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Anaesthetic management of caesarean sections in dogs

02 April 2023
12 mins read
Volume 14 · Issue 3
Figure 1. Injection of local anaesthetic agent along the line of incision, immediately above the linea alba and avoiding mammary tissue.


Dystocia is a common complication of pregnancy in dogs and may require surgical intervention. Physiological changes during pregnancy and the vascular communication between mother and fetuses necessitate a careful approach to the anaesthetic. These changes and their implications are discussed, and specific management explored. Analgesia for the dam is a particular challenge, and options that limit impact on fetuses should be implemented where possible. Finally, Apgar scoring is covered as a means to assess fetal viability and care for ‘low’ and ‘critical’ patients is discussed. As clients are understandably stressed and have high expectations, the veterinary team must be prepared for these complicating factors.

A caesarean section is the surgical removal of fetuses from the pregnant bitch. Caesarean section is mainly indicated by dystocia, but elective caesarean sections are increasingly common for certain breeds of dog. Elective caesarean section may be performed for:

The VetCompass research programme has reported breed-associations and outcomes of caesarean section across the UK (O’Neill et al, 2017; 2019). In summary:

Surgical urgency has been linked to an increased mortality rate (Brodbelt et al, 2008), which is often the case with unplanned caesarean sections. There have been recent studies investigating protocols for caesarean sections elected before parturition (De Cramer et al, 2017; Groppetti et al, 2019; De Cramer and Nbthling, 2020). One study put the mortality rate associated with caesarean section at between 2.6% for conservative caesarean section and 4.2% for caesarean section with ovariohysterectomy (Conze et al, 2020). However, other studies have reported much lower mortality rates (Moon et al, 1998; 2000; Metcalfe et al, 2014).

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