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Ask The Vet: Is it Normal For Puppies to Be Born in Breech Position?

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Whether it's normal for puppies to be born in breech position is something that owners of whelping dams may be wondering about. In order to better understand this, it helps to gain a closer insight into a puppy's birthing process and the normal position most puppies are born in. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec discusses the normal birthing positions in puppies, and what a breech position is along with what dog owners should do if their pups present in breech position. 

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Normal Birthing Positions in Dogs 

A female’s litter grows in the two horns of her uterus. At the moment of birth, the position in which the pups present is important to achieve successful delivery.

Generally speaking, pups should be delivered head-first with the forelegs extended. This position is popularly known as "diving" position or anterior presentation.

Backward or posterior presentation (hind legs and tail emerging first) is also normal, but the elbows may get caught on the pelvic rim.

Abnormal Birthing Positions in Dogs 

Breeding a female dog is an immensely rewarding journey. However, it is also challenging and in some cases – risky. Veterinary reports suggest that around five percent of all canine births involve a medical problem that requires proper veterinary attention. In some dog breeds, the incidence of problems is extremely low while other breeds are prone to experience a plethora of problems.

Two of the most common reasons for difficult labor, or dystocia in dogs, have to do with the pups. The pup is either too large to pass through the birth canal or is in the wrong position for delivery.

In some cases, the vet can rectify wrong positions with either fingers or delivery forceps. For other cases (when the wrong position cannot be manually rectified) a Caesarean section is the only option. Having wrongly positioned puppies can be a life-threatening situation for both the mother and the unborn puppies.

"Wrong positions" include:

  • Two fetuses presented simultaneously, one from each horn of the uterus
  • Breech (backward but with the hind legs flexed or extended forward)
  • Forward but with the head turned to the side
  • Forward but with the front feet flexed backward
  • Back first.

Is it Normal For Puppies to Be Born in Breech Position?

As previously explained, the breech presentation is a wrong position in which the tail and bottom are presented first while the hind legs are either extended forward or folded under the pup’s body. Sometimes pups in breech positions can be delivered normally. However, in most cases, this abnormal positioning requires veterinary assistance. Depending on the exact circumstances, the assistance can include either manual rectification of the position or performing a Caesarean section.

In people, breech babies account for around three percent of all births. In dogs, breech babies are much more common – approximately forty percent of all births are breech.

Breech births in people are associated with a much higher risk of complications. Comparatively, in dogs, breech births often occur without any complications. In a nutshell, a breech puppy is considered relatively normal while a breech baby is not so normal.

Are some dog breeds more likely to be born breech? Yes, certain dog breeds are more susceptible to experiencing breech puppies than others. The risk is particularly high among brachycephalic dogs such as Pugs, French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs, Chihuahuas and Boston Terriers.

Members of these breeds are up to sixteen times more likely to have birth complications due to wrong positions than crossbreeds and dogs with longer muzzles. If you have a pregnant, brachycephalic dog, it is advisable to schedule an elective Caesarean section. The term elective indicates that the procedure is planned in advance in order to avoid potential complications.

Puppy in Breech Position-What to do

If the mother strains a lot and for a prolonged period of time without producing any puppy, chances are there is a breech puppy inside of her. Another indicator is the presence of lump behind the vulvar lips, or alternatively, you may be able to see a tail hanging out of the mother’s vagina.

What to do if there's a breech puppy? If your dog is trying to give birth to a puppy in breech position, the only thing you can do is calling the vet. While waiting for the vet or travelling to the vet’s office, it is advisable to check the progress regularly. Never assume that it is safe to pull the breech positioned puppy by its tail to help its expulsion. Instead of helping, this can cause serious damage and even worsen the condition.

If your dog is trying to give birth to a breech puppy, you therefore need to contact your veterinarian. This is considered an emergency and requires prompt veterinary attention. Depending on the exact circumstances, the vet may either assist in the delivery, or in more serious cases, perform a Caesarean section.

In a Caesarean section, the womb is opened, the pups removed and the womb sewn shut. The procedure is relatively common and classified as a routine intervention. A routine Caesarean must be performed in a clean environment.

Which option will the vet choose depends on three factors – the mother’s condition, the size of the litter and the size of the puppies.

It should be noted that having a puppy in breech position is not a transient condition. Simply put, if left untreated, the condition does not improve or rectify itself. Instead, if left untreated, the condition only worsens as time goes on. Ultimately, both the mother and the puppies may die.

The Bottom Line

Under normal circumstances, puppies should be born either with their heads first or with their rear legs first. If a pup tries to come out with its bottom first or sideways, more often than not, it becomes stuck.

If the pup is not in the correct position when entering the birth canal, chances are it will present in a breech position. If in a breech position, the pup will come out with its tail and bottom forward. In most cases, one hind leg is extended but in the opposite direction.

Depending on the pup’s size and the mother, some breech puppies can be born regularly while others get stuck inside the mother and require veterinary assistance. If left unassisted, a breech position may turn out to be fatal, for both the mother and the puppies.

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

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