Red Rapsberry Leaves – Friend Or Foe?

written & submitted by Karen Copley, RNC BCN

Red Raspberry has been used by many dog breeders as the miracle cure for all whelping and pregnancy ails. With the introduction of uterine contraction monitoring, through the WhelpWise service, potential problems that can develop with the use of Red Raspberry have been discovered.

Many people do not realize that when they are giving or taking “herbal remedies” they are in fact ingesting drugs. Most of our prescription drugs come from either plants, fungi, or bacteria. The advantage that a drug has over the plant is that the drug has a known quantity and quality of the chemical it is providing. Herbal preparations can vary significantly in the amount of chemical that they contain. One batch may have a minimal amount, the next toxic levels. People also should understand how this plant/drug works, is this the desired effect, and what are the potential risks of administering this plant/drug.

Raspberry does exactly what the distributors say it does. It makes the uterus contract. What the knowledgeable breeder needs to ask is: do I want my bitch to have contractions? How can I regulate the contractions so that they are not excessively strong?

The uterus is composed of smooth muscle, not skeletal muscle as in our arms and legs. Other smooth muscles in the body are located in the blood vessels, the intestines, and the bronchial tubes. Uterine contractions occur throughout life. Even as you are reading this magazine, providing of course that you are female, you will have at least one contraction.

Someone, somewhere, obviously not aware that smooth muscle does not get stronger with use, decided that the uterus needs to be exercised, believing that causing contractions during pregnancy will make the uterus stronger. Quite the contrary. “Exercising” the uterus makes as much sense as inducing an asthma attack to make your lungs stronger, raising your blood pressure to make your arteries stronger, or inducing diarrhea to make your digestive system more effective.

The uterus, being a generally smart organ on its own, has specific contraction patterns to facilitate a healthy pregnancy. A non-pregnant uterus generally has one contraction per hour. As estrous approaches, contractions increase, with three to four per hour at ovulation. The purpose if increased contractions at this point is to help spread the eggs down the uterus so that they do not implant in one area. The second through fifth week of gestation is the time of the least uterine contractions, frequently less than one per hour. This uterine quiescence provides a stable target for embryos to implant on and for placentas to develop.

Beginning in week six, a gradual increase in contractions per hour is noted with the average number of contractions during week eight being two to three. The last 24 hours of pregnancy will see the establishment of an organized contraction pattern, with deliveries being eight to twelve hours after its onset. Frequently the organized contraction pattern in the early stages of labor is not identifiable without the use of the uterine monitoring equipment, therefore we think a dog´s early labor is one to two hours.

Why would the use of red raspberry be a problem? If you look at early gestation where it is best that the uterus not contract, red raspberry can actually cause the fertilized eggs to be expelled. A moving uterus also makes a difficult target for the embryo to try to implant on, as healthy placentas must burrow into the uterine muscle to remain well attached. This is a difficult task if the uterus is contracting. If placentas do not become well attached, less blood and oxygen supply will be available to the developing fetus resulting in smaller, less vigorous pups and possibly resorbtions. Labor, the time of most stress on the placenta and puppy, can cause premature placental separation if the placenta is not well attached.

Use of red raspberry during labor can cause contractions to be to long and/or too strong. Every time the uterus contracts, the blood supply to the puppy is cut off because the blood vessels going to the puppy go through the uterine muscle. When the muscle contracts, the blood supply is cut off. If red raspberry is used there is no way to regulate the amount of chemical entering the system, and no way to prevent over-stimulating the uterus. Exceptionally strong contractions contribute to puppy compromise by decreasing oxygen to the puppy, causing premature placental separation and in some cases, uterine rupture. Additionally, the unregulated use of oxytocin, especially in high doses, has the same effect. Documented cases of premature labor have also been associated with the use of red raspberry. Fortunately, with the early detection of the contraction pattern, and the use of medications to stop the labor, these cases were able to make it to their due dates.

My advice for pregnancy and whelping: Pregnancy is a process best left alone. Good nutrition is one of the best ways to have a healthy pregnancy. Feed a dog food designed for pregnancy, or feed a well-balanced dog food (free of chemical preservatives), through week six, then switch to puppy food. I supplement the last week and a half of pregnancy with a natural dairy food like cottage cheese or yogurt to help increase calcium consumption. My general rule is 1 oz./10 lbs. Of body weight per day. This also helps with the “picky eater” syndrome. A multi-vitamin supplement is OK, but make sure you read the label to see what it contains.

Whelping interventions should only be made when there is a documented problem. Medication to support labor should only be used if indicated by a veterinarian. Ideally no medications should be given unless a uterine contraction monitor is used.

Mother Nature has actually done a very good job designing the reproduction process. It is important for us to support her process.

Thank you to reproductive specialist Dr. Anita Migday, Slade Veterinary Hospital, Framingham, MA for providing this article.

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