Anecdotal Information on Canine Maternal Hydrops in the Golden Retriever

By Barb Wohlferd - Kattwalk Goldens THIS IS A DRAFT DOCUMENT. Last update 5/25/2016 (new info in RED)
The goal of this document is to inform dog breeders about this poorly understood condition.
My hope is that breeders will be able to recognize this condition early and initiate early treatment.

Please share this document with all breeders and Vets!
This document is free for personal and informational use. Please do not re-publish without permission.

1. This is an informational sheet on Canine Maternal Hydrops. Also called Hydrops of the Bitch, Hydrops Amnion, Polyhydraminos and Hydrops Uteri. Basically a large increase in the amount of amniotic fluid in the pregnant bitch. This can be a life threatening condition for the dam and the puppies. It is most important that breeders be able to recognize the symptoms! I have learned that this is not a rare condition in Golden Retriever bitches. I have been amazed at the large number of long term, experienced Golden Retriever breeders, who have dealt with this condition. And yet, very little appears to be known about Maternal Hydrops in dogs.

2. This information has been gathered from the accounts of over 100 experienced dog breeders. (primarily Golden Retriever breeders) Also general medicine vets, canine reproductive vets and large animal vets. There is a serious lack of available information for Maternal Hydrops in dogs. Golden Retrievers are, by far most often affected. But I have had reports in GSDs, Corgis, Springers, Whippets, Great Danes, GSP, Utonagan, Bouvier, Boxer.

3. This is in NO WAY a scientific study. Nor is it intended to be. I do not claim to have all the answers. No one does. It is strictly anecdotal information.

4. The purpose of this document is to give dog breeders information concerning symptoms, treatment options and possible causes of this condition. It is up to each breeder to work with their VET to come up with an appropriate course of treatment for affected bitches.

5. There is no known cause/causes for this condition. The likely hood is that there are various causes, rather than a single cause for this condition.

6. There have been a few reports of bitches who have also developed a gestational diabetes along with Maternal Hydrops.

7. Nothing here is meant to suggest that affected bitches should or should not be bred a 2nd time. That is for each individual breeder to decide for themselves. The only way to learn more is for there to be a free exchange of information. WITHOUT judgments or condemnation of one course of action or another.

8. The severity of the symptoms appears to be directly related to the number of puppies the bitch is carrying. The most severe symptoms appear to be most often associated with litters of over 10 puppies. ALMOST every case of maternal death reported to me, was when the bitch was carrying 12 or more puppies. (These were Golden Retriever bitches.)

9. Maternal deaths appear to be due to the inability of the heart to accommodate the stress of the increase in fluid AND a large numbers of puppies. Leading to cardiac failure. This is a life threatening situation in those cases.

10. In smaller litters of less than 10 puppies, (Golden Retrievers) the condition appears to be far less life threatening for both mom and puppies. C-sections are often required. But both dam and puppies often do quite well. Including my bitch who had 8 healthy puppies via c-section.

11. This condition does appear to be more common in 1st pregnancies. There have been reports of Hydrops occurring in subsequent pregnancies. But most of these subsequent pregnancies appear to be less severe.

12. Maternal Hydrops/Hydrops of the bitch IS NOT the same as Hydrops Fetalis. Also called Anasarca babies or Water babies. Hydrops Fetalis is when the PUPPY has a severe retention of fluid. While in contrast, Maternal Hydrops is the increase in amniotic fluid volume in the DAM. Maternal Hydrops and Hydrops Fetalis are two separate and apparently unrelated conditions. Here is a link for Hydrops Fetalis

POSSIBLE causes suggested in the reports I received.

  • In most cases there is NO known cause. So the focus for now is on recognizing the symptoms early enough to fashion an effective treatment. AND prevent maternal deaths.
  • It appears likely that there are multiple possible causes for this condition. Just like in humans. I think it would be wrong to claim there is only one cause.
  • Viral or bacterial infection. Again, there is no scientific data to support this.
  • Immune disorder. Also, no proof here.
  • This is the leading theory at the present time. Some sort of incompatibility between the mom and the fetus. Where the mom's immune system is attacking the fetus as a foreign body. Something similar to RH incompatibility in humans. This is becoming the leading theory for the cause of Hydrops of the Bitch. But since we do not routinely blood type our dogs, the true cause is unknown. It is suggested that if a bitch has had a case of Hydrops, and is to be bred again, that a entirely new stud dog, from a different pedigree line be chosen. TO BE CLEAR, I am not suggesting anything is wrong with the original stud dog. Just that there may be some incompatibility between the Bitch's blood type or immune system, and that of the Stud Dog.
  • Hereditary link: It has been suggested in large animals like horses and cattle, that there could be a hereditary link in SOME CASES. To my knowledge, there is no scientific proof of this in dogs. Some people feel it runs in some pedigree lines. This has not been proven. But if you, as a breeder, see many cases in certain families, then it is an avenue that should be studied. I know that my girls tend to do things the way their grandmothers and mothers did. In the case of my affected bitch, there was no family history at all. Her sister, mother and grandmother were not affected. But others have reported seeing this condition in multiple, closely related dogs. But even in those cases, we still do not know what causes this increase in amniotic fluid.
  • Environmental causes: It is possible there are environmental causes in some cases. Again, there is no proof for this. But this is a course of research that should be investigated. Things like food, supplements, chemical agents, medications etc.

Signs, Symptoms and Monitoring Tips:

  • Increase in the abdominal girth outside the norm. Specifically, when an ultrasound has shown the number of puppies expected is not consistent with the abdominal girth. The only way to know if this is occurring, is to routinely measure abdominal girths on all your pregnant bitches with every pregnancy, and record the information. Then you will have a baseline to go by. Remember: abdominal girths grow faster and bigger with each subsequent pregnancy. I do a baseline measurement at the time of breeding and then I routinely check weekly abdominal girths on all my pregnant bitches after a pregnancy is confirmed. As a side note, this sort of data will also tell you if your bitch might be absorbing or aborting a litter. In that case, the girth measurements will stop getting bigger or actually go down.
  • Increase in weight gain that is out of proportion with the number of puppies expected. A good rule of thumb is 2 pound of weight gain per puppy, at the time of whelping. This is another case where you need to keep accurate records for each pregnancy. Giving you base line data to go by. Do a weight at the time of breeding and then weekly weights after the pregnancy is confirmed around 30 days. Especially if you have reason to be suspicious of a problem.
  • Breeders have also reported that the abdomen is rock hard. Especially in the last 2 weeks.
  • Large amount of edema (swelling) around the vulva area. I am talking about grapefruit size or even more. (see below for image)
  • Leaking of clear fluid the last week of pregnancy.
  • Edema of the ankles and feet. (see below for image) Sometimes this is extreme. In severe cases, there can be increased systemic (overall) edema.
  • Inability to clearly see the puppies on x-ray after 55 - 56 days of gestation. The increased fluid makes it difficult to get a clear film. Not present in all cases. The lack of a hazy x-ray does not rule out hydrops 100% of the time.
  • Ultrasound showing excess fluid. Maybe the most important diagnostic tool in the hands of an experienced vet who knows what to look for.
  • Heavy vomiting is frequently seen close to the due date. Especially with very large litters. This is different than the normal vomiting that can occur when labor is imminent.
  • Often, the bitch's temp will drop, indicating labor will begin soon, but 2nd stage labor does not ensue. Possibly the excess fluid prevents the first puppy from descending far enough to dilate the cervix. It is also possible that the bitch's condition has so exhausted her, that she just does not have the strength.
  • Most of the bitches expel great volumes of amniotic fluid when c-sectioned or during whelping. If the bitches condition is very poor, her blood pressure may drop dramatically during the c-section with the sudden loss of all that fluid. This can be life threatening. It is CRITICAL that the vet performing the c-section be prepared to replace fluid AS IT IS BEING LOST! This will mean having a patent I.V. running with a large bore catheter. I did receive one report in which the amniotic fluid was found as free fluid in the abdominal cavity when the c-section was performed. Also, fluid was leaking out the cervix before the c-section. There have also been reports of uterine rupture.
  • Sudden or significant decrease in the condition of the mom in the 2 weeks before the due date. Especially with a very large litter. Lethargy, agitation, vomiting, inability to get around, difficulty breathing, rapid breathing rate, increased heart rate and other signs of shock. This is a life threatening condition. MAKE your vet listen to your concerns if necessary! Do not wait until it is too late to at least save your bitch.
  • Symptoms can sometimes appear very suddenly at the end of the pregnancy. SOME bitches have no external symptoms at all, and the first sign is large amounts of fluid at the time of a c-section. A bitch may have all, some or none of the typical symptoms. I am of the opinion that an I.V. should be started for ALL c-sections.


  • Unfortunately there is not a lot known about how to treat this condition. The goal would be to decrease the stress on the bitch's heart by decreasing the amount of excess retained fluid in the mom. It apparently is not possible to insert a needle and draw out some of the excess fluid from the uterus. Unlike in humans where this can be safely done. SO prompt treatment of the symptoms, especially the severe symptoms of shock is essential. Although there is at least one vet who has suggested that the tapping of fluid can be done safely.
  • I believe doing a c-section is absolutely essential to insure the best outcome for the dam and the puppies. I can't stress this strongly enough!
  • It is CRITICAL that the vet performing the c-section be prepared to replace fluid AS IT IS BEING LOST! This will mean having a patent I.V. running with a large bore catheter.
  • I think it can safely be said, that diuretics have become a standard treatment for hydrops. Dr. Hutchison and Dr. Cynthia Smith have used Spironolactone. 25mg two to three times a day depending of the severity of the case. Dr. Cynthia Smith believes that lasix results in too much fluid loss, too quickly, and believes Spironolactone is a safer choice.
  • Dandelion root capsules are a natural diuretic and have been used with some success. Dandelion root capsules 500 - 1000 mg twice daily.
  • It has been suggested that a low sodium diet could help reduce the excess fluid volume.
  • I would suggest care not to over feed these bitches. Excessive weight gain will only add to the problems and could increase sodium intake needlessly.
  • It has been suggested that a low carb diet can reduce the fluid load in bitches with hydrops . This would take some of the stress off the bitch's heart.
  • Dexamethasone (0.8 mg) SQ to mature the fetal lungs in case a premature c-section is necessary to save the life of the bitch.
  • In severe cases, a premature c-section may be required to save the bitch. Don't wait until your bitch is crashing to make the decision.
  • Some vets are giving dexamethasone before delivery to mature the puppies lungs faster. Allowing for premature puppies to have a better chance of survival.
  • There have been MANY, MANY reports of puppies dying one after another, after delivery, when mom was severely affected. Even when they were seemingly healthy at the time of delivery. Often, this is written off to mom laying on them. At least in the beginning. It is possible that they are becoming septic. IT IS CRITICAL the these puppies are started on antibiotics after delivery as a precaution. Keep in mind that if mom is also on antibiotics, the dosage for the puppies might need to be decreased. You might need to be really insistent with your vet on this point. By the time you realize there is a problem with dying puppies, it can be too late! DO NOT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER! Remember to start these puppies on a probiotic at the same time to stave off diarrhea caused by the antibiotics. I like Benebac Gel. But there are many other products that are just as effective.


  • I have not seen any evidence of serious ways to prevent this condition as the causes are really unknown. It does appear that Goldens are more frequently affected than most other breeds.
  • Often times, vets are unaware that Canine Maternal Hydrops/Hydrops of the Bitch even exists as a recognizable condition. Even among reproductive specialists. Many vets do not seem to be interested in doing further research concerning this condition. So it is up to us as breeders to push them into paying attention!!
  • It has been suggested that a low sodium diet is useful. At the very least, know how much sodium is in what you feed your dogs. There is a lot of hidden sodium in many dog foods.
  • Most breeders who have chosen to breed an affected bitch a 2nd time, have reported no repeat of the condition. There are exceptions though.
  • Doing an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy will tell you approximately how many puppies you are expecting. Then you will be able to tell if your bitch is bigger than she should be OR if you need to monitor closely when expecting a very large litter.
  • Doing an x-ray at 55 - 58 days is a chance for a quick check of your dam by the vet. You can discuss any concerns you might have. You can see if you have a good clear film or a hazy one that might indicate excess fluid.
  • Trust your gut! If you think there is something wrong, get it checked out before it becomes an emergency!
  • I do not know if this condition is becoming more common or we are just hearing more about it. But I have been amazed at the number of Golden Retriever Breeders who have experienced this condition with their bitches. And the number of breeders who have lost bitches with large litters is appalling!

If you have information to share about Maternal Hydrops, please feel free to contact me!


Swollen Vulva in a bitch with Hydrops
Swollen Ankles in a bitch with hydrops
Uterus of a bitch with hydrops
Another c-section where the fluid is in the amniotic sack,
rather than free flowing in the uterus.
X-ray of a bitch with hydrops. There are 12 + puppies
in this film But they are almost impossible to see due
to all of the excess fluid. This film was taken on day 59.