To date (December 2018) I’ve confirmed a positive pregnancy in over 1,100 animals (mainly dogs), that’s nearly 72% of all my scans are confirmed pregnant. Owners are always surprised when I confirm pregnancy for just one puppy and I’m equally surprised when they comment that it’s rare. I’ve looked over my figures and there’s a 6.4% chance of a pregnancy being a solo puppy, unlike the chances of having a large litter of 10 or more puppies is only 2.3%.
Singleton puppies are not typically a reflection on the sire or dams reproductive capacity and more likely due not mating at the most fertile time, either too early or too late meaning the semen has only just managed to fertilise an egg by surviving and waiting for the egg to mature, or by racing to it super quick before the egg died. Urban myth is that a female puppy results from a mating too early and a male puppy from a mating too late.
I would highly recommend that should the female be bred from again, that a form of ovulation testing is used such a vaginal cytology swabbing or the more accurate Progesterone blood testing. I sent a quick email to all my clients who I had previously scanned with solo babies (pure and crossbred) to find out their experiences after I broke the singleton news, they provided me with 32 sets of data which I’ve attempted to constructively summarise!
Singleton puppy born by...
62% Naturally whelped
of which 85% survived
of which 42% survived
(100% survived if born by elective c-section)
The puppies that naturally whelped and survived were on average born around 62 days gestation, the survival rate decreased from 63 days. Owners shared that the whelping process was ‘typical’, confirming the puppy tended to be bigger rather than average in size. For some the labour stages were prolonged and difficult, 15% of the owners that whelped naturally said they would recommend other owners going through the same experience to elective section on due date.
The majority of owners mentioned no issues with milk production or the need to hand feed or supplement. 25% did visit their vet for additional physical checks and advice, 1 owner felt they were given poor advice and changed practices during this critical period.
The puppies surviving born by c-section were on average born around 61 days, the survival rate decreased from 65 days. 2 owners felt their vet had delayed the option of a c-section (66 days) which compromised the puppy’s viability. The majority of owners who decided to c-section was because their female had shown partial signs of labour then stopped. Suggesting a more complex labour, possibly due to a stuck puppy or wrong positioning.
Some puppies were born naturally when the female had been sedated and prepared for a c-section, the relaxation of the muscles means the puppy was easier to pull free (these puppies were deceased). Distressed puppies did not survive the operation or longer than 2 days after birth, some seemed weak and some dams were not attentive to their young. Of the owners that had veterinary agreement to elective section on their due date 100% of these puppies where born alive.
Singleton puppies can be whelped naturally, the statics are in their favour. If the labour is not typical (mainly due to puppy size, positioning or lack of contractions) the chances of c-section increase significantly, but the survival rate reduces significantly too. Only a pre-planned elective c-section increased the survival rate above being whelped naturally. Risk can be managed by allowing the female to whelp naturally up to her due date and should she go more than 1 day over, have an ultrasound scan to check for foetal heart beat and if confirmed, opt for an elective section.
Puppies born 2 or more days after their due date have significantly less chances of surviving in both whelping methods. There is a high chance that financially you’ll need to cover the costs of c-section, given that a “unscheduled” emergency c-sections result in a higher mortality rate, realistically booking an elective c-section ‘in hours’ increasing the puppies rate of survival and keeping operating cost to a minimum, along with your anxiety and any stress on the female.
It’s generally advised not to change the dam’s diet during pregnancy, neither in quality or amount. Because the puppy has ‘wombspace’ to grow and develop, changing the dam’s diet may entice the puppy to overgrow due to having no competition with littermates for nutrition or space. Being restrictive on food will hopefully prevent any excessive and unnecessary growth.
Even if the puppy is a typical size and the dam is maiden you are still unaware of her ability to deliver naturally due to her pelvis size or strength of contractions. Females that have already successfully birthed puppies will provide the owner with additional information to gauge her ability to whelp or not. Raspberry leaf supplement is said to aid birthing and should be considered along with any veterinary agreement to calcium supplements or oxytocin should contractions weaken.
The lack of contractions or weakening contractions is called inertia, with solo babies it can happen in the first stage of labour due to the puppy not stimulating or applying enough pressure on the uterine wall and cervix to trigger a natural birth. The second stage is when contractions were existing but stopped, mainly due to an oversized puppy and the muscles have become tired trying to push the puppy out.
It could be easy to miss primary inertia so I strongly recommend tracking the dam’s temperature before and up to her due date. You also have the option of ‘Reverse’ Progesterone testing, if the numbers are low this confirm the puppy is ready for birth, so you can confidently c-section. If you Progesterone tested on mating, then you would have confirmed ovulation before breeding so your due dates will be reliable to work with for possible c-section. Not all puppies will can be seen moving or even felt, especially on deep set breeds, I strongly recommend checking the puppy for a viable heart beat with ultrasound before deciding on a c-section.
Long Term Observations
Surviving singleton puppies develop like a typical puppy into adult dogs. Many commented the puppy ended up larger than the breed standard or then their Dams. Solo pups tend to be more demanding when it comes to play and stimulation due to the lack of siblings/playmates. This can mean they are more dependent on human interaction and if not handled correctly can become over demanding and dominate. One owner decided to neuter their male at 9 months old due to behavioural issues.
Credit to contributing owners
Thank you to the follow owners for replying to my plea with such detailed information on your experiences Dawn Gloster, Yvonne Kneller, Sue Jones, Ryan Hall, Katie Eyres, Lynn Clark. Catherine Fuller, Maggie Flack, Lynn Page, Michelle Ransom, Tracy Rolfe, Tracey-Ann Ryan, Alan Fisher, Karen Edwards, Sarah Roberts, Linda Gregory, Lisa Hayes, Casey Stipp, Ailsa Pocock, Kerry Maynard. Sandie Cullen, Rebecca Burr, Tracy Robinson, Lynne Underhill, Emma Beck and Lauren Mccarthy.
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