First a male then a female
Angie and Juan were first-time cane corso dog breeders but not first-time breeders. As such, they were well versed in delivery scenarios and were preparing themselves for many possible complications that could arise. (See below for information on this unusual breed.)
“Roman was the first dog of this breed for us,” explains Juan. “Prior to that, we bred boxers and raised a rescue American bulldog and lab mix named Chico. I’d researched the rare and ancient Italian breed, which was almost extinct in the 1970s. What drew us to the cane corsos is their regal look, and how they’re very family-oriented working dogs and also affectionate. They even try to sit on you!”
The couple first found their male cane corso, Roman (who’s now 4 years old), at a breeder in Ohio. Later, they decided to add a female to their family, Fiona (who’s now 3 years old), who they found in California. “She ruled the house immediately,” kids Angie. “Her temperament was different, more chill than Roman’s. I’m her person. She’s very confident and doesn’t seek attention.”
Juan did a lot of training with Roman to socialize him, and took him to Bass Pro Shops to get accustomed to people, as he feels it’s their responsibility to socialize these dogs. “It wasn’t our intention to breed the dogs,” says Angie “At first, I said no! We were too busy. But after we moved, Fiona had a heat cycle so it was the perfect time. I said OK, but this is it!”
Puppies on the way
It happened quickly, and Juan and Angie took pregnant Fiona to Julianna Rowlett, DVM, medical director at VCA Bolingbrook Animal Hospital in Bolingbrook, Illinois. “Pregnancy was confirmed with ultrasound around 35 days,” says Dr. Rowlett. “The time of ovulation was unknown, so we had to take a couple sets of x-rays to get an accurate puppy count toward the end of gestation. A few days before, we were able to count 10 puppies on the x-ray.”
Prior to the delivery date, Dr. Rowlett shared with Angie and Juan what to expect and what they needed to do to prepare. She also shared the approximate timespan between puppy deliveries—so they were watching Fiona very closely.
“At 4:02 p.m. on Thursday, July 22, the first pup came,” explains Angie. “Then we had one pup an hour. At 10:55 p.m., Fiona delivered the eighth pup. We knew there were two more to go, and when four hours passed we knew that was too long between puppies. Fiona was very tired. So, at 3 a.m. we texted Dr. Rowlett through VCA Messenger.”
Fiona was diagnosed with dystocia, the medical term for a difficult birth, which can be fatal to both mom and babies. A canine in labor may experience dystocia for several reasons, such as fetuses that are too large for a dog with a small pelvis or fetuses that are awkwardly positioned and cannot make it through the birth canal easily.
Two puppies and mom in distress
That morning, Dr. Rowlett told Juan and Angie to bring Fiona to VCA Arboretum View Animal Hospital in Downers Grove—a neighboring town—calling ahead so they were ready for Fiona’s arrival.
“However, there was no surgeon available at the time and the animal hospital was at capacity,” explains Dr. Rowlett. “They gave Fiona oxytocin to speed up her labor and monitored her. Juan and Angie came in with all the pups so Fiona could nurse them during this time, plus they gave the pups formula to supplement the nursing. In my experience, if we can’t get the mom back in labor then we need to do a C-section.”
Juan and Angie were understandably distressed and Dr. Rowlett clearly understood the seriousness of the situation. She explained that here was a risk that Fiona could bleed during the surgery. In addition, she wasn’t optimistic that all the puppies would survive because they were in there for a long time.
“I had a full schedule of appointments that morning,” Dr. Rowlett shares. “But because dystocia is an emergency, the staff rescheduled all my morning appointments and called in our techs for emergency surgery. Our kennel attendant prepared our gurney, and had heated towels for the eight babies that came along because they needed to nurse. After the C-section delivery, our staff revived the last two pups—and both survived. We were all so excited and happy! Fiona was in great shape too, and she let us handle all the babies after delivery.”
Angie and Juan stated that everything was handled amazingly well. “It was all great, 100 percent and above!” expresses Angie. “They took care of everyone. I couldn’t find the words to thank them. We adore Dr. Rowlett. She’s an angel on earth who saved our baby and the babies.”
Complications arose for Fiona
Fiona went home the same day of the surgery with her ten puppies. Dr. Rowlett called to check on her every few hours. “We did notice a discharge after we brought her home, so we were watching her closely,” says Juan. “We decided to bring in her again to the vet clinic to be on the safe side. While nursing, the pups must have caused the incision to open. So Fiona had to undergo another surgery to fix it.”
Kate McNamara, DVM, staff veterinarian at VCA Bolingbrook Animal Hospital, performed the second surgery. “She was an angel as well,” says Angie. “Then, in order to monitor and hydrate Fiona that night, Dr. Rowlett arranged for Fiona and the pups to return to VCA Arboretum View Animal Hospital in Downers Grove so the staff could watch for fever and post-operative complications. At first we were told the pups couldn’t stay with Fiona, but Dr. Rowlett called them and worked it all out. We finally got some sleep!”
Fast-growing, healthy puppies
Fiona fed five puppies at a time and she was producing enough milk in those early days. When the puppies were just three days old, Dr. Rowlett cut their tails to comply with breed standards and removed their dewclaws. They were also dewormed every two weeks after delivery. At six weeks old, they began their vaccines and weighed in at 9 to 10 pounds—big and healthy.
“Fiona had seven girls and three boys,” says Angie. “We decided to keep the last pup that Dr. Rowlett delivered and we named him ‘Chance.’ He’s now the biggest puppy. We love him so much and he has Fiona’s fine temperament. He leans into you and makes purring noises.”
Angie says she and Juan learned a lot during the whole experience. “All but two puppies are currently placed, with one girl and one boy remaining. We receive frequent photos and updates from all the puppy owners. It was stressful but an amazing experience. The pups are a joy—beautiful little souls.”
Get to Know the Cane Corso Breed
You may not be familiar with cane corso (pronounced KAHN-nay Corso)— featured in this VCA Voice article because it’s a relatively new breed to North America. This breed originally descended from two Italian breeds that related to ancient Roman Molossian war dogs. One you may know is the Neapolitan Mastiff. While the Neapolitan evolved as a dedicated guard dog, the cane corso served as a versatile farm dog.
Throughout history, cane corsos were called catch dogs—a dog used to overpower large prey. After the fall of the Roman Empire, corsos were used to protect farms, hunt tough prey, and even guided and rounded up sheep, goats and semi-wild cattle.
After World War II, the corso population in southern Italy drastically declined. By the 1970s, only a few dogs remained. In 1973, two people located, collected and bred the remaining corsos. By 1996, the cane corso breed was recognized by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale. In 1988, the first corsos were brought to the United States. Then in 2010, the AKC granted the breed full recognition.
““I had a full schedule of appointments that morning,” Dr. Rowlett shares. “But because dystocia is an emergency, the staff rescheduled all my morning appointments and called in our techs for emergency surgery.”