A breeders nightmare......a bitch carrying a singleton puppy can have a number of problems.


This has been another busy week. As you all know, we have a large following of breeders, really good breeders who do a really great job of providing well-bred dogs with important and predictable health and behaviour qualities.

That being said, some lose track of their breeding timing. Why is that important? If you can get your dam pregnant without progesterone timing, why should you worry about timing her? We had multiple dams due in the last 2 weeks without good timing. If you have trouble at the back end of the pregnancy, we can’t predict when she is due. The following are real cases from the past 2 weeks:

1. Three (no make it 4) dams due with singleton pups. These girls don’t go into labour at the 63 day post ovulation mark. Why? Because labour is initiated by the pups, not the dam. If there is not enough hormone secreted by the pup(s) because there is a small litter and they are not stressed, the dam may not initiate labour until the placentas and pup(s) are more than 65 days along, leading to placental deterioration and fetal death. This is a tragic way to end a pregnancy – with a c-section and a dead fetus. One dam was out of state for her breeding – test anyway (see below).

2. Two dams with exceptionally large litters. These girls were getting into trouble due to the volume of puppies and associated placentas and fluid. We can only safely deliver pups 2 days before their due date, based on ovulation. (Ovulation occurs at 4-8 ng/dl). Without knowing their due date, we could not have safely done a c-section to save not only the pups but the dam as well. No one wants to lose a puppy. But in most breeders’ eyes, saving their dam is even more important. We saved both dams and their pups by early intervention – a c-section at day 61.

3. One dam who should have delivered her pups but failed to progress into a successful labor. We took her to c-section and found the first pup trying to be delivered was heading north in the southbound lane. He blocked the way for other pups making a c-section the only hope in saving the dam and the other littermates. This was an unplanned breeding – well, unplanned by the owner, not the dogs. She had a history of failure to conceive so no one thought she would have a pregnancy.

4. One dam with a huge disparity in fetal size and position. She had 6 pups in one uterine horn and 1 in the opposite horn. The first pups that would have been born vaginally in either horn were HUGE. Without a planned and well-timed c-section, at least the first pup would have been born so slowly that the pup would have likely been stillborn. Dams weighing 24 pounds should not have 15 oz pups. Because we knew her due date, we scheduled a c-section and saved the entire litter.

5. One dam who lost her entire litter last year to premature progesterone drop. She is being monitored carefully to assure her litter can be saved with supplementation if needed.

Need I say more? So even if you don’t need to know what day to do the breeding, you do need to know the day the pups are due. At the very least, have a progesterone test drawn, the blood spun in the centrifuge and the serum frozen. In this way, IF she is pregnant and we need to run the blood from the time of the breeding, we can thaw the serum and run the test at the end of her pregnancy. Why not just run “reverse progesterones”? Because they require daily trips to the vet. Because you may end up with your dam going into labuor after hours and end up at the Emergency Vet. Because they may drop early in the case of luteal insufficiency or a pregnancy gone wrong. Because, in the case of a small litter, they won’t drop till the placentas have deteriorated and the pup has succumbed to placental failure.

Progesterone tests don’t cost that much – not as much as the time it takes you to run back and forth to the vet every day. And not as much as the loss of a pup or dam will. And not as much as it will cost you in heartbreak for losing pups we could have saved with timing on the front end of the pregnancy.

Breeding dates are NOT the same as ovulation dates.

Last update to stats
From 1st January 2019 - 1st September 2023

Number of bitches scanned with a singleton puppy 85
Number of bitches who whelped naturally with a live puppy 15

The information is from my own experience and that of my clients, if you are in any doubt, you should discuss your options with your vet.  There are two facebook groups, Singleton Puppies UK, and Singleton Puppies (the latter a worldwide group), and you will find hundreds of breeders who have been in the same situation together with their experiences.   This will help you make an informed decision on the way forward.

If you wait for nature to take its course this can lead to the puppy dying and the bitch having to have a C section and no puppy to wake up to.

If in doubt, always have a Reverse Progesterone Test which can be beneficial in knowing when to intervene. If the progesterone level has already fallen and the bitch has failed to whelp, your vet may intervene and carry out a C section. However, be warned that the progesterone levels in a a dam carrying a singleton puppy will not always drop.

I have scanned a number of singleton puppies, and have had my own singleton (below).
Owners are often unaware their bitch is even pregnant as they show no signs of weight gain, and it is for this very reason I always recommend an ultrasound to confirm, as you don't want to get to 63 days gestation to find your bitch is in distress trying to deliver a singleton puppy that has got stuck in the birth canal.
(I have had this happen with a frantic client who called me early one morning, the puppy had got stuck and unfortunately was born dead)

Knowing the problems others have had, and after discussing it with my vet, after an examination of my bitch, and determining the size of the puppy, I chose to have an elective section which was planned at 63 days after the last mating.

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. 

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.

From the feedback I have been given of singletons I have scanned here, only 8% have whelped naturally, but of those born naturally only two puppies survived more than 7 days, 100% of the puppies born by elective section survived.

My bitch, 'Teisha' (below with her little girl who we named Anya) went into natural labour, (which is often not the case with singleton litters), at 61 days, and even though she was actively pushing, having discussed it with my vet the week before, we felt the puppy was going to be too big for her to delivery naturally and I was taking no chances and rushed her to the vets. She was home two hours later, as bright as a button and full of the joys of spring, and you would not have known she had had anything done. The vet gave her Oxytocin to bring the milk in, and although she didn't take to motherhood immediately, which is not unusual with bitch's who have had a C section, and first time mums, and wanted to continue life as normal with the other dogs, the puppy was feeding as soon as I got her home. I had to clean the pup up for a few days until mum got the idea.

Below Teisha and Anya (Anya was around 6 weeks old here and one of her
first trips out in the garden as it was a lovely warm day)

As there is a higher percentage of re-absorption with singletons, I always recommend at least two scans, one when pregnancy is confirmed, and another between 6 - 7 weeks, although I have only seen two where the puppy has been reabsorbed.
Very few of the singleton litters I have scanned have been born naturally, the bitch has either had a pre planned elective section, or been rushed to the vet during labour.

Data shows that puppies that naturally whelped and survived were on average born around 62 days gestation, the survival rate decreased from 63 days. Most singletons are larger than average, and for some the labour stages are prolonged and difficult. 50% of owners who have chosen to opt to try a natural whelp have said they would not recommend others going through the same experience have an elective section on the due date.

The majority of owners have no issues with milk production or the need to hand feed or supplement, although most vets will give Oxytocin to bring in the milk, some won't and breeder sometimes have to have to hand rear.

Most puppies born by c-section that survived are born around 61 - 62 days, the survival rate decreases from 63 days onwards. Some owners feel their vet delayed the option of a c-section 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.

In the majority of cases, when a bitch is rushed into the vets with whelping complications, puppy's are born sleeping or as they have been distressed, not survived longer than two days after birth. . Of the owners that had veterinary agreement to elective section on their due date 100% of these puppies where born alive.

In summary.........Singleton puppies can be whelped naturally, however, mainly due to puppy size, positioning or lack of contractions the chances of c-section increases significantly, but the survival rate reduces significantly too when the section is left to become an emergency.

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. Although you also run the risk of a puppy being stuck, which then means an emergency c 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, 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. 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.

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.  

I introduced my singleton to the young adults at five weeks and they played with her really well, although she is definitely very 'needy' and needs me to tell her how special she is on a regular basis!

Some vets are very reluctant to do an elective section now, even for singleton pups. Most will be happy to do a reverse progesterone test, but levels don't always drop with a singleton.

One sad story was a bitch I scanned with a singleton and the owner couldn't find a vet to do an elective section. She contacted me when the bitch was on day 69 from last mating to get her checked as she hadn't felt the puppy move, she hadn't had a progesterone test and as such the vets were not sure of ovulation date. The vets wanted to wait another three days, and on day 72, the bitch went into natural labour but the puppy was born dead. If you are worried, have regular scans to check on the puppy's heartbeat.

December 2022 - I scanned another bitch this evening who was due four days previously, she had a black discharge and I could find no heartbeat, puppy looked on ultrasound as if it had started to decompose.




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