Q: I have a bulldog and I want her to have puppies but my veterinarian says it’s a bad idea because she’ll need a C-section. That sounds extreme. What do you think?
A: You’re right. While they’re extremely common, C-sections are extreme. Yet your dog was born that way. Which means her babies would be, too. In fact, I’ve never met a bulldog (English or French) who wasn’t a C-section baby. Lots of tiny breeds suffer reproductive troubles, too, especially if the boy is significantly bigger. Smushy-headed cats like Persians are similarly at risk.
Yes, C-sections are a surprisingly common affair. Which is kind of strange, if you think about it. After all, in a world where more pets need homes than have them, it’s almost unfathomable that veterinarians should routinely schedule these expensive procedures to ensure that pets can safely give birth to offspring — dogs and cats who will typically require the same procedure should they, in turn, reproduce.
Given the controversy in human medicine, it’s not surprising that the issue of C-sections would prove troublesome in veterinary medicine, too. Though the issues (and the stakes) are different in the pet world, the topic is also controversial. That’s because the C-section, when employed for breeds of dogs and cats incapable of natural birth, smacks of an animal welfare violation.
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Among those who pay attention to animal welfare issues, especially as they pertain to the genetic selection of purebred dogs, the C-section is a subject uncomfortably entrenched at the intersection of purebred breeding, genetic disease, animal welfare and veterinary ethics.
Though most small-animal veterinarians perform emergency C-sections on a fairly regular basis (typically when the female has gone well past term or when labor is significantly prolonged), few of us believe that healthy moms and babies are better served by C-section. “Natural birth is always preferable” is the prevailing party line.
In too many cases, however, C-sections happen because the pets in question possess an exaggerated cranial conformation that makes the birth canal a no-go. These pets are built all wrong in many ways, and not just when it comes to reproduction.
Which raises some questions: Why are we propagating any breed of dog or cat whose very survival requires a procedure most veterinarians agree should be unnecessary?
To be sure, C-sections save lives. Whether we’re talking about humans or pets, getting babies out fast is imperative in some instances. But do we really need to actively breed pets who can’t live without them?
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.