What Is Puppy Absorption?

Commonly termed in the medical field as canine fetal resorptiona puppy absorption is a biochemical process in which the tissues of a live fetal organism, in this case, the puppy, begins to deteriorate and decompose. This is a process of disintegration of the enzymes in the fetus when it’s still inside the womb that allows for complete obliteration of the organism resulting in total reabsorption. Fetal absorption is not to be mistaken with embryo loss in which the embryo is reabsorbed during an earlier stage of gestation.

As daunting as this all may seem, especially for an unsuspecting dog owner, this phenomenon is actually quite common and is a normal part of the natural processes of canine reproduction and living. According to various studies, on average, about 11% of canines experience fetal resorption.

As a rule, after a certain amount of days (44 days roughly), puppy absorption cannot be performed because of the development of the skeletal bones, those of which cannot be reabsorbed. For this reason, a canine reabsorption can only occur during the earlier stages of pregnancy when the fetus is made up of mostly soft tissues.

Most puppy absorptions happen to only one or two puppies in the litter. Yet, it may occur that an entire litter of puppies gets absorbed.

Unlike a miscarriage, the fetus does not leave the dam’s body after death. During fetal resorption, the dam’s body begins to absorb the placental tissue, followed by the actual fetus itself. The puppy that has been reabsorbed literally disappears from the litter and uterus. The puppy’s body dissolves in the natural chemical process and often causes much confusion to outsiders who are not familiar with this term. This systematic approach in the dam’s body actually works as an advantage to her as it is dangerous to abort a fetus within a litter if the other pups survive and make it through the birthing process successfully. The act of absorption eliminates the risk of anything unsettling happening to the mum during the remaining of the pregnancy, and at delivery.

Another common term used to describe this process is called “Vanishing Twin” in which the remains of the reabsorbed fetus can be taken by the other twin or the mother.

Some Causes:

  • Developmental/Chromosomal Defects — Any anomaly or defect found in any of the developmental stages can result in early death to a canine fetus. Chromosomes assist in the development and growth of the cells. Sperm and egg cells, may deplete or lose all function leading to eventual death.
  • Placental or Uterine Anomalies — The placenta and the uterus of the pregnant mother are the main organs that allow for a successful birth, so any disruption in the formation of the fetus can lead to some serious risks and even death
  • Hormones — This seems to be one of the most common causes of fetal absorption in puppies. Adequate hormones are needed to develop ideal conditions in the dam’s body for reproduction and development of the fetuses to occur naturally.
  • Genetics — The genetics of the pups can play a role in whether or not the fetus will be properly developed. Some genetics may cause malformations or even not allow full development to occur to allow survival, thus allowing for reabsorption.
  • Medications— There are certain drugs that are given to dams that may affect the developmental stages of the whelp. It is possible that an adverse drug reaction may have been the cause of any of the pups in the litter to reabsorb.
  • Nutritional — All mothers, whether canine or human, require sufficient nutrition to withstand a pregnancy. The nutrition of the mother affects the babies and therefore, any malnutrition can cause early death in the fetus.
  • Hypothyroidism — Certain endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism can warrant unwanted effects on the fetus of a canine often leading to aborted fetuses..
  • Environmental Stresses — Stress can wreak havoc on the body especially during pregnancy. If any environmental stresses become too unbearable the body can begin to stop functioning at its optimum level and thus, lead to various complications which may lead to fetal resorption.
  • Parasites — This parasite causes an infection called toxoplasmosis. These parasites are known to reside in the feces of cats and other times in the roots of contaminated soil or even unwashed fruits and vegetables.
  • E. Coli — Escherichia coli is a very common bacteria found in a canine’s bloodstream that causes the disease known as colibacillosis. Other bacterial agents that can cause reabsorption are Streptococcus spp. and Staphylococcus aureus.


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