Reproduction - Fetal Resorption


Fetal resorption

Q: Dr. Mike, What are the most common causes of fetal reabsorption in an apparently healthy two year old (first pregnancy). Inital palpation disclosed at least 4 - 5 whelps at 25 days post breeding. Failure to gain weight led to subsequent evaluation at approx. 5 - 6 wks. post breeding. This revealed only one whelp; follow up ultrasound shows litter to be completely reabsorbed. Pre-breeding Brucella tests were negative. Thyroid screen was negative. I would appreciate any information you can give and any suggestions you might have regarding a work-up for this bitch. Thank you,

A: When I palpate bitches I suspect that the most common cause of suspected fetal resorption is imaginary fetuses in the first place! Some people are better at this than I am, though.

Fetuses will normally only be resorbed if they die during the first 1/2 of the pregnancy. It is possible for a bitch to resorb only some fetuses while others go on to be born.

The most common causes of fetal resorption are inadequate progesterone levels in the bitch, maternal infectious disease (such as brucellosis and canine herpesvirus), endometrial disorders, developmental defects in the fetus (unlikely to affect a whole litter).

Testing progesterone levels in the bitch can be done after estrus even if she isn't bred, due to the persistance of the corpus luteum in bitches. This is convenient, since you don't have to breed her in order to test for this problem. A complete physical exam with a general blood panel is a good idea. Testing for brucellosis and canine herpesvirus might be useful, although most bitches who lose litters to herpesvirus will have normal subsequent litters. Bacterial cultures of the vagina may be useful and in some cases uterine biopsy will be necessary to diagnose a problem.

There are reproductive specialists in veterinary medicine, known as theriogenologists. They can usually be found at veterinary schools.

It would be a really good idea to explore possible causes of not getting bred in the first place, since I am not the only vet who has palpated puppies who weren't there!

Part 2 - Resorption

Q: Dear Dr. Mike, Thank you for your reply. The bitch in question was definitely pregnant and is being worked up at present. She was bred On a short cycle and the owner feels this may be a reason for the problem. She is having a culture for mycoplasma - brucella .Tests for both the bitch and the stud were negative prior to breeding. Your comments about herpesvirus are interesting. Apparently The bitch had a cellulitis of the vulva prior to reabsorption. Might this in fact have been herpetic and might it have extended up the Reproductive tract? Again, thank you for the information. C.

A: I have not seen a reference to vaginal hyperplasia and herpes virus infection but the virus can cause small nodular lesions on the vulva and sometimes a serous vaginal discharge. Adult dogs usually show upper respiratory signs when they are first infected - conjunctivitis and rhinitis.

Mike Richards, DVM

Last edited 12/05/02


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...