AKC Gazette Columns

AKC Gazette - January 2005


Surprisingly, delivery by C-section is not unusual in Berners, despite their structural appearance of a breed that free-whelps. Many Berners are slow going into labor, with delivery taking significantly longer than breeds of similar build and size. Uterine inertia is a major cause of C-sections. Other contributing factors are positioning; exceptionally large puppies; weak contractions insufficient for timely delivery, resulting in stillborns; and extended or permanent shutdown with unborn pups. It is heartrending to have beautiful Berner puppies so delayed in delivery that they never get started, despite all efforts.

There are Bernese who whelp one litter easily, but subsequently might not. Likewise, a C-section may be followed by natural whelping. Whether a Berner bitch should have a cesarean is a tough question but, one would rather section in time for live puppies than take dead puppies from a labor-exhausted bitch. To assess potential for cesarean birth, have your veterinarian give the bitch a pre-breeding exam. Investigate her whelping history and that of her parents and grandparents (male and female), although a history of natural or C-section delivery does not necessarily indicate the same will hold true for the bitch in question.

When breeding, consider the age and physical fitness of the bitch. A bitch going into pregnancy in lean-but-healthy weight, with well-developed muscles, is a much better candidate for natural delivery than one who is not. Very small or very large litters in Berners may have the potential for C-section. Your veterinarian may suggest X-raying a week prior to whelping to determine numbers, size, and positioning. Discuss with your veterinarian well in advance that your Berner might need a C- section or assistance during delivery. Emergency arrangements should be clearly understood. Having a doctor who has done a number of cesareans is a distinct advantage. Speed is a critical factor in delivering live pups. Choice of anesthesia is of considerable importance. Propofol and isoflurane or sevoflurane gas anesthesia has the least effect on the puppies and the advantage of rapid recovery by the dam.

Regardless of your plans for delivery, monitor the bitch several days in advance of the first due date (based on a 63-day term) for her temperature to drop to 99.4 to 98 degrees: Puppies usually are born within 24-36 hours. Other signals of impending delivery are not eating and increased nesting. To complicate matters, sometimes the temperature drop is missed, some bitches eat right up to delivery, and others nest for days, wearing out the owner before the first puppy arrives!

For a planned C-section, an added component to traditional monitoring is the Target Canine Ovulation Test designed to measure progesterone levels for breeding readiness. When readings are used in reverse, it reveals readiness for delivery as progesterone levels drop. This, along with temperature drop and nesting, are sufficient indicators to proceed with planned sectioning.

Ideally, try for a natural delivery. Keep in mind that surgery is invasive and involves risks that should be considered judiciously by your veterinarian. Remember, each pregnancy is unique and must be evaluated individually, even from the same bitch.

Special thanks to Dr. William N. Spofford, Bayside Animal Hospital, Cambridge, Maryland, for reviewing the content of this column. His expertise with Berners is invaluable.

- Julie Crawford, 26391 May Twilley Rd., Delmar, MD 21875