One of the questions I get asked frequently is, how do I know when to C-section my bitch, or how do I know if she needs a C-section?

These decisions can be made significantly easier if the breeder has carried out a few simple checks along the way and throughout the dog's pregnancy. No one can ultimately answer this question because nobody has a crystal ball, not the breeder, not the vet, not me.

However, your options can depend on the breed of dog, but also your personal tolerance to the unknown and risk. It is safe to say that novice breeders should, and probably will, always tend to be more apprehensive. A more experienced breeder will already have knowledge of their own historical breedings, litters, plus experiences from peers, friends or family. They may also have gained knowledge from books and information on the internet.

There is no right or wrong to some of the information and the experiences you'll go through, but you must bear one thing in mind: your dog is number one. The Dam's health is a priority, and if you feel this is being compromised at any point, you must seek veterinary advice. A few things will make this journey easier whilst reducing any opportunities for drama and hopefully avoiding any expensive monetary scenarios by taking the journey step by step.


Ovulation testing your female, particularly progesterone blood testing, will give you precise information. It will tell you exactly when your female has ovulated; therefore, an accurate due date can be calculated. Every pregnancy for a dog is 63 days from ovulation and typically 61 days from mating. Investing early in the breeding process will benefit you if you succeed. At the other end, you will have clearly identified exactly what her due date is whilst also avoiding 'over mating' and reducing your due date window.

Some factors can impact her not going into labour on her due dates, such as the size of the litter, whether small or extremely large and her own personal efforts and energy levels, both being breed dependent. However, you know, 61 days from mating, 63 days from ovulation, that by the textbook, these puppies are 'cooked', ready and sufficiently developed to be born. Therefore, should you decide on an elective C-section, you have significantly reduced the risk of 'going in too early', which most veterinary professionals fear.

Should you be in any doubt, you can run the same progesterone blood test called reverse testing. Progesterone levels must stay maintained for a pregnancy to be viable, but the levels start to drop once the puppies are near their due date. This is down to particular chemicals or hormones released in the body that suppresses the progesterone and prepares the puppies' lungs to breathe oxygen. If you are in doubt, A reverse progesterone test will confirm if the puppies are preparing for birth. Progesterone levels need to be a significantly low number. The lower, the better; most vets require under 3ng/10nmol. From my experience, I've still sectioned (with the Dam having first milk) at 9ng and 6ng and puppies are ready and have been viable and robust.

When using any Vet Lab (independent or affiliated with your vet practice) for your progesterone testing, make sure you have a copy of the results (figures and scale nmol or ng) for yourself to keep in your female's breeding records, so if necessary, you can refer back to this at a later point.

Another thing to bear in mind, which I have also done, is giving my females a steroid jab when the Progesterone numbers aren't low enough. This can induce labour but also prepare the puppies' lungs to breathe. It was more for preventative treatment and a 'just-in-case', which, as a breeder, gave me confidence that I was doing the right thing, and with the veterinary agreement.


Ultrasound scanning to confirm your female is pregnant is invaluable. It gives you a lot of information early on the pregnancy, making you better prepared to make informed choices and take the best path forward. Ultrasound scanning will give you an idea of litter size. As I said before, it's not unusual for small litters and solo puppies to go overdue, and likewise, for large puppies or large litters to have stretched the uterus, so it has difficult contracting when in labour.

A second ultrasound pregnancy scan in the later stages of pregnancy, between the mid-40 to 50 days, will enable the technician to measure the pups (head diameter, body depth or length), giving you an idea of the overall size of the puppies, if it's a solo pup, whether it's large or not, and also check on their progress. You must remember even a small puppy can get stuck if the bitch has a narrow pelvis.

Unfortunately, you won't know this until an active stage 2 Labour. Heartbeats can be clearly picked up in later scans. They should be at a fast and steady pace. You should be able to see foetal movement, with puppies jiggling around and moving limbs. Bones should be shown as bright white on the ultrasound screen. All of this information helps build up a picture, providing you, as the owner and breeder, with more information to make the right decisions.

I recently scanned a Labrador female that had had an accident. We could see that there were at least four puppies. However, I provided some feedback that bones on the scanner display seemed duller than usual (typically bright white), which gave us a heads-up that she could possibly have a low calcium level and would need supplements once the puppies are born (not before without veterinary advice) to prevent pre-eclampsia.

Also, when we measured the puppies, they worked out at 68 to 69 days gestation. This was slightly concerning for me that either the puppies were big or the Dam had gone way past their due date (63 days) and that she should seek veterinary advice. I'm pleased to say there were five puppies born by emergency C-section because, as we thought, the pregnancy, in the final stages, was developing to be slightly complex. However, mum and puppies were all fine. Low calcium levels can also impact contractions, which may have been another issue regarding her pregnancy and labour. More advice regarding Calcium is available through the below-linked image.


The third step is stepping back and looking at your bitch and the situation overall. Is she in good health? Is she struggling with the pregnancy? My main concerning issue is that your female must be able to sleep correctly. If she finds her pregnancy too challenging to sleep, then nobody (human or dog) can function on no sleep, and she must have an emergency or elective C-section.

Uncomfortable is a different instance, but as I say, lacking sleep means essential biological reactions are negatively impacted, and ultimately something will be compromised somewhere. Should she be taken poorly quickly, you must seek veterinary advice, but because they are willing to act on your decision in a timely matter.


The fourth and probably the most critical step is ensuring you have a "breeder-friendly" vet. This is a vet that will not get judgmental and feel inconvenienced when you start asking questions in regards to your dog's pregnancy. It would help if you had these conversations for you and your girl early in the journey to avoid any pitfalls as the pregnancy develops. Please don't leave it to the point where she's in distress, or even you're in distress, and you're seeking help but not getting the information or support you need.

The vet you are currently registered to may not be the best for you during this breeding process. Speak to other breeders in your area (any breed), other animal professionals such as your ultrasound technicians or even groomers to see what vets they recommend supporting owners and breeders when breeding. Just by Googling dog breeders in your area and asking what vet they use, you may find that they all gravitate to the same one for a good reason!

When it comes to veterinary care, it is effectively private healthcare, so you can register with as many vets as you wish and use them as you wish. So you may find some more favourable for puppy jabs and vaccinations, others for pregnancy, and others for general health and wormer. So look around and do all of this before you actually need them. If preferable, meet them face to face, go in-branch and discuss your concerns and find out their experience with canine pregnancy. Just because they are veterinary professionals does not make them an expert on canine reproduction, notably the husbandry side. What are their thoughts on ovulation testing? If she goes overdue? What support do they offer out-of-hours?

I would steadily stay clear of any vets asking you to transport your dog to a central out-of-hours practice. I would personally avoid any veterinary practice for breeding support that doesn't provide their own out-of-hours because this immediately means all your efforts into finding a good vet could be diminished if you require out-of-hours assistance with somebody that has no or little knowledge of you, or your dog, or your circumstances.

Having these conversations upfront with your vet, thinking about ovulation testing, pinpointing when her due date is, looking at her overall health, and having a progress pregnancy scan will all stand you in good stead for what's to come in the future, of course, which I hope is stress-free and full of puppy fun and frolics. More advice regarding find a suitable vet available through the below-linked image.

I genuinely believe in the phrase, "If in doubt, get them out". If you are unhappy with your girl's pregnancy or the birth is developing, after all, you know her best, then stick with your gut. I would much prefer to regret the decisions and actions I made than the ones I avoided or postponed to make. You making the decisions means you are in control of the situation. Any supporting professionals will be sure to shirk any responsibility if no decisions are made. They certainly won't make them for you, and ultimately "something" will happen eventually - that maybe be good or bad.

In summary
  1. Why Progesterone Testing including Reverse testing and the benefits the use of Steroid's could bring to the sticky situation.
  2. How Ultrasound scanning and gestation measure can help reassure you with your Dam's due date.
  3. Simple Dam observations and looking at the facts by removing your emotions will help you make better decisions.
  4. Find in advance of your needs a Breeder Friendly Vet who understand your needs and concerns at such a pivotal time when breeding.

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