When and Why to X-ray A Pregnant Bitch?

Jan 13, 2020

Why would I consider getting an x-ray for Karly?

There seems to be a trend in the breeding sector of getting x-rays of soon-to-be mommas.  I had never done this before and wanted to explore my options. 

At first, my thoughts were just about the negative side of getting an x-ray.  Not only would I be adding one more vet expense to my bottom line, but then there is the worry of exposing my girl and her babies to the radiation involved with the process.

So, it was time to see if the pros out-weighed the cons……….

Pros of X-raying a pregnant bitch

Litter count –

Breeders are always curious about how many pups will be in a litter; it’s just human nature.  But it’s also beneficial to know ahead of time how many there will be. 

Although x-rays are not always accurate, they can help determine when whelping is complete.  With Karly, two different vets could see seven puppies for sure.  One vet counted skulls and the other vet counted backbones. If she had whelped less than seven and then seemed to be finished I would have known something was wrong and been able to get her some help.

As I mentioned, x-rays are not always accurate.  Some puppies may not be visible especially if it’s a larger litter. In Karly’s case, the x-ray showed seven pups visible and she did have seven.

Puppy sizes –

How many puppies are in the litter affects the size of the puppies.  Womb space is prime real estate!  If the litter is large, the size of the pups is normally smaller since the womb is more crowded.  If the litter is smaller than average for the breed, the pups can grow larger with the extra space.   Smaller pups usually equal easier delivery.  Vice versa, larger pups can cause complications.  A breeder should always be prepared in case the bitch needs a c-section, but it’s even better to know when the risk is increased.

Regardless of the size of the litter, an x-ray can also give an idea of the size of the puppies.  By looking at the skulls on the x-ray, a vet can tell a) if one or more puppies look larger than the others and b) if the size of the skulls looks too large in proportion to the size of the pelvic canal. 

With Karly’s first litter, there was one pup that was larger than the others.  She struggled delivering him, but fortunately she was finally able to succeed.  If he had been larger and she’d taken much longer, we would have been on our way to the emergency vet (it was about one o’clock in the morning).  With this litter, we were able to see that all the pups looked very consistent in size.  That was a great relief!

Cons of X-rays

Stress –

As the owner, therefore protector, of my girls, I like to keep their pregnancies as stress-free as possible.  It’s important to know the personalities of all your dogs, but especially important once you have chosen to breed.  I know that Karly loves meeting new people and I know she will do almost anything for a belly rub.  Both of these factored into my decision to take her for the x-ray.  Meeting the vet and staff at the vet clinic was a pleasant experience for her and I let them know to just rub her belly while positioning her.  They all told me how much she enjoyed getting that full tummy rubbed.

All-in-all, this was an exciting trip for Karly.  With my other girls, it might be a different story and I will have to consider them individually when making the decision to x-ray or not.

Is It Safe?

When I started researching the safety of doing an x-ray, I found a full spectrum of answers and opinions.  The truth is…………we really don’t know. 

Here’s Karly as we were waiting for her to get her x-ray. She was calm and relaxed. Don’t let her look fool you. This girl has a 6th sense about when I’m trying to take a picture.

As soon as any staff walked in the room, she would get all excited and start shaking her little wiggle butt!

When Should An X-ray Be Done?

To answer this question, there are a couple of things to understand. 

First, remember that an x-ray produces images of the structures inside your body, particularly your bones.

Second, formation of bones occurs with the accumulation of calcium salts in body tissues.

The bones in a puppy fetus do not “calcify” until approximately day 49 during gestation.  Keeping this schedule in mind, a more accurate x-ray will be produced by waiting until about day 55.  I purposely scheduled Karly’s x-ray for day 58.

** I want to add a note here that an x-ray can also be a valuable tool if your bitch has whelped but seems in distress.  An x-ray can let you know if there might be another pup and veterinary intervention is necessary.

Are There Other Alternatives to X-Ray

Ultrasound –

One alternative to doing an x-ray is to do an ultrasound.  Ultrasounds can be done earlier in the gestational cycle, as early as day 28 to confirm a pregnancy.  While an ultrasound is a safe and non-invasive alternative, it is not nearly as accurate as an x-ray for litter count and puppy size.

Palpation –

Another alternative to x-ray is to have your veterinarian palpate the abdomen of your bitch.  He can feel along both horns of the uterus for the puppies.  This can be done as early as day 28 but must be done by a professional so as not to do any damage to the mom or pups.  This method also takes some experience and skill.  As my vet told me…… 

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the heads and the butts.

– Dr. Vernon White DVM

While this method is somewhat accurate for litter count, it is not as useful as an x-ray to determine puppy size.

Will I Do X-rays Again?

Honestly, I don’t know. 

This is Karly’s second litter and while she had one pup a little larger than the rest in her first litter, she has been able to deliver on her own.  Her litters have also been of average size, six on the first and seven with this one.  Unless there is something unusual with her next litter, then I probably won’t do any more x-rays for her.

The other two females here at Krazy K are both young, so we do not know what to expect with them.  Kimber is leery of strangers, so it would be a more stressful event for her.  Leesi, while more out-going than Kimber, is also a little leery.  With both of these girls,  I may rely on mother nature and my years of breeding experience to guide us through the journey.