Pet Birth Defect Awareness Day is September 13.
Birth defects in your new puppy or kitten can involve any organ system and any part of the body. Some abnormalities may be minor and resolve as the animal matures, while others can prevent normal growth and development, inhibit optimal functioning, and even cause premature death. While some defects are obvious at birth, others can remain hidden for months or years.
Determining that your furry baby has a congenital problem can be financially and emotionally costly. We urge pet parents of these special animals to consult with your veterinarian on the best treatment options and educate yourself as to what you can do to better the life of your little companion.
How can I detect birth defects?
Most external physiological abnormalities are recognizable at birth or shortly thereafter. Limb deformities, umbilical hernias and cleft palates are easily visible, while, other more subtle defects (heart murmurs caused by improper valve development for example) may require your veterinarian’s medical assessment.
Some defects may not show for several weeks or months. Dental problems and cryptorchidism (the failure of one or both testicles to descend into the scrotum) may not be detected until your pet reaches a particular stage of maturity.
Suspicious medical issues, such as a failure to thrive, seizures, mental confusion, or disorientation may require diagnostic testing to reveal such serious abnormalities as a portosystemic shunt in the liver or kidney malformations.
What can cause birth defects in puppies and kittens?
The most common causes of birth defects in newborns includes hereditary issues, nutrition related disorders, infectious diseases contracted by the mother, and chemical toxins (also called “teratogens”) that disrupt the normal development of the fetus.
Congenital issues – All animals carry certain hidden recessive genes that present as various traits, i.e. blue eyes, light skin/hair colors, pink noses. When both parents carry that particular recessive gene, the results can be favorable (the gold color found in Golden retrievers) or unfavorable (entropion found in Rottweilers and Goldens, and blood vessel defects such as patent ductus arteriosis or persistent right aortic arch seen in German shepherds and Belgian Malinois).
Many veterinary geneticists believe that congenital abnormalities are inherited, although the exact mode of inheritance is often unknown. Examples include portosystemic shunts in Yorkshire terriers, dilated cardiomyopathy in Dobermans, and kidney disease in Wheaten terriers. Ragdoll cats have been known to have an increased tendency toward eyelid defects (colobomas) at birth. Genetic defects tend to affect only particular members in a litter because not all littermates receive the same set of genes.
Conditions during pregnancy can also result in birth defects. Cleft palate results from a variation of the timing during the fourth week of fetal development that disrupts the fusion of the processes the form the roof of the mouth.
Nutritional defects – Undernourished pregnant animals result in low birth/brain weights, behavioral abnormalities and increased infant mortality. Vitamin A excess and/or deficiency can cause congenital malformations, including malformed tails and skeletal defects in dogs and cats. In pigs, rats and rabbits, a deficiency of Vitamin A has been associated with eye, heart and urinary defects. Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) deficiencies can show up as poor infant growth, eye defects, and heart abnormalities. Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can result in skeletal defects and abnormal dentition. Vitamin D excess has been implicated in impaired bone formation and some “swimmer” puppies.
A lack of calcium causes skeletal abnormalities, particularly in large breed puppies. Other mineral deficiencies (phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and chlorine) can result in bowed forelimbs, seizures, hind end paralysis as the animal ages, limb weaknesses, and organ damage.
Diseases – The fetus is particularly susceptible to high body temperatures of the mother, either due to fevers caused by disease or environmental temperatures (hyperthermia and heat exhaustion). The extremely high fevers found in dogs infected with the parvovirus can affect the unborn puppy. Fetal brain trauma, growth retardation, developmental abnormalities and fetal death can occur. Birth defects like cerebellar hypoplasia (found most often in kittens), which cause tremors and wobbling, can result if the pregnant mother has distemper (FIP) or has received a distemper vaccine while pregnant.
Chemical toxins – The maternal absorption of insecticides, fungicides, vaccines and other medications have been known to create birth defects in the unborn.
Carbaryl, an insecticide found in some flea powders may be safe in puppies and adults, but can cause birth defects, such as short jaws, no tails, extra digits, skeletal malformations and abdominal fissures, when used on mothers during pregnancy. The administration of fungicides has been known to result in hydrocephalus, cleft palates, open fontanelles, and umbilical hernias in infant animals. Testosterones and progesterones – often given to female dogs to enhance fertilization – may cause masculinization of genitalia in female puppies. Corticosteroid treatment has been associated with dead fetuses and deformed limbs.
***Please note: Consult with your veterinarian before applying any chemicals/medications or using any vaccines on pregnant females.
How can I ensure that my pregnant pet births healthy babies?
Educate yourself regarding the different genetic causes of birth defects in particular family lines and breeds. Adopt the strategy that certain animals, those with known disorders such as cryptorchidism and hip dysplasia, not be bred so that their offspring don’t take on the same defect.
Keep your pregnant mama healthy by not exposing her to infectious disease, medications (unless prescribed by your vet), environmental contaminants or extreme temperatures during the critical stages of fetal development – between the 14th and 30th days of pregnancy.
And, make sure your pregnant pet is getting a good nutritional diet, along with prenatal and post natal supplements. We recommend Breeders’ Edge Oxy Mate Prenatal and Oxy Momma Post Natal Nursing and Recovery Formula. Both supplements are a proprietary blend of vitamins, minerals, and selected herbs that are formulated for the specific nutritional needs of pregnant females and her developing embryos.
The prenatal provides elevated levels of iron, folic acid, and zinc that optimizes the production of red blood cells and blood flow. In addition, this supplement provides the essential nutrients for the development of healthy newborns. Herbal ingredients are added to improve uterine tone and to ease birthing. The post natal formula provides antioxidants to help with reproductive tract recovery and herbal ingredients to stimulate milk production.
How are birth defects treated?
Many animals with congenital defects can live happy, high-value lives. Treatment options vary depending on the abnormality and the overall health of the pet. Whether or not a cure is available through surgery or medications, your veterinarian can provide you with all of the available options to maximize your furry companions quality of life.