AKC eNewsletter

Voluntary Caesarean Section

Rebecca "Becky" Poole and her husband Bill are longtime breeders of Bull Terriers under the Rocky Top banner

Becky and Bill Poole were the 2005 AKC Breeder of the Year recipients representing the Terrier Group.

Being breeders for almost 30 years has enabled us to understand and accept the idea of the voluntary Caesarean section. At first thought, one may think it is unnecessary to have this procedure. However, after the heartbreak of losing just one puppy, a C-section to remove the final whelp that cannot be delivered by the mother makes it a very desirable and acceptable choice, even a humane one.

Having a litter should be an enjoyable experience, and knowing that you are prepared and willing to have a voluntary C-section can ease the stress for you, the mother and the puppies. The relief of returning home with a healthy litter is worth taking the time to consider this option.

In preparing to write this article, I wondered if our experiences were similar to those in scientific studies.1 The largest study that I found was conducted by Dr. Paula F. Moon-Massat. She tracked neonatal mortality in 808 litters (3,408 puppies) requiring Cesarean surgery for delivery of at least one puppy. The study examined survival rates at three different times: immediately, two hours and seven days after Cesarean delivery. The results were 92, 87 and 80 percent respectively. The percentages for puppies born naturally were 86, 83 and 75 percent. In 67 percent of litters, all puppies delivered by Caesarean section were born alive.

The average litter size for Bull Terriers is five. This may be the result of some being lost at birth. Over the years, we have averaged more than five live puppies. The Bull Terrier’s hereditary relationship to the Bulldog may influence and increase the need for the voluntary C-section. The female tends to tire before the last puppy is born, even when she is in perfect physical condition. If just one puppy is in an improper position, it can keep the entire litter from being born. She can be at the risk of tearing her uterus while trying to whelp her litter. The end result is the female being spayed, and the majority of the time, the puppies do not all survive. When there is extended whelping, it can result in the puppies needing extensive resuscitative care to revive them. In surgery, any anesthetic the mother receives is transferred to the puppies. The type of anesthetic administered for C-sections allows for a fast recovery without any extended side effects.

C. Rocky Top's Sundance Kid "Rufus," 2006 Westminster Best in Show winner.
(Chet Jezierski ©AKC)

Our first encounter with a Cesarean was out of necessity, and I hate to think how many years ago that was. We have never been the lucky ones whose female whelps a litter of six or eight in two hours. Ours always begin whelping around bedtime and will go through the night, usually ending at the emergency clinic. The result is a much higher veterinary bill than we would have had with a planned C-section and, the most important factor, not knowing the veterinarian on duty. Our first planned C-section was Rufus’ great-grandmother (see photo caption). We had imported her from England as the pick of the litter out of a Trophy Show-winning female. Knowing our past experiences and the value of the litter to us, we opted for a voluntary Cesarean. Not once have we regretted that decision, and we have learned the value of planning ahead. Rufus’ litter was also a voluntary C-section. He is the offspring of frozen semen from Germany, and again, we were not willing to take the risk of losing the mother or the puppies.

A voluntary C-section is now a methodical thing for us. If an X-ray shows six to eight puppies, we can almost be certain that all will not be whelped alive during a natural birth. We usually do not breed a female more than two times. If her season is normal and her estrus level has a normal rise (based on our experience), we will breed her only one time. This narrows the time of knowing when the puppies are old enough to be delivered and greatly reduces the risk of taking puppies too early.

It is not a decision to make on the spur of the moment. Once it is confirmed that the female is in whelp, one needs to discuss the option of a C-section with a trusted veterinarian. When the big day comes, it will be less stressful if you and the veterinarian are comfortable with the choice of a voluntary C-section. It does not affect future breeding. We find it is no more difficult for the mother than having the litter naturally over a six- to eight-hour time span.

Sometimes it is necessary to do a C-section before the first due date. This can happen when the female is obviously giving distress signals. Familiarizing yourself with the process and having a veterinarian on call can ease the stressful situation.

One frequently asked question is whether the puppies hurt the mother’s incision while feeding. We have found that the milk bar covers it completely, and she has no ill effects while the puppies are nursing. The milk flow, under normal circumstances, is not affected. The incision should be checked and cleaned daily. The stitches may or may not need removing, depending on the type of suture material used.

1Moon-Massat, Paula F., DVM, PhD, Cornell University, Perioperative Risk Factors for Puppies Delivered by Caesarean section in the United States and Canada, Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 2000;36:359-68.

  Ronald N. Rella, director, Breeder Services
Theresa Shea, editor | Email: AKCbreeder@akc.org
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© The American Kennel Club 2006