Dystocia in Hedgehogs, Lagomorphs and Ferrets

Summary Information
Diseases / List of Miscellaneous / Metabolic / Multifactorial Diseases / Disease summary
Alternative Names --
Disease Agents
In Hedgehogs
  • Dystocia (difficulty in giving birth) may occur following pelvic fracture with reduction in the diameter of the pelvic canal (see: Fractures in Hedgehogs) (B284.6.w6) or with oversize fetuses. (J23.6.w1).
In Lagomorphs
  • Mismatch between the size of the fetus and the internal diameter of the mother's pelvic canal, or uterine inertia. (B602.18.w18)
  • Obesity, large fetus (this occurs especially in litters containing few kits) or malpresentation of a kit. (J29.10.w2)
In Ferrets
  • Large kits (B602.5.w5, B631.27.w27)(14-20 g, compared with the normal 8-10 g, and deformities in the kits. (B602.5.w5, B627.8.w8)
    • Litters of only one or two kits may be insufficient to induce parturition, and if this is induced late (e.g. 43 days) the kits may be too large, resulting in dystocia. (B602.5.w5)
  • Deformed or anasarcous kits. (B631.27.w27)
    • Congenital head deformities and delayed parturition are associated. (B602.5.w5, B627.8.w8)
  • Malpresentation (e.g. sideways presentation). (B631.27.w27)
  • Two kits from opposite horns reaching the birth canal at the same time; the head of one kit may then be deflected down onto its chest, preventing further progression. (B627.8.w8)
Infectious Agent(s) --
Non-infectious Agent(s) --
Physical Agent(s)
General Description
Clinical signs
In Hedgehogs
  • Dystocia due to overlarge fetuses (one as large as 24.5g) has been recorded with a prolonged delivery time, stillborn hoglets and death of the mother a few days later. (J23.6.w1)
In Lagomorphs
  • Dystocia is rare. Usually, all young (litter size in Oryctolagus cuniculus domesticus - Domestic European rabbit may be 4-12) are delivered over a period of about 30 minutes. Occasionally they may be delivered hours apart. (B602.18.w18)
  • Persistent contractions, straining. (B602.18.w18, J213.5.w1)
  • Vaginal discharge (bloody or green-brown). (B602.18.w18, J213.5.w1)
  • Note: dystocia should be considered an emergency situation. If a fetus dies in utero, an endotoxic shock syndrome can occur. (B615.8.w8)
In Ferrets
  • Restlessness, cries of pain, failure to care for kits which have been born. (B627.8.w8, B631.27.w27)
    • The jill may bite if palpation of the abdomen is attempted. (B627.8.w8)
  • Failure to produce all kits within 12-24 hours, or obvious distress/difficulty of the jill. (B602.5.w5, B631.27.w27)
    • Normally, kits are born at the rate of about five per hour, with the total parturition taking 2-3 hours, but this is variable. (B631.27.w27)
In Lagomorphs
Further Information
In Lagomorphs
  • Dystocia is rare. (B602.18.w18)
  • Normal presentation may be anterior or breech. (B602.18.w18)
  • Obesity may predispose to dystocia. (B602.18.w18)
In Ferrets
  • Dystocia may occur in about 1% of ferrets in a large group, including those failing to progress to parturition due to small litter size. (B602.5.w5)
In Lagomorphs
  • Fetuses should be gently removed manually, with their membranes removed quickly. (B602.18.w18, J213.5.w1)
  • An appropriate lubricant (water-based jelly) may assist passage of kits. (J213.5.w1)
  • For uterine inertia: give 10 mL 10% calcium gluconate orally, followed 30 minutes later by 1-3 units of oxytocin, intramuscularly (B602.18.w18) 1-2 units of oxytocin subcutaneously or intramuscularly (J213.5.w1). Leave the doe in a quiet, darkened room for the following 30-60 minutes. (B602.18.w18, J213.5.w1)
  • Caesarean section may be required if manual assistance and oxytocin administration are ineffective. (B602.18.w18, J213.5.w1)
In Ferrets
  • Oxytocin can be used to induce parturition. (B631.27.w27)
    • Do NOT use oxytocin if malpresentation is suspected, since this may result in uterine rupture, and may also cause premature separation of the placentas, resulting in death of the kits. (B627.8.w8)
  • Caesarean section. (B602.5.w5, B627.8.w8)
    • Preferably this should be carried out under gaseous anaesthesia. (B602.5.w5) 
    • If an injectable anaesthetic must be used, one which is reversible is preferable, and the jill should not be placed with the kits until recovered from the anaesthetic. (B602.5.w5) 
    • Keep the kits in a warm environment, e.g. on a heating pad or warm-water blanket until the jill has completely recovered from the anaeshetic. (B602.5.w5, B627.8.w8) 
    • Cyanotic kits should be given manual stimulation and placed in an oxygen-rich environment for a few minutes. (B602.5.w5) 
    • Note: kits two days or more overdue may be dehydrated and inactive. (B602.5.w5)
    • Keep the jill warm and hydrated; ensure she has food as soon as she is able to eat after recovering from the anaesthetic. (B627.8.w8)
In Hedgehogs
  • Female hedgehogs in which pelvic fracture has caused any reduction in the diameter of the pelvic canal must not be released; they may be euthanased, or maintained in permanent captivity away from male hedgehogs so that pregnancy does not occur, since dystocia is likely. (B284.6.w6)
In Ferrets
  • If palpation indicates only one kit, induce parturition at 41 days by giving 0. 5 mg prostaglandin F, then 1-4 hours later 6 USP units of oxytocin. Expect parturition 2-12 hours later. If the jill does not deliver the kit(s) within 24 hours, repeat the treatment of perform a Caesarean section. (B602.5.w5) 
Associated Techniques
Host taxa groups /species
Editor Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referees Aidan Raftery MVB CertZooMed CBiol MIBiol MRCVS (V.w122)

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