Bullmastiff Pregnancy: The 7 most common issues during and post bullmastiff whelping

Breeding your female bullmastiff dog is not a decision that should be taken lightly. It is a time-consuming, messy, expensive, and sometimes heart-breaking enterprise. Large breeds such as Bullmastiffs, Boerboels, Rottweilers and Grate Danes require a special type of breeders’ tenacity and resilience and can be extremely costly and time consuming. However, if you have done your research and are happy to proceed for the right reasons on the guidelines of a properly experienced and professional bullmastiff breeder, this article may help you to recognise some of the problems that can occur during and after whelping. (Please also refer to our sargethrust bullmastiff breeding guide)

20160110_144543If your female bullmastiff is pregnant, it is important to know when the puppies are due, and if possible, how many you are expecting. An x-ray a week before the puppies are due can give a good approximation of how many are expected but also does not give any guarantees, so you may be better informed if a problem arises before all of the puppies are born. Talk to your vet for more details .

1. Dystocia

Dystocia is the term used when the mother-to-be bullmastiff is not progressing through labour as expected due to a problem.

Maternal Causes

  • Sometimes difficult birth is the result of problems with the shape and size of the pelvic canal. If the pelvis is narrow, either due to breed conformation or because of a previous fractured pelvis, delivering puppies may be difficult. This is especially true if the dog has a large head relative to the size of the pelvis.
  • Smaller Breeds, such as English Bulldogs, are more predisposed to dystocia than Bullmastiffs.
  • Uterine inertia can also cause dystocia. Uterine inertia occurs when the uterus is no longer able to contract and push the puppies through the vaginal canal. It can occur at any stage of labour and may be associated with uterine exhaustion.

About dystocia and c-sections in bullmastiffs: Dystocia is by far the biggest risk factor influencing many breeders’ reasoning to pre-schedule cesarian sections. In our experiece this is more commonly a risk factor experienced and mitigated with c-sections by breeders of bullmastiff lines imported to South-Africa in recent years (Year 2005 and later) as opposed to the locally established breeding lines which have been in the county for well over 40 years. Some vets and breeders in the United States claim that, “Bullmastiffs are almost always C-Section dogs”

Puppy Causes

  • The size of the pups can cause dystocia. If the puppy is too large, it will not fit in the birth canal. This can be common when there is only a single puppy in the litter and there is fewer motivation, competition, a longer birth route and therefore also more effort required for the pup to breach .
  • Puppies are normally born either head first or rear legs first. If the puppy is sideways or bottom first, they may become stuck.
  • Developmental defects that result in enlargement of certain body parts can make birth difficult.
  • Death of the puppy in utero can result in abnormal positioning and can affect uterine contractions and the fatality rate of pups to follow.

Time to call the vet

  • Your female Bullie has been pregnant for over 63 days.
  • Stage I labour has gone on for 24 hours without producing a pup
    • Stage I normally lasts 6 to 12 hours – the dog will exhibit nesting behaviour and her temperature will drop.
  • Steady strong contractions have continued for over half an hour without producing a pup.
  • Prolonged resting phase continues over 4 hours when there are more pups to be delivered
  • The first three pups have been born, but the birthing delay of any next pup exceeds 1.5 X the average delay experienced between pup one and two and pup two and three.
  • There is a foul smelling or bloody vaginal discharge.
  • The mother-to-be has excessive vomiting or is extremely lethargic.Red Sargethrust Male Puppy


First your veterinary surgeon will do a physical examination, including a vaginal exam, to determine whether the pups can move through the birth canal. An x-ray to determine the size, shape and number of pups may also be necessary. If your vet feels the pups can move through the birth canal, there are a variety of medications available to assist labour.

  • If uterine inertia is suspected, medication can be administered to stimulate contractions of the uterus.
  • After prolonged labour, the mother may have low blood sugar or low blood calcium. In this case, your veterinarian will give calcium and dextrose injections which can help strengthen uterine contractions
  • If easy passage is not possible, or if medical treatment is not effective, your veterinary surgeon will deliver the pups by Caesarean section.


There is little that can be done to prevent dystocia, but having good knowledge of what to expect from the birthing process and detecting problems early – resulting in prompt veterinary assistance – will give the mother the best chance of delivering live, healthy puppies.

Common problems post whelping

Most post-whelping problems are seen within the first few hours after whelping. Sometimes conditions occur that mean the bitch is unable to feed her pups, and they will have to be hand reared and fed milk replacer. It is important that if this is the case that the puppies receive colostrum to ensure they have a good immune system.

The most common post whelping problems are listed below:

2. Eclampsia (milk fever)


Eclampsia is caused by low blood calcium levels (hypocalcaemia) in dogs. The lactating (milk producing) bitch is especially susceptible to blood calcium depletion because the body cannot keep up with the increased demand for calcium. This is because dogs lack the ability to quickly move calcium into their milk without depleting their own blood levels of this mineral.


Litters do not need to be large to cause eclampsia. Small breed dogs are at higher risk than larger breed dogs, but larger litters do place a heavier burden and a higher demand for calcium on the lactating bitch. The puppies themselves may not be affected as the mother’s milk may still appear to be normal during this period.


Eclampsia can become very serious very quickly but fortunately the signs are fairly easy to recognise. Affected dogs may:

  • Appear restless and nervous
  • Walk with a stiff gait and may even wobble or appear disoriented
  • Become unable to walk and her legs may become stiff or rigid
  • Fever, with body temperature even over 40º C.
  • Affected bitches often develop muscle tremors and puppies may shake uncontrollably.
  • The respiration rate (number of breaths per minute) will increase.
  • Seizures may also occur, at this point; death can occur if no treatment is given.


Seek veterinary attention at once and prevent the puppies from nursing for at least 24 hours. Feed them with a commercial milk replacer, which includes adequate calcium levels. A veterinary surgeon can confirm eclampsia with a blood test to determine blood calcium levels. Eclampsia can also be rapidly corrected by your vet through the use of intravenous calcium supplementation.


Adequate amounts of calcium need to be consumed by the pregnant bitch, but not so much that the production of parathyroid hormone is reduced. Parathyroid hormone is essential for maintaining adequate blood calcium levels. This means calcium supplements are generally not recommended. Also, it is important for the calcium and phosphorus in the diet to be at the correct ratio of 1 part calcium to 1 part phosphorus and vitamin D must also be present.Puppy foods are formulated with the correct ratios of calcium and phosphorus, so these are the best option to feed your bitch.

3. Haemorrhage

If your bullmastiff bitch experiences a heavy significant flow of blood any time after whelping, call your vet immediately.  This is a very serious emergency.

4. Retained Placenta and Pups

Signs of retained placentas or puppies may follow whelping immediately, or several days later.


Symptoms include:

  • persistent vomiting
  • dehydration
  • lack of appetite
  • depression
  • weakness
  • green vaginal discharge

These are all signs of a retained placenta, or even a retained puppy.  Seek veterinary advice immediately.

5. Metritis

Metritis means inflammation of the uterus (womb), and is usually associated with infection.  Uterine infections are emergencies that can be fatal if not treated quickly.  Metritis sometimes follows after long or difficult labor.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Dehydration
  • Dull eyes
  • Reduced milk production
  • Foul smelling discharge from the vagina.

This condition is very serious and requires immediate veterinary attention. The uterus may be so badly inflamed that it could be fatal to the bitch. In such cases the vet will insist to remove the uterus surgically. Most breeders should insist on intravenous antibiotic treatment as a first measure whereby early response to medication will give a better indication if surgery is required.

6. Mastitis

Mastitis is very common and refers to swelling, inflammation, and infection of the mammary gland and is typically caused by three kinds of bacteria: E. coli, Staphylococcus, or Streptococcus. Mastitis is most often seen in dogs during the first two weeks after delivery.Keevah 1 Year+

Symptoms include:

  • Affected mammary glands are typically hot, swollen, firm to hard and may be painful to the touch
  • Severely infected glands may be black in colour or even rupture, leaking a foul-smelling pus discharge

Mastitis is fairly easy to treat but can be deadly if left untreated. Seek veterinary advice immediately.

7. Maternal damage to puppies

In rare cases, the bitch can cause damage to her own puppies. In some cases, this is accidental – the mother tends to eat the placenta and sometimes goes a bit too far and can cause damage to the puppy’s umbilical area. In other cases, the mother can bite or eat her puppies. This is very uncommon for bullmastiffs as they tend to have excellent maternal instincts, however accidents are still possible. IMG-20160312-WA0010Therefore it is wise to observe the mother carefully for the first few days after birth. If she does this, it is not a good idea to breed from her again, and in such cases your bullmastiff girl should unfortunately be spayed as soon as possible before her next heat.


Bullmastiff Pregnancy(Canine Pregnancy): The 7 most common issues during and post bullmastiff whelping

Bullmastiff Pregnancy (Canine Pregnancy): The 7 most common issues during and post bullmastiff whelping

S Nehring / Breeder

Avid and diligent breed standard maintainer

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