Last Updated on March 25, 2023 by Becky Roberts
You didn’t plan for it and you weren’t prepared for it, but it’s happened: your dog has “accidentally” mated with another dog. And now she’s showing signs of pregnancy.
What can you do now? What options do you have in dealing with pregnancy in dogs? Is it advisable for your dog to have puppies or not? And if it comes to it, can dogs get abortions?
- 1 Things to consider
- 2 The available methods
- 3 Pre- and Post-abortion care
- 4 The other options
- 5 Summary
Things to consider
Technically speaking, yes, abortions can be performed on pregnant dogs at any stage, if necessary.
But it’s not that simple to implement. Moreover, it will be a major physical ordeal for your dog to go through. Whether it’s necessary and viable (or not) will depend on the following factors:
1. What the law requires for a canine abortion
As in many places in the world, terminating a canine pregnancy is legal in the United States.
However, state laws typically require that the abortion procedure be prescribed, performed, or guided by a licensed professional (i.e., veterinarian).
Another typical requirement is that it’s conducted humanely, in keeping with other existing laws on proper animal treatment. The best way to ensure that is to have a licensed professional involved. Don’t attempt to perform a canine abortion by yourself or through someone else.
So when a vet refuses to perform an abortion on your pregnant dog because it might endanger your dog — and then you find a way to push through with the abortion without the vet’s cooperation or supervision — if your dog ends up suffering or getting harmed in the process, you could be charged with animal cruelty.
2. If the dog is less than 45 days into the pregnancy
If abortion is performed on a pregnant dog early enough, it does little harm to the dog. But vets usually don’t recommend abortion if the dog in question is well past the 45th day of pregnancy. Any abortion attempt at that point will make the dog suffer physical stress and emotional trauma. (More on this, later.) It could be more humane to let the pregnancy come to term.
3. If it’s medically necessary and safe for your dog
Even when it’s early enough in the pregnancy to perform an abortion, you and the vet must consider the possible adverse effects of whichever abortion method might have on your particular dog. (Again — more on the available abortion methods, later.)
And these aren’t all minor side effects. Some of these can seriously exacerbate any existing health conditions (e.g., diabetes) your dog might already have before the pregnancy:
- Blood loss
- Mammary gland congestion
- Suppressed immune system (and increased risk of infection or illness)
- Pyometra (uterine infection)
But there also could be worse risks for your dog in particular if she goes through with the pregnancy.
Perhaps she’s too young or is in ill health. Perhaps the father of her pups is a much larger dog and she’s too fragile to go through the birth via C-section. Perhaps she (or the pups) have congenital defects that will make the pregnancy dangerous. Perhaps she has also contracted a dangerous infection that threatens both her life and that of the unborn pups (e.g., E.coli, Neospora Caninum), and the best solution is a termination of pregnancy. After assessing your dog’s current state, your vet will probably tell you it’s better to go through with the pregnancy termination to at least save your dog’s life.
4. How much the idea bothers (or doesn’t bother) you
As I mentioned earlier, an abortion is going to be a major physical ordeal for your dog. You’ll have to consider if it’s worth it, to make your dog go through all that.
You might also have to deal with judgmental looks or comments from other people who aren’t medical experts (pet parents, breeders, animal rights activists, etc.), before, during, and after the procedure. I’m not exaggerating here — I’ve seen it happen to other dog owners. Rightly or wrongly, some people are going to remind you that abortion in dogs is not the dog’s choice but yours — and that it’s done at your convenience rather than the dog’s. They’ll tell you that you’re putting your dog through needless suffering, that you were being irresponsible with your dog’s birth control in the first place, and now you’re spending even more money trying to fix what could have been avoided.
Whether or not all of that is indeed true in your case is beside the point. If you decide to push through with the abortion, you’ll have to prepare yourself for any possible criticism or unsolicited advice.
The available methods
The abortion methods your vet can recommend will depend on your dog’s state of health, how far she is into the pregnancy, and if you still hope to let her breed in the future.
This is a surgical procedure that’s technically the same as spaying or neutering. The ovaries and the uterus — along with any fetuses contained within — are completely removed. If the puppies in the uterus are already well-formed, the whole procedure will also include euthanization.
This method is often used for cases where the pregnancy is advanced or at least halfway through.
However, as with any major canine surgery, are certain risks with ovariohysterectomy. For instance: if your dog has allergies or negative reactions to anesthesia, or has a tendency to bleed excessively and be slow at blood clotting, the entire procedure might put your dog under excessive physical stress. And of course, after this procedure, the dog will no longer be able to breed.
This is why many vets tend to discourage canine abortions during the latter half of a dog’s pregnancy and recommend letting the dog give birth instead (and putting the resulting puppies up for adoption).
2. Drug-induced abortions
If the pregnancy is still in its early stages and the dog is healthy enough, the vet can recommend the use of drugs to induce a miscarriage or neonatal death. The added advantage of this method is that the dog’s reproductive system is spared; you then have the option of letting her breed again later on.
Drug-induced abortions will make a pregnant dog miscarry. If the treatment is successful, the dog will go through some symptoms of miscarriage: embryonic death, the expulsion of the fetuses, vaginal discharge, abdominal pain, some blood loss, nausea, weakness, and general discomfort.
Some of these drugs come in the form of a series of “abortion pills.” Others are a series of injections.
Here are some of the drugs or substances which the vet may employ:
Yup, the famous corticosteroid that doctors now use to help human patients stricken with a severe form of COVID-19 is also the same drug (in a different form and dosage) that veterinarians use to induce abortions in dogs.
For canine abortions, dexamethasone usually comes in the form of pills. It can be given to dogs that have been pregnant for 30 days or a little earlier, as the corticosteroid can bring about the expulsion of the fetuses in the womb at that stage. The pills are usually given to the dog to swallow twice a day, over a period prescribed by the vet. The drug takes effect 10 days or more after it’s been administered.
The possible side effects are excessive thirst and urination, frequent hunger, restlessness, immune system suppression (and increased risk of infection), and Cushing’s syndrome (obesity and other symptoms of excessive exposure to cortisol-like drugs, like dexamethasone).
This means that pregnant dogs with serious pre-existing health conditions (e.g., diabetes) should not be given the dexamethasone treatment.
2.2. Oral estrogens
These are oral drug preparations that can only be used during the earliest days of a dog’s pregnancy. Some of the estrogen formulas may use estradiol cypionate (ECP), estradiol benzoate (EB), or diethylstilbestrol.
Test treatments with estradiol benzoate (EP) have proven the drug delays the descent of any successfully fertilized egg or embryo into the dog’s uterus. (This means embryos don’t get to implant themselves in the uterus, and gradually degenerate.)
Meanwhile, other recent tests show that diethylstilbestrol and estradiol cypionate (ECP) seemingly have little effect on pregnancies. What’s more concerning, however, is that the same studies have also shown that estrogen therapy is associated with a higher chance of developing pyometra and aplastic anemia (failure to produce new red blood cells).
Not surprisingly, this has led many veterinarians to avoid oral estrogens as a method for aborting a canine pregnancy.
2.3. Prostaglandins and/or prolactin inhibitors
Prostaglandins are lipid-based compounds that exist in many animals, including humans. These have hormone-like effects on many key biological processes, from the regulation of blood clots and muscle tissues to the sexual reproductive cycle.
Prostaglandin is usually injected into the pregnant dog 3 times daily for several days or until all the fetuses are expelled from the uterus. General injections like these can bring about some uncomfortable side effects for your dog (like diarrhea, nausea, and tremors), especially when the treatment extends to more than several days. So vets will often also apply an intravaginal dose of prostaglandin so that it goes straight to the uterus — thus, reducing the length of treatment and adverse effects.
Vets will often combine the use of prostaglandin and a prolactin inhibitor to induce abortion in a pregnant dog. (Though either one can be used as a standalone abortion method.)
Meanwhile, prolactin inhibitors are often applied in cases where a pregnancy is already halfway through. But more often, vets will now combine the use of prostaglandin and a prolactin inhibitor (as a follow-up oral drug).
Prolactin or lactotropin is a protein that mammals produce in their bodies to signal or regulate things like metabolism, the pancreas, the immune system, the sexual reproductive cycle, and (more famously) nursing or milk production. So a prolactin inhibitor or modulator is a drug that either induces or suppresses the protein — which in turn will regulate or suppress processes like the reproductive cycle and milk production (lactation).
These are also called antiprogestins, “progesterone antagonists,” or “progesterone blockers.” These are drugs that block the production of the progesterone sex hormone, which triggers certain phases in the sexual reproductive cycle of mammals (including humans and dogs).
As a method of abortion, antiprogestogens can only be used for pregnancies that are no older than 45 days. These are applied through a series of injections stretched over 2 weeks. This particular treatment is the strongest or most surefire method of abortion and is also the most expensive.
Note, however, that dogs that are already into the 20th to 30th day of pregnancy will endure severe side effects from this treatment. Aside from the expected fetal expulsion and blood loss, dogs can also experience temporary anorexia (loss of weight and appetite) and congestion in their mammary glands (teats).
Pre- and Post-abortion care
Before the procedure (or even the decision to abort), your vet should perform a diagnostic procedure and pregnancy test on your dog to determine how far gone she is on her pregnancy (days of gestation).
If it’s applicable in your dog’s case, your vet might do a blood test and/or X-ray. Your vet might also prescribe a preliminary treatment (e.g., special diet and vitamins) to boost your dog’s health before going through an abortion.
Regardless of the method used, once the abortion treatment is done your dog will suffer through some of the side effects I mentioned earlier.
If it’s a drug-induced abortion, your vet might recommend placing your dog on round-the-clock days during the days when the actual abortion (i.e., miscarriage and expulsion of fetuses) is expected. It might be best to keep your dog at the hospital rather than at home because it could get bloody or messy. And if you or the vet aren’t on hand for the actual miscarriage, your dog might end up eating some of the material she expels out of her womb!
Whether her initial recovery is done at the hospital or in your home, your dog will need a clean, warm, cozy, and peaceful place to convalesce.
She’ll suffer a lot of discomfort long after the whole process, and will need plenty of time to heal. Make sure she has easy access to fresh water and food (but consult the vet first on how much water or food to give, especially if the abortion was drug-induced). Give her plenty of affection and encouragement. Make sure her dog bed is clean and secure, and she has her toys to distract her.
If her abortion involved surgery, keep your dog’s surgical wound clean by making her wear an old shirt to help keep the bandages and sutures from dragging on the floor whenever she lies down. Have her wear an e-collar around her neck, to prevent her from scratching or licking at the wound (and infecting it!) while it heals.
The vet might also prescribe a round of antibiotics, painkillers, and/or anti-inflammatory drugs after the abortion. Make sure to follow the vet’s instructions for administering the medicines.
Watch carefully for symptoms that the vet says shouldn’t be there during the recovery process. If you see any of the following clinical signs of pyometra or some other infection, bring her back to the vet again for treatment:
- Bloated belly
- Odd vaginal discharge
The other options
Be honest with yourself, too. If the pregnancy itself isn’t threatening your dog’s life, ask yourself: do I want the abortion only because I don’t want the inconvenience of dealing with an unwanted pregnancy and unwanted puppies?
If so, then consider contacting your nearest animal shelter or humane society for help. Explain your situation. They might be able to help you by assigning a foster parent or pet sitter to look after your dog whenever you’re too busy to care for her. They can coordinate with your vet for medical checkups. They can help with the actual birth and nursing of the pups. And most importantly, they can find pet parents or forever homes for the puppies. It’ll likely be cheaper and less stressful for your dog than having an abortion.
Whether you do push through with the pregnancy or go through with the abortion with your dog’s reproductive system intact, you must also consider what’s next. Do you want your dog to have puppies in the future or not?
If you don’t, have her spayed as soon as the vet says it’s safe for her to undergo that surgery. (Click here to know what to expect from newly-neutered dogs.)
And if you do want her to have puppies again, be more vigilant with where you let her run or play. Pick her mates more carefully!
So yes, dogs can get abortions. But they’re not without nasty side effects. (After all, it’s healthier for adult dogs to get pregnant than to go through an abortion or a miscarriage.)
Make sure you understand all the options applicable to your dog before you decide to have that procedure or not. Remember that your dog’s welfare and comfort are in your hands, and she’s relying on you to make the right decision for her.