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Roger L. Welton, DVM
Roger L. Welton, DVM, Veterinarian
Category: Dog
Satisfied Customers: 1451
Experience:  Licensed Veterinarian, Practice Owner, and Book Author
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Puppy exencephaly

Customer Question

Hello - I will call my vet when they open but a little anxious. My pregnant dog had a normal litter of 7 in Nov and went into season right after they were weaned. Her first pup was born today and looks like anencephaly or exencephaly. She doesnt appear to be in any excess distress. What should I look for in terms of other complications? How important is a necropsy? Does this have any implications for genetic faults in the sire or dam? Thanks in advance.


Took the dam out of the whelping bed and put her in another. She was distressed either by the dead puppy or the second one which was hanging out in the birth canal a bit longer than I expected but #2 seems normal.  I think I feel at least one more in there.

Submitted: 4 years ago.
Category: Dog
Expert:  Roger L. Welton, DVM replied 4 years ago.


It would be helpful to answer you with an actual lay description of what you saw in the head of the dead puppy. Did it look domed and distended, were the eye opened and bulgy? Did you see an exceptionally large fontanel (the "soft spot in the front of the head"), etc.?

Thank you,

Roger Welton, DVM

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I saw its brain. In other words a domed red mass protruding from a large defect in the top of the midline of a small skull. TWo normals since. I presume a cheek swab on the dead pup will suffice for DNA parentage?


Meanwhile the brain did sink back into the skull which is still quite small. Baby does have a little suckling reflex and mostly extensor posturing. A little cry. I swabbed her and put her in the fridge in case my sample wasnt good enough.


Eyes not bulging, no cleft palate.

Expert:  Roger L. Welton, DVM replied 4 years ago.


Thanks for the information. One of three scenarios seems to have occurred.

1.) The puppy has hydrocephalus while still in utero at the stage of development where the membrane forms around the brain and the skull bones fuse. Hydrocephalus literally means "water in the brain" where intracranial pressure builds up because the drainage apparati of the brain get blocked.

2.) There may have been a congenital malformation that primarily prevented proper skull bone formation and even a normal brain never had a chance.

3.) Megaencephaly may have occurred that prevented proper skull bone fusion. Megaencephaly literally means (big brain), and refers to a congenital condition where the brain develops at a size that is too large.

Since none of these possibilities are considered a breed linked problem in Basenjis, this was likely a genetic abhorration, not something that was necessarily inherited from mom or dad. These types of abhorrations tend to occur with increasing frequency as breeding females reach middle age.

The good news is that this issue was likely linked only to this puppy, and will not likely impact the other puppy (ies), as this occurred within this puppy's own developmental embryonic sac.

I do not think that necropsy would be of any value in this situation, as "congenital malformation" is pretty obvious just fro the history you provided. A DNA analysis for genetic disease inherited from mom or dad probably would also be of little use, as these are considered breed linked disease in this breed. As such, I would just do little more than focus on the health of Mom and the puppies that are viable.

Regarding mom, I never just rely on abdominal palpation to determine if there are puppies left in the uterus. I have been practicing for 11 years and am very comfortable with palpation...and have missed puppies that I discovered once x-ray or ultrasound were done. The implications of a puppy stuck in utero too long can be fatal for the puppy, as well as make mom very sick.

As such, I advise an abdominal x-ray or ultrasound, preferably ultrasound if your vet does it. With a congenitally malformed pup and a slow propagation through the birth canal with puppy number 2, I would also have a calcium level checked. Calcium can drop precipitously even under normal labor, and can become troublingly low after any difficult birth. Since calcium plays a pivotal role in muscle contraction, low calcium can adversely affect the heart muscle and cause dangerous arrhythmias of the heart (not to mention weakness, labored breathing, vascular problems, and decreased milk production).

If a congenital still born puppy occurs again with Tine, I would advise retiring her from breeding and having her spayed. I generally advise retiring any breeding female from breeding by 5 years regardless of her history, as things tend to go wrong after that time, both with puppies and mom.

Roger L. Welton, DVM and 4 other Dog Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  Roger L. Welton, DVM replied 4 years ago.

I am sorry, as I read back my post to you I realized that this line:

A DNA analysis for genetic disease inherited from mom or dad probably would also be of little use, as these are considered breed linked disease in this breed.

is not correct. I meant to write, "...these are NOT considered breed lined disease in this breed."

Sorry for the typo.

Customer: replied 4 years ago.
Thanks very much for sticking with me. The third pup came right out which was good. I will see if the vet will see her today tho she is from Africa and they do NOT like being messed with right after giving birth. So that should be interesting. Thanks again for answering my question so thoroughly.
Expert:  Roger L. Welton, DVM replied 4 years ago.

My pleasure. You seem like a very responsible breeder and I am glad to help. :-)


Roger L. Welton, DVM and 4 other Dog Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  Roger L. Welton, DVM replied 4 years ago.
Hi Rose Marie,

I'm just following up on our conversation about Tine. How is everything going?

Roger L. Welton, DVM
Customer: replied 4 years ago.
Thanks Dr. Well Mom and pups were doing well so I just watched them carefully - I am home nearly all the time. So I got out of town about 10 days ago and returned to find ANOTHER puppy! Spouse says at least a week old. All doing well. Still have paternity pending on the first two. Puppies 2 weeks apart?
Customer: replied 4 years ago.
PS I just did a calculation re a prior question about a tie of a girl who seemed to not be in season. She always had a lot of fat and breast tissue and like her mom can lactate seemingly at will. But she has a bloody discharge and I wonder if she had a pup and Tina stole it. She carried off one of her niece's pup in Nov. and this time she has her own litter. Thank goodness for DNA. Other words about silent off schedule seasons.