Whilst exact “puppy counting” and “kitten counting” are never advised with ultrasound, ultrasound can and should be used to alert the owner of the possibility of the presence of only a single foetus.
It is thought that a single foetus cannot produce sufficient ACTH and cortisol to initiate the birth process (Jackson’s Handbook of Veterinary Obstetrics, 2004), with breeders also voicing their suspicions that a single puppy or kitten can also grow too large to pass easily out of the birth canal.
Complications related to a single foetus are far more common in brachycephalic (flat-faced) canine and feline breeds, due to their broad foreheads and the steeper angle of the uterus into the mother’s birth canal, and a pregnancy scan can literally be a life-saver for these breeds.
If a single foetus is suspected, the ultrasound operator should refer the animal’s owner to their veterinarian. It is then the owner’s choice whether to seek an immediate veterinary consultation, or whether to keep a close eye on their pet around birth and seek immediate help at the sign of any distress.
If the bitch or queen does experience birth complications (dystocia), a timely caesarian by a veterinarian can prove a life-saver for both mother and young.