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Water (Walrus) Puppies (Anasarca puppies)

English Cocker Spaniel Water (Walrus) puppy being held up by a vet

The term Water Puppy refers to puppies born with severe edema (swelling, water retention)

A water baby is NOT caused by the dam drinking too much water. Pregnant dams need lots of water, as the amniotic fluid is constantly changing. Water babies are like babies that become anemic (low blood) in utero. They get severely edematous. This is usually due to parvovirus or an immune response (blood group incompatibility).

Water (Walrus) Puppies (Anasarca puppies)

MistyTrails plays "midwoof" to many local breeders.

Water puppy syndrome

Edema:an abnormal accumulation of serous fluid in various organs, cavities, or tissues of the body.

We can learn a bit from "people" medicine—water babies (hydrops) usually occurs from lack of red blood cells in the baby as a result of an infection or immune reaction.

It can affect only one pup in a litter or the entire litter. Water puppies are impossible to deliver naturally, as they are huge, swollen, waterlogged puppies. A C-section is a must, as these puppies are generally two to four times the size of their littermates.

These pups range from mild, medium to severely affected.

They do not get STUCK in the birth canal; they do not get that far, as they block the birth canal.

If your dam is pushing on a single puppy, has contractions for two hours without puppy presentation into the birth canal, especially after delivering one or two normal pups, you should seek veterinary assistance, as the remaining pups can die along with the dam.

This is a Medical Emergency!

There are many opinions on why these water pups develop; some say it is congenital or environmental, some say diet, trauma to the dam, or even a virus. There is no evidence to show it is hereditary, but it does affect some breeds more than others, especially the Bulldog and flat-faced breeds including Boston Terriers, English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Shar Pei, Bullmastiff, Basset Hound, Chow Chow, Wire Fox Terrier, West Highland White Terriers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Pugs.

It has also occurred in crossbred dogs and pedigree dogs, such as Borzoi, Maltese, Labrador Retriever, Schnauzers, Bichon Frise, Chihuahuas, German Shepherd, Old English Sheepdog (Bobtail), Poodle, Great Dane, German Pointer, Cocker Spaniel and in a wolf from zoo/wildlife-park.

An x-ray does not always show the larger size of these puppies, as the weight is mostly fluid. An ultrasound is thought to detect these puppies.

Water pups are usually born alive, limp and weak, and they look like someone blew them up like a balloon. The dam was supplying the needed oxygen and nutrition through the placenta and cord, but soon after birth the medium to severely affected pup will suffocate by the pressure of the fluid.

Some people report the mildly affected pups that survive the first two to three days turned out to be normal pups. Others say there were other underlying problems and their water pups died within the first week.

The choice to try and save or to let the pup go without suffering will be between you and your vet, how much experience you have behind you, and if you are willing to put in the time PLUS be prepared for heartache. Trying to save these pups at this time is considered experimental.

The cause and treatment of this condition are unknown at this time.


Treatment needs to be given right away for a mildly affected pup.

  • Elevate the head and extend the neck for a more clear airway.
  • To encourage urination, run one or two fingers over the genitalia.
  • Some veterinarians have recently had great success using Lasix in saving water puppies. Lasix is the brand name of the chemical furosemide. Furosemide is a diuretic-saluretic, which inhibits the re-absorption of sodium (salt). The drug is administered intravenously immediately after birth of the water puppy. Administer furosemide (Lasix) .1 to .2 mL intramuscularly to increase urination, this can be repeated every 30 to 45 minutes for three injections. Caution: more than three could cause dehydration.
  • Keep the pups warm and stimulate urination as described above every –two to three minutes.
  • Elastic bandages have also been used to push out fluid (not too tight).

Mildly affected pups can take one to two hours to breathe normally. Moderately affected pups take 90 minutes to four hours to breathe normally. Medium to severely affected pups are difficult to save; they usually drown within 30 minutes. Severely bloated pups have been known to split open at the abdomen just from handling.

Some signs for you to watch your pregnant female for are: drinking large amounts of water, nipples and surrounding tissues have a shiny look, nipples produce a fluid very early in pregnancy.

Autopsies have shown that the organs are saturated in fluid and the life sustaining organs cannot function, causing the pups to drown.


An inuterine reaction to sodium, or an inability to process proteins. Hypothyrodism, as well as an inability of the lymphmatic system to drain effectively due to the anatomy.

None of these ideas have ever been proven.

Water puppies are often seen associated with a combination of vertebral column defects and often have further abnormalities, particularly cleft palates.

Some Findings on Causes (still not proven)

  • Congenital anasarca (congenital generalized subcutaneous edema). The etiology of congenital anasarca is not well defined (prenatal cardiovascular anomaly)
  • A traumatic origin (with disruption of the placenta) as a fetus suffering from anasarca is usually the sole occupant of a uterine horn filled with a large amount of hemorrhagic fluid.
  • Could be caused by a virus, it has been attributed to the after-effects of the mother's oronasal infection with the minute virus during the last trimester of pregnancy associated with myocarditis. In the latter case, elasticity of the fetus' skin allows extravasation of transudate that is compensated for by the immediate supply of fluid via the umbilical cord.
  • malformation of the lymphatic drainage system

Words from a vet

Congenital anasarca—There is no possible treatment for puppies suffering from congenital anasarca. These puppies usually die within less than 36 hours.



Low-salt diet.

Reduce potential trauma (isolate pregnant dams)

Autogenous minute virus vaccine in the case of suspicion of minute virus (anarsarca en-zootic within the same breeding facility)

According to doctors, human babies can be born with this too.

Human version:

Fetal hydrops (the cause is not yet known, but there are many theories)

In humans, edema is considered a congenital syndrome that happens in utero, and doctors figure it is most often caused by a virus (slap cheek virus, and a human parvo-type virus B-19) or it can be caused by a liver malfunction.

In the U.S.: Widely varying figures have been quoted, but one case per 600-4,000 pregnancies is the estimated frequency. Figures from Thailand suggest an estimated incidence of one case per 500-1,500 pregnancies.

It is not a labor-induced issue, it happens prenatally for unknown reasons.

There is a genetic syndrome that will cause swelling, including chromosomal abnormalities and one called Turner’s syndrome in which babies rarely make term, and have dwarfism, shorter bodies, and extra neck skin.

There are photos of dwarf looking puppies that may fall into this category.

If you suspect your dam may deliver water puppies consult your vet.


"My pup was a singleton, born to my girl who had had a litter the previous year, a litter of 6 normal healthy English Cocker Spaniel pups. This time we used the son of the boy we used last year. This was only his second litter too. His first a healthy litter of 8 pups."

"In all my nearly 18 years of breeding have never experienced this, and it was soul destroying when my girl had to have a c-section and no pup at the end of it. Sadly the pup was severely affected, as the pictures show."


"AKC Labrador Retriever—Water Puppy. First and foremost, I would like to thank you for all of the valuable information I found on your website. As a first-time breeder I was determined to collect and read all the information I could on what to expect throughout the breeding/whelping process. While re-reading your posted information I came across the section on Water Puppies, and after being told that an x-ray showed that my female was carrying one puppy that appeared to be twice as large as the others, and what I thought to be a strange shiny look to her breast and nipple area, I began to worry. I contacted my daughter who will be a Dr. of vet med in May 2010. She explained that the occurrence of "Water Puppies" is rare and that I need not worry as pups of the same litter are often many different sizes. Maybe it was a coincidence that I came upon your site and all of the information you provided on "what to do when things go wrong"... but I am so thankful to you for providing that information. In June my female Labrador delivered three healthy pups followed by a "Water Puppy" which was very large and she was having great difficulty pushing her out. I followed the advice and "feathered" her cervix to see if it would help her labor progress, and it was almost instantly helpful. The fourth puppy (water puppy) was born dead, her skin was so swollen that it was split about her belly and across her face, it also appeared that she may have also had a clef palate. The fifth pup was born healthy with no complications. My own veterinarian had never heard of this before, and neither had my brother-in-law who is also a vet. I have included a picture that I took of the "Water Puppy" four hours after birth so you may share it with your readers. The swelling had decreased considerably and absorbed into the white towel that I had wrapped her in."

AKC Labrador Retriever—Water Puppy

The rest of the puppies in the litter were healthy.


This is a French Bulldog male puppy. He was delivered via c-section and lived about 30 minutes. I believe, according to the Dr., he suffocated because of the abnormal swollenness. Never in my long-time practice have I seen anything like this. The mother dog did not have any unusual signs of any kind during pregnancy.

Male French Bulldog water puppy that lived about 30 minutes after delivery

Male French Bulldog water puppy that lived about 30 minutes after delivery


I bred my French Bulldog two years ago and she too had a water pup. She only had two puppies, one was perfectly fine and the other was a water puppy. Since we were already planning a C-section birth, we already knew there was a water puppy. The vet and his staff worked feverishly to revive this pup. Miraculously, the puppy made it and actually started to nurse. However, we noticed right away he could not keep the milk down. Every time it nursed, milk would come back up out of his nose and mouth. The vet took an X-ray and unfortunately found a really terrible birth defect; the esophagus was not connected to the stomach so the milk had nowhere to go but back out. My heart just sank knowing what a fighter this puppy was to be able to come out of that first ordeal of being a water puppy and now we had to put him down humanely so he would not starve to death. I too was put off from breeding after this as I got so attached to this puppy in such a short amount of time. Thank you again to everyone who shared their stories as I am still so sad from that event but know I'm certainly not alone. However, take heart, the other puppy is doing so well that he's even being shown and has won some ribbons to date!


The headline stated: "A dog gave birth to human baby boy in Khayelitsha!" The email was being passed around the Internet. Khayelitsha is a partially informal township in South Africa, on the outskirts of Cape Town in the Cape Flats. Water puppies are not a well-known birth defect and are often misdiagnosed.

Water puppy born in Khayelitsha, South Africa.

Water puppy born in Khayelitsha, South Africa

Water puppy born in Khayelitsha, South Africa.

Water puppy born in Khayelitsha, South Africa

Water puppy born in Khayelitsha, South Africa.

Water puppy born in Khayelitsha, South Africa

Water puppy born in Khayelitsha, South Africa.

Water puppy born in Khayelitsha, South Africa

Water puppy born in Khayelitsha, South Africa.

Water puppy born in Khayelitsha, South Africa


I had a Pug that had an x-ray showing 8 pups. She delivered 9 healthy babies. The next day she gave birth to a water baby number 10. We would have never known because of the x-ray and she showed no more signs of labor after puppy number 9. It was probably a miracle for sure but she did have it. I have been breeding Pugs for 6 years. This was the first and only water baby I have ever had. The mother dog had laid down and was resting. She showed no signs of a problem. I went to sleep for 4 hours and when I got back up there it was. It was huge, 3 times the size of the other puppies, bloated and covered in green slime. We were shocked and could not believe she passed it. We truly were blessed. To this day I tell my other Pug friends about it. We lost 2 other pups with in the next week because they were so tiny. It is not normal for a Pug to have 10 babies. We had 7 nice healthy pups. To think that huge baby was in there and came out was just unbelievable. I think what made it happen was she delivered the rest of the litter first. I just thought I would share our experience.


One breeder of Pekingese states, "I have been a breeder of Pekingese for several years. The last two litters had water babies and each was a C-section. Each litter had one water baby and the closest baby was dehydrated. We lost both water babies. In the first litter, the water baby was huge and had been dead about one week. I'm surprised the dam was OK. Its body was starting to decay—no fur, no skin—really gross. We lost the dehydrated baby next to it in the uterine horn. The two babies in the other horn were born first, without C-section and were fine. A similar experience with the second litter, though the water baby was smaller and still alive. The adjoining pup was dehydrated. A simple sub-Q of fluids and he's fine. Again the first two from one horn were born regularly and were fine. The affected horn had the C-section. The only similarity between these litters is the newly used sire (same sire both litters). I'm afraid to use him again! In both of these litters both dams were unrelated, but both litters were from the same sire (a first-time sire). My vet and I suspect a correlation with the use of this sire. I've been checking on this condition and it appears to be more common in brachiocephalic breeds (flat-faced breeds)."


One breeder of the Westie states, "I have a West Highland White Terrier and she has just had her first litter. She had two healthy pups but had to have a C-section to deliver a water puppy, which was three times the size of one of her pups. The water puppy was dead on arrival. After the first two pups she was not having many contractions and it was not obvious that she had another pup to deliver but she was still panting and breathing quickly and her belly still felt solid."


A Breeder of Wire Fox Terriers states, "I raise and breed show-quality Wire Fox Terriers. My dam of four years just delivered her second litter. She was carrying two water babies; one also had a severe cleft palate. Her first litter was normal, no complications. I have never experienced anything like this before, it was so disheartening. She was carrying a total of five puppies and three were normal."


If a male passes something on to a pup in a litter and it is a congenital defect, I don't panic, as things happen. If he does it again to a different unrelated female, I neuter. If it is the same female, I use a different male. I neuter faster than some breeders, but I am very selective. I feel there are a lot of good dogs out there, so why take the chance.


"Around ten years ago I started to breed Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. My female had a first litter successfully of two boys and a little girl, all healthy. The year after I bred her again... she had three puppies. The first was a water puppy. Very swollen head and pale in color. It was born dead. The second puppy’s intestines were on the outside of the body and the third was OK...we called him 'LUCKY'. This was a scary ordeal for me and it put me off breeding for all this time. My little Cavalier lived to the ripe old age of 12 after being spayed immediately, but has sadly gone to doggy heaven now."


A big thank-you to the breeders who shared their stories on their experience with water puppies.

If you have additional information/ photos on water puppies you would like to share in order to help others with this issue, Contact Us.


Courtesy of MistyTrails Havanese


Whelping: Close-to-Textbook Case