail-first with the legs extended away from the body) may not be born without repositioning or a C-section.

Signs that your dog may need a C-section include:

  • Weak contractions for two or more hours without producing a puppy

  • Heavy contractions for 30 to 60 minutes without producing a puppy

  • Signs of illness including fever, pain, and vomiting

  • Discolored vaginal discharge

  • Mispositioned puppies in the womb

Preparing Your Pup for a C-Section

If your dog is having a planned C-section, it is important to coordinate with your veterinarian about preventive care in preparation for surgery. Some things to discuss with your veterinarian:

  • Do not apply fresh topical flea and tick products on your dog for one week prior to the C-section

  • Bathe your dog shortly before surgery, so that she will be as clean as possible

  • Find out if any medications should be administered to your dog on the day of surgery

  • If your dog is nervous, a pheromone-based collar (such as an Adaptil®) may help ease their stress

  • Most veterinarians prefer dogs to fast a few hours prior to surgery, although water is fine until you leave home

The most important part of preparing for a potential C-section starts even before your dog gets pregnant.

Current routine preventative care (vaccines, heartworm prevention, flea and tick control, dewormings), regular exercise, a well-rounded commercial dog food, and ensuring your dog is at a healthy weight increases the chances of a successful surgery for both mom and pups.

What to Bring With You to the Veterinary Hospital

You can take a few things to the hospital to make the trip a little easier for both you and for mom after the surgery.

Be aware that the veterinary hospital may prefer not to take in any blankets, towels, or toys—but having things for the car ride can be comforting for mom.

A few things you might need for your journey include:

  • Seat covers to protect your vehicle from any post-op discharges. Tarps and tablecloths work well but might be a little slippery, so cover them with blankets.

  • Ideally, your dog should travel in a large dog crate for their own safety, especially after surgery. This crate can have a thick lining of blankets.

  • Heating pad (and a way to power it) will help keep the puppies warm during transit.

  • A kennel to carry the puppies home in. They should not be in the crate with mom, as she might step on them or hurt them.

  • Formula and bottles, in case mom isn’t up to nursing the puppies right away

  • Your cellphone and charger

What Will Happen During Your Dog’s C-Section

Your veterinarian will have you drop your dog off to have the C-section done.

Once your dog is admitted for a C-section, quite a few steps will happen in preparation for surgery. These steps may include:

  • A physical exam, even if your dog recently had one

  • A vaginal exam to check for puppy placement and signs of labor

  • Imaging, X-rays, and ultrasound to look for puppy placement and heartbeats

  • IV catheter placement and fluid administration

  • Blood work prior to surgery

  • Sedation and induction of anesthesia

  • Shaving of entire abdomen to clean the area before surgery

  • Tail is sometimes wrapped to help keep it clean

  • During surgery, the puppies are usually delivered quickly and the remainder of the C-section is done by the veterinarian, while the staff wake the puppies from anesthesia

  • Puppy stimulating

  • Surgery recovery for both mom and pups

How to Care for Your Dog After Surgery

Post-operative care is critical to ensure a successful procedure.

Your veterinarian will provide you with detailed instructions, including information about when to allow the puppies to nurse or return to mom, as well as any medications needed to prevent infection or control pain. These will differ significantly from case to case, depending on the status of the dog at the time of surgery and condition of the puppies.

Typically, the best thing you can do for the new family is to resist the impulse to hover, interfere, and be too close.

Dogs instinctively take very good care of their puppies, and unless you have reason to believe that there is distress, it’s best to simply observe from a distance. 

Using a camera over the nursery area will allow you to watch every move without disturbing.

If the pups are quiet and sleeping or nursing, it’s likely that they’re doing well.  Noisy pups are distressed pups. A crying pup warrants a check, as well as one that may be accidentally “squished” by mom.

Always have canine milk replacer and bottles on hand.Your veterinarian may provide you with feeding tubes (and instructions on how to use them) if you have any particularly weak puppies.

However, for a puppy that isn’t getting enough milk from mom, being able to supplement it by bottle (and then returning it to mom) can be lifesaving—having this at the ready is very important. 

Another product you may want to keep nearby is a heat support device in case any of the puppies become chilly if they are separated from mom.

A gram scale (such as one you might buy to weigh mail) is useful to document the daily weight of the puppies. Make sure they are weighed every day to confirm they are getting enough milk to grow properly.

Keeping a chart on each puppy with their daily weight can help you and your veterinarian quickly spot problems.

When to Call Your Veterinarian

Some signs of concerns include:

  • Redness or discharge from the incision site

  • Fever

  • Decreased appetite from mom or puppies

  • Weakness or lethargy

  • Seizure episodes

  • Puppies that are not nursing

  • A restless, crying puppy that doesn’t settle when nursed

  • Puppies that are not gaining weight every day

  • Cold puppies, or pups that are separated from the rest of the litter

When in doubt, call your vet. If you don’t feel that mom or her puppies are progressing as you would expect, contact your veterinarian immediately. 

Don’t wait to see if things improve with time. If something doesn’t seem right, call your veterinarian or emergency clinic, and follow their advice.

Featured Image: kasto80/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra Mitchell is a 1995 graduate of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in many fields...

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