Breeding your dog?

O. Denise McGinnis

Although breeding your pet and raising puppies (or kittens) can be a fun and rewarding experience, it is also expensive, time consuming, and a great deal of work.  Here is a short summary of things you should be aware of if you are thinking of breeding your dog.

It is very important that your dog is properly vaccinated and de-wormed before coming into heat and that you get adequate prenatal checkups before the actual delivery day.  We recommend that only pets with good personalities (i.e. NO aggressive/dominant, shy tendencies) and who are healthy be bred.  If you are not sure that your pet meets these criteria please make an appointment to have your pet evaluated by one of our veterinarians.  Certain breeds should have their hips and/or elbows checked at two years of age, prior to breeding, so as not to pass on genetic traits that can make life miserable for future generations.  There are additional health clearances that many breeds should pass, as well.  Some of these include thyroid testing, CERF (eye) checks by a veterinary ophthalmologist, BAER (hearing) tests, etc.  You should know what genetic problems are seen in your breed, so that you can have the appropriate tests performed at the appropriate time.

It has been shown in numerous studies that a dog does not have to breed or come into heat to live a happy, healthy life.  On the contrary, it is well proven that for females, the more heat cycles they go through the higher the chance of having breast cancer later in life.  Dogs who have had 3 or more heats are 26% more likely to get breast cancer.  It is therefore recommended to have them spayed as early as possible (4-6 months of age) or at least before their second heat.  Spaying before the first heat significantly reduces the risk of breast cancer, and some protective benefit is still conferred if the dog is spayed before the second heat.  Also, female dogs that are not spayed are at high risk of getting a life-threatening uterine infection (pyometra) which requires them to be spayed under emergency conditions.  This is far more costly and dangerous than spaying at a young age.

For male dogs, when they are no longer breeding, we suggest that you neuter them to decrease their chances of prostate & testicular problems.  Generally, spayed and neutered dogs are usually more content, happier, and make better household pets.

In order to know when your dog conceives, and hence the due date of your litter, it is imperative that you know exactly when she is ovulating during her “heat” cycle.  The only two ways to get this information is to either do serial vaginal cytologies once you notice that she is in heat, or to do blood tests to check her progesterone levels, or both.  Any other method makes it more difficult to monitor her for potential complications.

When your dog is in her sixth week of pregnancy we strongly suggest that you take her rectal temperature twice daily and graph it.  When the temperature drops by 1-2 degrees and stays down, you should expect delivery within 24 hours.  Not all dogs have a drop in temperature, however, which is why it is important to have their exact date of ovulation and hence the due date.  The last week before delivery we suggest a radiograph (X-ray) of the dog to determine the number of puppies.  This will tell us how many to expect and if we should prepare for possible problems with the puppies being too large to be delivered naturally.

Once she reaches week 7 (the third trimester) of her 9-week pregnancy it is important to change her diet to a high protein/high calcium diet.  We suggest a high quality puppy food (Science Diet, Nutro, Iams, Eukanuba, or Purina ProPlan).  Calcium is another important nutrient that pregnant dogs need to help them with their contractions and production of milk.

While most dogs will deliver normally and nurse their puppies without a hitch there are quite a few animals that do go through some complications, ranging from simple to serious and life threatening problems.  We strongly advise that you plan in advance for such emergencies.  The times to seek a veterinarian’s help are:  if the temperature drops and 24 hours later there is no sign of delivery, if the dog has delivered one or more puppies and two hours later the other puppies haven’t been delivered, if the bitch is in distress or there is copious amount of vaginal discharge, if a puppy is born dead, if the bitch starts to seizure or anything else that seems unusual.  Some animals may need an emergency C-section and the sooner this is determined the better the chances of delivering live puppies and with fewer complications for the mother.  C-sections can be costly and you should budget for one in case the need should arise.

Puppies should be kept with their “family” until they are at least 8 weeks old so that they can be socialized with their littermates.  We recommend that puppies start their vaccination series and de-worming between the ages of 6-8 weeks.

Letting your pet have a litter may not be in her best interest and the decision to breed should be seriously considered.  If you do decide to breed your dog we strongly encourage you to seek further information by contacting a breeder to mentor you and reading books on the subject.