How Badly Do We Need to Know?

by | Breeding, Dog Health

Would you knowingly expose your puppies to a known cancer-causing agent? Would you trust claims that this product is safe for use in puppies despite NO research supporting this claim?

Would you use it just because other breeders have done so for years despite increasing cancer rates in their breeds? Finally, would you routinely expose your puppies to this risk just so you would worry less about short-term concerns even if the long-term consequences might include higher risk of early and lifetime cancer? Most breeders would adamantly deny the use of any known cancer-causing product that has not been proven safe for puppies. Yet many do it regularly.

How do I know that? Because more and more breeders are x-raying their pregnant bitches prior to whelp to get a puppy count. I’m nearly 60 years old, well past my child-bearing years, and I can’t get a dental x-ray without affirming that I am not pregnant AND wearing a lead apron. My teeth can’t be casually x-rayed for fear that I might be pregnant yet we routinely and directly irradiate fetal puppies.

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Present Research on Prenatal X-rays in Dogs

Despite their growing use by breeders and vets, there is NO research showing prenatal x-rays are safe in dogs and there is a small body of research showing they increase rates of both early and lifetime cancers, including lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma. Might there be a correlation between x-raying fetal puppies and the growing cancer rate in so many of our breeds? Let’s look at a recently published summary of the findings in irradiated dogs:

The offspring of 1,343 pregnant Beagle dogs irradiated with a single dose of 0.16 or 0.81 Gy on days 8, 28, or 55 after breeding and 2, 70, and 365 days postpartum… had a significant increase in their incidence of benign and malignant neoplasms, including fatal malignancies at young ages and during their lifetime. Statistically significant increases in the risk of lymphoma were seen in the beagles irradiated at 55 days postcoitus and significant increases of hemangiosarcomas occurred at 8 and 55 days postcoitus, respectively… .

Early cancers, lifetime cancers, lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma! Any of those sound familiar? Now grant you, 0.16 Gys (grays) is more than a typical puppy-count x-ray but even one pelvic x-ray dramatically increases the radiation a pregnant dog experiences over the normal radiation she gets from her environment, such as from the sun and radon.

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The Need for More Safety Research on Prenatal X-rays

Doing research to confirm the safety of prenatal x-rays in dogs would not be difficult. Isn’t it worth knowing? Shouldn’t we demand proof that this commonly-done practice is safe before we casually expose our fetal pups to it? Isn’t this especially important since we know that it takes years for the effects of low-level irradiation to begin to show? Because of this lag time, without well designed research studies, dog breeders and owners will struggle to link fetal x-rays to long-term outcomes.

Shouldn’t we demand proof that fetal x-rays are safe before we casually expose our pups to them?

This is not only an unpopular position, it is one that triggers many breeders’ anger, although I don’t know why. In so many other instances, we vigorously protect our puppies and their moms from chemicals, medications, toxins and more. We demand pharmaceutical companies prove their products are safe before we use them and we aggressively follow Internet claims of injury or death from these products. We require dog food companies pass stringent standards before we use their food. We avoid products made in China for fear of unsafe ingredients. We puppy proof our homes and yards to keep our puppies safe.

Why are we not turning the same level of scrutiny on fetal x-rays? Why aren’t we insisting this procedure be proven safe before we risk it? I’m not from Missouri but in this case I live in the “Show Me” state! Isn’t reducing cancer rates in our dogs everyone’s goal?

In Part 2 of this blog, I present our personal results regarding prenatal x-rays, including what happened when we stopped routinely using them!

References

Linet MS, Kim KP and Rajaraman P. 2009. Children’s exposure to diagnostic medical radiation and cancer risk: epidemiologic and dosimetric considerations. Pediatric Radiology, Vol 39, Suppl 1:S4-26.

Linet, MS, TL Slovos, et al. 2012. Cancer risks associated with external radiation from diagnostic imaging procedures. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. Vol 62, Iss 2, pages 75–100.

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25 Comments

  1. Julia

    I do not do prenatal X-Rays on my dogs. I have a vet on standby if I notice that my whelping is not going well. I’ve had enough experience with breeding that I can guesstimate the number of puppies my female will have due to her size and at the end of the whelping I palpate her uterus to check for any extra puppies only if mom still shows signs of labor. I have only once been surprised by an extra puppy when I thought the whelping was over and do you know what? My dam was able to birth her puppy without any interference or supervision from me.

    We have become too “involved” in the natural process of whelping. I had 4 children and my doctor would NEVER allow me near radiation such as x-rays. Why is it then ok to do it to our animals?

    • Gayle Watkins

      Julia, we follow the same plan and have occasionally have those after-whelping surprises. You are right, our moms had no problem with those later pups though it is always a bit exciting to wake up to a revised puppy count :-).

  2. Julia

    I do not do prenatal X-Rays on my dogs. I have a vet on standby if I notice that my whelping is not going well. I’ve had enough experience with breeding that I can guesstimate the number of puppies my female will have due to her size and at the end of the whelping I palpate her uterus to check for any extra puppies only if mom still shows signs of labor. I have only once been surprised by an extra puppy when I thought the whelping was over and do you know what? My dam was able to birth her puppy without any interference or supervision from me. And oh, isn’t that the same experience you have with x-rays? Because even the vet can only give you an estimate.

    We have become too “involved” in the natural process of whelping. I had 4 children and my doctor would NEVER allow me near radiation such as x-rays. Why is it then ok to do it to our animals?

  3. Tamara Law

    A while back, a Vet Tech and small breeder posted an X-Ray of her pregnant bitch. I private messaged her and had a couple of positive comments each way. She told me that she had recently been taught in Vet School, that dogs don’t live long enough for the risk of X-Rays to matter. I told her to follow Gayle and Avidog on FB, hope she did.

    • Gayle Watkins

      Tammy, it would be such an easy thing to confirm your friend’s claim. In humans, the onset for some cancers following fetal x-rays is only 2 to 5 years. In fact, it was the rise in pediatric cancers that halted the use of routine x-rays in pregnant women. That sure seems possible in dogs and fits the timeline of many early cancers. We aren’t saying that we know fetal x-rays are definitively bad, we are simply asking for the research to be done before thousands of pregnant dogs are x-rayed each year. Hope your Facebook friend will join the conversation.

  4. Bea Jennings

    Hi,

    I attended your workshop in Wheatridge CO several months ago. I am so glad you are taking this position. I have always been against this practice since we would not so the same thing to humans.

    Keep up to great work you are doing, Bea Jennings – COPWDC

    • Gayle Watkins

      Bea, great to hear from you! We had so much fun in Colorado. We used to routinely x-ray pregnant women but after some controversial but irrefutable research was released, the practice has been stopped. Now, x-rays are only done for diagnostic purposes on our moms-to-be. We hope we either reach that point in dogs or do the research to show it is safe.

  5. Chandra

    I am also interested in the possibility that breeders who x-ray for several generations eventually produce smaller litter sizes than breeders who have not. My observations lead me to believe x-rays done on pregnant bitches for several generations have even lead those breeders to experience consistent misses or singleton litters. Old school breeders I have kept up with who have never x-rayed seem to be the ones producing 8 and 10 puppy litters. I wish someone would look in to this as well.

    • Gayle Watkins

      That is an interesting point. We don’t have any research on that since we did not x-ray many generations. I agree with you though that old-school breeders who do not xray tend to maintain both large litter size and longevity.

  6. Kristin Sipus

    Thank you for this article! I have always felt it was crazy to x-ray pregnant bitches and have not x-rayed any of my litters.

  7. Susan Beals

    I have never understood this. It has been known for decades that exposing rapidly dividing cells (as in growing fetal animals) is a recipe for all kinds of adverse effects. I would never x-ray a pregnant bitch just to get a head count. And I would not buy a puppy if I knew it had been exposed to gratuitous x-rays in utero.

  8. Joanna Kimball

    “Now grant you, 0.16 Gys (grays) is more than a typical puppy-count x-ray”

    Yes, my quick search says that a pelvic x-ray in a bitch is no more than .1 or .2 millisieverts, about as much radiation as a human chest x-ray – or 1/800 that experimental dose. One vet source I found listed their x-rays at .01 millisieverts, or one-eight-thousandth that experimental dose. It’s not really even comparable.

    “but even one pelvic x-ray dramatically increases the radiation a pregnant dog experiences over the normal radiation she gets from her environment, such as from the sun and radon.”

    At .1 or .2 millisieverts, she receives that much background radiation in (depending on the source I found) between three and ten days. At .01 it would be less than one day.

    http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/safety/?pg=sfty_xray

    As a breeder, I am not a huge fan of routine pregnancy x-rays, purely because I think it stresses the bitch out and is rarely accurate enough to answer my questions during the whelping. But my concern about radiation exposure is basically nonexistent.

  9. Sy Guth

    Hi,

    If you are looking for causes of cancer, then you need to be looking at the 98% of the dry kibble dog food produced in the US. Nearly ALL the manufactures use genetically modified ingredients — modified with pesticides like Bt that are spliced in the DNA of every cell of soy, wheat, corn, rice, etc. They do it so that when the bugs eat the plants they will die. Our dogs do not have the enzymes to digest grain products, so the grains either go through the dog or factor into the blood stream. GM crops have been readily available since 2000 and that is when the life expectancy of our dogs starting its down hill slide.

    Scanning a bitch does not give you an accurate head-count, but does tell you at 5 weeks if everything is going well or if the bitch is reabsorbing her pups. About 5 weeks one can also start to use a Summit Doppler and listen for the heart beats, depending on the MHz of the probe.

    • Julia Castillo

      The fact is x-rays will release radiation into our bitches and their preterm puppies. Why should we expose our litters to this type of additional radiation if we do not have to do so?

      Sy, your statement that “Nearly ALL the manufactures use genetically modified ingredients” is not accurate. Victor, Abundant Life, A Taste of the Wild, Blue Buffalo, Purina Pro Plan, Hi-Tek Naturals, Merrick, Go!, Sojos, Innova, Wellness, and the list goes on all have grain free dry kibble available for purchase. I personally use VICTOR SELECT HI-PRO PLUS. Here is the reason why: VHPP contains high levels of proteins and energy with only 30% carbohydrates. It is naturally formulated with added vitamins, minerals and other additives that work together to support a strong and healthy immune and digestive system. As with all Victor dog foods, this formula is free from Corn, Wheat, Soy or Glutens and is also made using GMO Free. On a side note: Anyone who purchases a puppy from me is told about the health concerns of the grocery store pet foods and is highly encourage to continue with Victor or to use another type of grain free dry kibble.

      In recent years, dog food companies are realizing that GM grains are causing health concerns in our dogs and more and more are offering grain free alternatives. Now that we have the dog food companies on board, why can we not have our own reproductive vets let go of the extra pocket change and forego unnecessary x-rays?

      The argument of finding reabsorbed pups at 5 weeks is a weak one. The breeders who are taking their bitches to be x-rayed are ethical and not backyard puppy mill breeders. They care about their dogs want the best for them. A breeder who is ethical will not have the increase abortion risks. They will not have malnourished bitches which greatly increases the risk of aborting their puppies and they will not have elderly bitches or those that have some sort of systemic illness or disease not have pregnant females with internal or external parasitic infestations.

  10. Kris

    thank you for this information!! I have a pregnant dog now..she is due July 11
    I have always done a quick X-ray to check how many so I have an idea of what we are having.
    But now I’m scared!! I had NO IDEA that one X-ray could cause so much heartache in the future…what about ultrasound? I US to confirm pregnancy is that safe?
    I will skip the X-ray this time & just go by the momma..what we have is what we will have…will have my vet on stand by in case. I have never worried about it bc we had a pretty good idea what we were having even though you can’t always be 100% sure how many pups even on X-ray. I guess I never really thought about the effects of the X-ray at this crucial time of development…but it does make sense….thanks again
    Kris

    • Gayle Watkins

      Kris, Good luck with your litter! You can safely do an ultrasound now if your vet is good at counting that way. Or just wait to see what you get. Regardless, we hope the whelping goes smoothly!

  11. Maria Giannell

    You saved EIGHT little lives last fall with similar information in your ITDB course. Although NOT x-raying any pregnant being seems to just be pure logic to me, I was able to provide a colleague with your documentation to STOP a planned X-ray! We bred bred our dog to her bitch, she was going to wait until later in the pregnancy to do an X-ray rather than an ultrasound at 30 days, instead she agreed not to! Eight healthy puppies were born on Oct. 5 and have since gone to homes where they have a much better chance of living long healthy lives into their teens. Thank you for this and all the fantastic information you continue to share!
    Maria

    • Gayle Watkins

      Maria, I don’t know if we saved lives but hopefully that decision to ultrasound contributed to their long-term health. Thanks for sharing your story!!

  12. Joyce mitchell

    What about ultrasounds to confirm pregnancy? Harmful? Not?

    • Marcy Burke

      Joyce,

      Decades of safety studies in humans have found no detrimental effects, short- or long-term, with ultrasound when used appropriately. Based on that we have no problem using them to confirm pregnancy. The same thing for fetal dopplers, which we use to confirm litter size. The key for us is to not overdo their use. It’s fun to listen to heartbeats, but should only be done once or twice. Hope this helps!

  13. Jeanne

    Do you have the reference of the original Beagle study?

    • Gayle Watkins

      Here you go, Jeanne.

      Mortality in beagles irradiated during prenatal and postnatal development. II. Contribution of benign and malignant neoplasia.
      Benjamin SA, Lee AC, Angleton GM, Saunders WJ, Keefe TJ, Mallinckrodt CH
      Radiat Res. 1998 Sep; 150(3):330-48.

  14. Linda

    “The offspring of 1,343 pregnant Beagle dogs irradiated with a single dose of 0.16 or 0.81 Gy on days 8, 28, or 55 after breeding and 2, 70, and 365 days postpartum… had a significant increase in their incidence of benign and malignant neoplasms…”

    Who in their right mind is xraying/irradiating their whelps SIX (6) times before birth? I should hope no one. Before scaring people half to death, let’s see a study where the whelps are xrayed ONCE at day 56 and then go on to have cancer. Those are the numbers I want to see.

    • Gayle Watkins

      We so agree! Let’s see the study you describe or ANY study showing that canine fetal xrays are safe. Until then, we will not routinely xray and will continue to press researchers and vets to show they do not increase early cancer (<9 years) in dogs. At the moment, no such research exists! P.S.--many, many bitches are x-rayed multiple times during pregnancy because of poor quality films. You may be lucky to get away with one but we often see 3 or 4 posted by owners. So multiple x-rays is by no means out of the ordinary.

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