We’d like to provide some insight into the breeding of these dogs and highlight some of the lesser-known complications they face when giving birth.
The normal stages of labour
There are three stages to a normal labour:
- The body preparing for birth with the cervix relaxing and dilating.
- The loss of uterine fluids and more vigorous straining leading to the delivery of the puppies.
- The foetal membranes (afterbirth) being delivered.
Over time, the selective breeding process has led to a mismatch between the puppies’ large heads and the mother's birth canal. This is known more technically as dystocia due to foetal-pelvic disproportion.
The breeds mainly affected by this condition include, but are not limited to, the English bulldog & the French bulldog, where over 80% of their puppies are delivered by Caesarean section.
In some cases of dystocia, the second stage may never begin, meaning the bitch fails to move from stage one to stage two safely. If labour has started naturally and this happens, your vet should be contacted immediately to intervene.
Although it is common practice for some brachycephalic dogs to require a Caesarean section to deliver their litter, surgery is not the only option. Your vet may be able to offer a medication to help to stimulate the birth or may have the opportunity to manually reposition and deliver the puppies.
Elective Caesarean section
Many owners will schedule an elective Caesarean section surgery ahead of the onset of natural labour. This is often the only safe way to ensure the survival of both mother and her litter. This is far preferable to the emergency C-sections that occur when a labour has started naturally, and the pups become trapped in the birth canal.
It is important to remember that while a Caesarean section is an option, it is by no means without risk; as flat-faced dogs have difficulty breathing, this type of major operation brings with it its own challenges, and the post-surgical pain will require effective management so that the mother can allow the pups to suckle close to her wound.
Whilst we understand the attraction of owning these mild-natured, cute-faced companions, we would always recommend that you do a significant amount of fact-finding before committing to owning a flat-faced dog. Be responsible in your decision to own and care for one of these breeds and always buy from a reputable animal organisation or registered breeder. Always ask to see any certificates, clinical history and health screening tests its parents will have had and, where possible, speak to the vet caring for the parents of the puppy. Often their care and previous health issues can provide an insight into future issues you may need to be aware of.
The Kennel Club: