AKC Gazette
Lhasa Apso Column
December 2020

The bitch had an uneventful pregnancy, her second. She had delivered her first litter easily and quickly, but this time one puppy was born, labor slowed, then stopped. A late-night trip to the emergency clinic revealed a very large puppy stuck in the uterine horn. Usually, this story ends following surgery with a mildly sleepy, very fat healthy puppy. But this puppy was different – grossly swollen to twice-normal size, laboring to breathe with excess fluid in the body compressing the lungs and heart. The vet recommended a merciful end.

Walrus puppy. Water baby. These were the names I heard from early mentors about such puppies, whose tiny misshapen bodies resembled a beached walrus. Invariably a caesarian was eessential and mortality was 100 percent. Anasarca is the scientific name for excess edema – accumulation of fluid in the body. Anasarca can afflict humans as well as adult dogs, but the involvement in prenatal canines is unique.

One puppy in the litter might be affected, perhaps two out of three, but rarely the whole litter. Some puppies will exhibit total swelling of the body, while others might have only a severely swollen head. Moderately- to severely-afflicted puppies will not survive. Excess fluid impairs heart and lung function. All breeds seem to have the condition, but for unknown reasons, brachycephalic breeds seem to be more prone to the condition, with bulldogs, Boston terriers, French bulldogs and pugs reporting a higher incidence. Researchers believe a poly-genetic factor can be involved in transmission, but acknowledge the answer is not that simple.

While there could be genetic predisposition, with parents transmitting to offspring, researchers have observed environmental influence and mutations resulting in anasarca during fetal development.

Viruses are a key culprit as a non-genetic cause of prenatal anasarca, especially if the bitch is exposed between days 20 and 35 of pregnancy. Infectious hepatitis caused by Adenovirus Type-1, has been proved to cause fetal anasarca. The virus damages the walls of the blood and lymph vessels in the fetus and the placenta, causing leakage. Vaccinations including Adenovirus Type 2 will cross-protect against Type 1.

Canine Parvovirus Type-1 (CPV-1) has been proved to cause anasarca if the dam is exposed during mid-pregnancy. The virus is widespread within the canine population and can also cause abortion and puppy deaths. Unfortunately, the vaccines commonly used against canine parvovirus are not effective against CPV-1. The best protection is sanitation and segregation.

Aspirin can cause deformities in developing puppies if administered to the dam during days 23-30 of pregnancy. Corticosteroids are another risk that can cause vascular problems as early as day 14 of pregnancy. Low-sodium is one suspect in the occurrence of prenatal anasarca, the opposite of what happens with adults, when high sodium causes water retention. It is recognized that diets deficient in sodium can cause reproductive problems ranging from infertility to abortion.

Other risk factors are related to the overall health of the dam: anemia, cardiac function, low blood protein, vasculitis, and more, but all are within the purview of the breeder in managing the dam’s suitability for breeding.

The bitch described at the beginning of this article, along with some kennel mates, experienced mild viral symptoms lasting less than 24 hours, at day 30 of her pregnancy. That incident might have been more consequential than believed at the time.

Ultrasound examinations done after day 50 can detect anasarca if read properly, allowing a scheduled caesarian. While anasarca is a low risk in this breed, it does happen and knowing its possible causes and detection helps us be better prepared as breeders.

Cassandra de la Rosa, The American Lhasa Apso Club, E-mail: dlrcas@msn.com

Photo from Dog Breed Info