Signs Of Retained Puppy In Dogs

What is a retained puppy?

A retained puppy, also known as a retained placenta, occurs when a mother dog fails to pass all of the placentas after giving birth to her puppies. The placenta is the sac that surrounds each unborn puppy in the womb. Normally, the mother dog will expel the placentas shortly after birthing each puppy. However, sometimes a placenta will remain in the uterus rather than being expelled. This is known as a retained placenta.

There are a few reasons why a retained placenta may occur in dogs. In some cases, the placenta does not detach properly from the uterus wall after the puppy is born. This can prevent the placenta from being expelled through the birth canal. Uterine inertia, or weak contractions, can also make it difficult to pass the placentas. Additionally, infected placentas are often retained as the uterus attempts to isolate the infection.

Overall, a retained placenta is an abnormal condition where one or more placentas fail to be expelled after whelping. It is considered a medical emergency in dogs as it can lead to potentially life-threatening complications if not treated promptly. The retained tissue must be removed, either medically or surgically, to avoid the risk of infection or excessive bleeding.

Signs and symptoms

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of retained puppies in dogs include:

Lack of energy: The mother dog may seem lethargic and lack her usual energy. This is due to the strain on her body from the retained puppy.

Appetite loss: The mother dog often loses her appetite because her body is focused on the retained puppy. Eating and digestion become lower priorities.

Restlessness: The mother dog may seem restless or uncomfortable. She may pace, dig, or show other signs of distress related to the retained puppy.

Straining or pushing: The mother dog may frequently strain or push, trying to expel the retained puppy. This is often unsuccessful. According to WagWalking, straining is a common sign of a retained placenta.

Vaginal discharge: Persistent green, dark brown, or black vaginal discharge can indicate a retained placenta and puppy. Normally the discharge should taper off, but continued discharge points to retained material. The discharge may have a foul odor as well.


There are several potential causes of retained placenta in dogs, including:

Uterine Inertia

Uterine inertia is when the uterus fails to contract properly after birth, which can prevent the placenta from detaching normally. This is one of the most common causes of retained placenta in dogs (source).

Large Litter Size

When a dog has a large litter, the uterus may become overly distended. This can potentially weaken uterine contractions and increase the risk of retained placenta (source).

Maternal Illness

Various illnesses in the mother dog, such as calcium deficiencies, sepsis, fever, or uterine infection, may impair the hormones and mechanisms involved in placental separation and expulsion (source).


The diagnosis for a retained puppy, also known as a retained placenta, begins with a physical examination by the veterinarian. They will look for signs of a green vaginal discharge, which is indicative of a retained placenta. An abdominal palpation may reveal a thickened uterus if placental tissues are still present.

Imaging tests like ultrasound and x-rays are also commonly used to check for any remaining placental tissue in the uterus. Ultrasound allows the vet to visualize the uterus and identify any placental remnants. X-rays can also reveal retained placental tissues appearing as soft tissue opacities in the uterus (Source). In some cases, the ultrasound or x-ray may miss the retained tissues and exploratory surgery is required to confirm the diagnosis.


The primary treatment for retained placentas in dogs is the hormone oxytocin, which stimulates uterine contractions to help expel the placenta. Oxytocin can be given as an injection or intravenous drip. According to PetMD, “If medical treatment with oxytocin is unsuccessful, surgery to remove the retained placenta from the uterus may be necessary.”

Another treatment option is calcium borogluconate, which can help stimulate uterine contractions when given intravenously. The vet may also try manual extraction of the placenta by gently pulling on any parts accessible through the cervix.

In severe cases where the placenta doesn’t detach or contractions aren’t strong enough, a cesarean section may be performed to surgically remove the placenta and any remaining fetal tissue from the uterus. According to WagWalking, “If surgery takes place, your dog’s veterinarian may recommend ovariohysterectomy (spay).”


Home care

If your dog has had surgery to remove a retained puppy, it is important to properly care for them at home during recovery. Here are some tips for home care:

Monitor for signs of infection at the surgery site, including redness, swelling, discharge, or foul odor. Contact your veterinarian if you notice any of these signs. You may need to bring your dog in for a recheck appointment and antibiotics.

Keep the surgery site clean and dry by using an Elizabethan collar and avoiding baths during the recovery period. Only clean around the incision with a damp cloth and pat dry.

Give any medications prescribed by your vet, such as antibiotics or pain medication, as directed.

Make sure your dog is eating, drinking, urinating, and defecating normally. Loss of appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea can be signs of complications.

Restrict activity and don’t allow jumping, running, or rough play during recovery. Take short, leashed walks for potty breaks only.

Provide a quiet, comfortable resting area with soft bedding and minimal disturbances.

Your vet will advise you on when normal activity can be resumed, usually in 7-14 days if healing properly.

Alert your vet immediately if you have any concerns about your dog’s recovery.


Some possible complications that can arise from a retained puppy include sepsis, uterine rupture, and hypocalcemia.

Sepsis occurs when bacteria from the decaying fetal or placental tissue enters the bloodstream, leading to infection throughout the body. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that requires emergency veterinary treatment with IV fluids and antibiotics (source).

The retained tissue can also cause the uterus to rupture, creating an open wound internally. A ruptured uterus is extremely dangerous and requires surgical repair (source).

Hypocalcemia, or low blood calcium levels, can happen 1-4 weeks after whelping if the dog’s body mobilizes too much calcium into the colostrum and milk. Signs include muscle tremors, restlessness, stiff gait, and seizure. Hypocalcemia is treatable with calcium supplements but can be fatal if untreated (source).


With prompt veterinary treatment, the prognosis for a dog with a retained placenta is generally good to guarded1. If left untreated, the retained tissue can become infected or cause toxicity, which can be life-threatening. However, most dogs recover fully with appropriate care.

Oxytocin injections successfully expel the retained placenta in over 80% of cases if given within 4 hours after whelping2. Manual removal may be necessary if medical management fails. With surgery, the prognosis is good as long as infection has not spread throughout the uterus.

Early treatment leads to better outcomes. Close monitoring, medications, and supportive care help prevent complications from developing. Complete recovery and future breeding capability are likely with timely veterinary care.


There are some steps breeders can take to help prevent retained puppies in dogs:

Ensure proper breeding timing – It’s important not to breed dogs too young or too old, as this can increase the risk of complications. Most experts recommend breeding female dogs between 2-6 years old for optimal health.

Conduct health screening – Thorough health checks on the sire and dam before breeding can identify issues like uterine infections or abnormalities that may lead to retained puppies. Some recommended health tests include brucellosis testing, vaginal cultures, and reproductive ultrasounds.

Provide excellent prenatal care – Proper nutrition, exercise, and veterinary care during pregnancy helps reduce issues like infections and weak contractions that can cause retained puppies. Regular vet checks, vaccines, deworming, and high-quality food supports healthy pregnancies.

According to this source, counting each placenta sack compared to puppies can help prevent retained placentas. Breeders should make sure each puppy has its own individual placenta passed.

While not always preventable, following responsible breeding practices gives puppies the best chance for healthy deliveries.

When to see a vet

Dogs with any signs of distress, a lack of puppy delivery, or abnormal discharge should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Some signs that indicate an emergency veterinary visit is needed include:

  • Maternal lethargy or weakness
  • Maternal vomiting or diarrhea
  • Lack of contractions or straining for over 4 hours with no puppy delivery
  • Green, black, or bloody discharge from the vulva
  • Foul odor from the vulva
  • Continued straining with no puppy born for over 30 minutes
  • Weakness, pale gums or bleeding from the vulva in the mother dog

Veterinary examination and emergency treatment may be required to help the mother dog deliver the retained puppies. X-rays or ultrasound can help the vet determine how many puppies are retained. Oxytocin injections, calcium supplementation or a Caesarean section may be recommended by the vet to aid delivery and save the puppies. Prompt veterinary care is essential for the health of both the mother dog and her puppies.

Sources: Persistent Deciduous Teeth (Baby Teeth) in Dogs, Retained Puppy Teeth: When and Why to Remove Them

Scroll to Top