Oxytocin is used to assist in whelping to stimulate contractions of the uterus and mammary glands for milk letdown. Oxytocin is an FDA approved injectable hormone for use in veterinary medicine. It is naturally released by the hypothalamus section of the brain during labour to stimulate uterine contractions. Do not use until the cervix is naturally dilated. Normal nursing by the offspring will also cause the oxytocin to be released increasing contractions and milk letdown. Oxytocin should only be used under direction of a veterinarian.

Oxytocin is a hormone naturally produced in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus. This hormone is especially important in reproduction.

Oxytocin increases the ability of sodium molecules to pass into the muscles of the uterus. This effect causes the uterus to contract. In birth, this helps to move the foetus into the birth canal. 

Uses of Oxytocin

  • The primary use of oxytocin is to induce labour in animals having weak or no contractions. The drug enhances uterine contractions at the time of foetal delivery.

  • Oxytocin is also used medically to expel any residual placental material that might be left in the uterus. This may prevent the subsequent development of metritis.

  • Oxytocin helps to stimulate milk release after delivery.

Precautions and Side Effects

While generally safe and effective when prescribed by a veterinarian, oxytocin can cause side effects in some animals.

  • Oxytocin should not be used in animals with known hypersensitivity or allergy to the drug.

  • Oxytocin may interact with other medications. Consult with your veterinarian to determine if other drugs your pet is receiving could interact with oxytocin.

  • Oxytocin should not be used if the foetus is in an abnormal position or is too large to pass through the birth canal.

  • Oxytocin should only be used if the cervix is dilated.

  • Oxytocin should not be used if an animal has uncorrected low blood sugar or untreated low blood calcium.

  • If inappropriately used, oxytocin can cause uterine rupture or pain from excessive uterine cramping.

How Oxytocin Is Supplied

  • Oxytocin is typically available in injectable form and comes in 20 units/ml bottles. It is also available in 10 units/ml ampules and multi-dose vials.

  • Oxytocin is also available as a 40 units/ml nasal spray. This form of oxytocin is not for use to stimulate uterine contractions and should not be used for that purpose.

Dosing Information

  • Medication should never be administered without first consulting your veterinarian. 

  • There is a wide dose range for oxytocin, depending on the stage of labor. 

  • Typically, oxytocin is given to dogs and cats at a dose of 2 to 20 units intravenous or intramuscular. At least 30 minutes should elapse before giving another dose.

  • The duration of administration depends on the condition being treated, response to the medication and the development of any adverse effects. 

Oxytocin (Pitocin®, Syntocinon®)

Oxytocin should only be used under the direction of a veterinarian. Do NOT use in animals with dystocia (difficult birth) due to malposition of the foetus, small pelvis in the mother, large foetal size, or when a caesarean section is otherwise warranted; it may cause uterine rupture, foetal injury, or death of the foetus and mother.

Human formulations: Pitocin® (Park-Davis), Syntocinon® (Sandoz) and various generic preparations

Veterinary formulations: Various generic preparations 

Mar 16, 2007

Oxytocin is a pituitary hormone that causes strong, coordinated contractions of the estrogen - primed uterus during parturition. It may be used therapeutically to relieve non-obstructive dystocia in bitches. 

Historically, doses of 5 IU or more of oxytocin per dog, administered subcutaneously or intramuscularly, were recommended. Recent work using a tocodynamometer, which assesses changes in abdominal pressure and allows the tracking of uterine contractility, has demonstrated that intramuscular doses of 5 IU or more are associated with uterine tetany and that intramuscular doses as low as 0.25 IU of oxytocin may stimulate effective contractions.1 Oxytocin does not dissociate readily from myometrial receptors, so there is little wisdom in continuing treatment if labor does not progress. 

In patients with non-obstructive dystocia that has been verified by radiography, 0.25 to 5 IU of oxytocin may be given intramuscularly at 20 - to 30-minute intervals for two or three doses. Suggested initial doses are 0.25 IU for dogs weighing less than 11 lb (5 kg), 0.5 to 1 IU for dogs weighing 11 to 22 lb (5 to 10 kg), 1 to 3 IU for dogs weighing 22 to 66 lb (10 to 30 kg), and 3 to 5 IU for dogs weighing more than 66 lb (30 kg). If there is no response to the initial oxytocin injection, progressively higher doses may be used, with an upper dose limit of 5 IU. After this treatment, if dystocia is not resolved, a caesarean section is indicated. 

Margaret V. Root Kustritz, DVM, PhD, DACT 
Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences 
College of Veterinary Medicine 
University of Minnesota 
St. Paul, MN 55108 

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