It’s that time of year when all the world is making babies so I figured now is a great time to discuss breeding. First, let me let you in on a little secret, if you are going to breed correctly – you will not make a whole lot of money in the process. Second, if you are thinking about breeding your pet so that your children can witness the miracle of life – then don’t! There are plenty of videos that can show that and if you are thinking that will also teach them responsibility of care then might I suggest becoming a foster parent to any number of homeless puppies and kittens that need help during the spring and summer at your local shelter. Even The Seeing Eye pups need decent foster homes. Being a responsible breeder requires a tremendous amount of time and money as well as a commitment to socialization and training to ensure the puppies have an appropriate start to life. This blog will discuss a lot of things you need to think about if you want to become a responsible breeder.
Breeding may require multiple visits to the stud’s home, the veterinary clinic and, in some cases, surgery. If you are serious about breeding, can you answer yes to each and every one of these questions:
- Can you take the female (and male ) to the veterinarian for an initial examination and health screening (this includes radiographs and bloodwork)?
- Can you keep meticulous records for heat cycles, diet, temperatures, weights, etc.?
- Can you make several trips to the veterinarian for vaginal smears?
- Can you make several trips to the veterinarian for progesterone levels?
- Certain breeds require artificial or surgical insemination, are you willing to pay for the collection of the semen and cost of the insemination?
- Can you make a trip to the veterinarian for an ultrasound to confirm pregnancy?
- Can you make another trip to the veterinarian for a set of radiographs to get a more concise puppy count prior to delivery?
- Have you thought about the possibility of a caesarian section being needed (possibly after normal veterinarian hours)?
- Can you care for mother and puppies for at least eight weeks?
- Are you able to bottle or tube feed puppies that need specialized attention if the mother rejects the litter? Initially, puppies require being fed every 2 hours and need help urinating and defecating.
- Do you have several hours each day to clean, care for and socialize the puppies for 2 months?
- Do you have a way to find responsible pet owners that will care for their new pet life-long?
- Have you decided if you are going to require a contract with the new pet owner and what should be done with the puppy if they are no longer able to care for it.
Now that you have answered yes to all the above questions, the following paragraphs with discuss in further details why these questions are important.
Breeding should be done to improve a breed, which requires a strong knowledge of the pedigrees and health histories of the female and male dogs. Breeding a dog requires the ability to pay attention to detail. Dogs with temperament problems (i.g. any type of aggression) or inherited medical conditions should not be bred.
Here is a short list of a few inherited medical conditions that should be avoided. If the male or female has any of these conditions they should NOT be bred:
- Hip/elbow dysplasia
- Heart disease / murmurs
- Degenerative myelopathy
- Cherry eyes / entropian (eye lashes curl in towards the eyeball)
- Luxating patellas
Both males and females should be tested for brucellosis. It is a venereal disease that can cause fetuses to be aborted and issues with the adult’s genitals, kidneys and eyes. This disease can also be transmitted to humans who come in contact with infected tissues and secretions. There is also testing available for multiple genetic diseases as well. For more information on certain breed genetic testing, visit Canine Health Info. Radiographs are used to screen for elbow and hip dysplasia and luxating patellas.
Planning and timing is crucial. It is recommended that a female should be 1.5 to 2 years old before she is bred. Keeping track of her heat cycles, will help you know when she should be going into her next cycle so that you can be prepared for breeding. Doing your homework and planning months in advance on knowing which male will be her breeding partner and whether breeding will be natural, artificial or surgical will help decrease stress when the female is ready. Keeping dates of when the female was bred will help to figure out her due date. Knowing how much and what she was fed during her pregnancy will be beneficial for her and her pups. If she was bred a couple of times, keeping track of rectal temperature close to her due dates will help you track when she may start going into labor. When the female is ready to deliver her pups, her mammary glands will swell with milk, she may stop eating, and her temperature will drop. After puppies are born, you will need to monitor mom’s interaction with the puppies. A gram scale is handy to monitor the pup’s body weight to ensure they are gaining and growing steadily. Parasite screening and deworming should begin at 4 weeks of age and first vaccinations between 6-8 weeks of age. Life can be crazy at times but keeping a journal of all of these things will be extremely helpful to you, the veterinarian, the female, her pups and the new owner of the puppies.
A female dog typically has a heat cycle every 6 months. Each cycle usually last approximately 21 days. On average, a female will have decreased vaginal discharge around the 9th day of her cycle. At this point, she will be receptive to a male and allow him to mount her for breeding. Some females have silent heats or short cycles. By using vaginal smears and progesterone testing, we are able to better assess when the correct time for breeding is. Not only can progesterone levels assist the veterinarian in knowing an optimal breeding time, it can help give a more accurate estimated whelping date. This information is especially valuable if you suspect your dog may need a c-section at whelping. We recommend semen evaluations for males to ensure the sample has normal “swimmers”, there is an adequate number and that they are mobile.
There are certain breeds, like Bulldogs, that have an extremely difficult time with natural breedings. Males need to be collected and the females need to be inseminated with the aid of humans. These are additional costly expenses. Surgical insemination is a surgical procedure completed under general anesthesia where an abdominal incision is made and semen is injected directly into each uterine horn. As with any surgical procedure, anesthesia is a risk. Each time a female is cut, scar tissue is created during the healing process. This scar tissue will make the next surgery (C-section or further inseminations) more difficult as time goes on. Fertility may be limited if the female needs a surgical insemination and a c-section with each litter.
Pregnancy typically lasts 63 days. 30 days after the last breeding, pregnancy can be confirmed with an ultrasound. At 54 days, radiographs can give the veterinarian an approximate puppy count. This is especially important information since it can take up to 2 hours between puppies being born once labor starts. For example, let’s say that there were five puppies seen on the radiographs. If the mother tires out or a puppy is stuck after the second puppy is born, you now know that you will need to get the mother to a veterinarian for an emergency c-section so that you can save both her and the unborn puppies.
When the female is ready to deliver her pups, she will begin nesting (or creating an area to have her babies). She will need to have a quiet location away from normal household hustle and bustle and other pets. Labor can be delayed if she feels threatened or stressed. The birthing process is not always a smooth delivery. The female may need assistance during the delivery. If labor signs are noted and no puppy is produced, or if two hours have gone with no further puppies delivered and she is still showing signs of labor, she may need an emergency caesarian section. This can easily start off at $1,000 and increase in cost depending on many scenarios. The veterinarian will perform an exam and palpate the vagina to feel for an open cervix and to see if there is a puppy stuck in the birth canal. A radiograph may be taken to determine how many puppies are still present. An ultrasound may be used to determine if the puppies are still alive and in stress. Since sterile conditions need to be kept while a c-section happens, owners will not be allowed in the surgical suite. Surgical and nursing staff will need to be there to care for mom and pups during this time.
A pregnant dog will need a higher calorie diet than normal dogs. We recommend feeding a high quality diet made for puppies throughout her pregnancy and continue until her puppies are no longer nursing. You may also add cottage cheese and yogurt to her food. During the pregnancy, these extra calories will aid the growth and development of the fetus and after delivery, will support her milk supply. Puppies need a high quality puppy food to help them grow properly.
Sometimes, an inexperienced mother may not understand how to care for her pups or a mother may no longer care for the pups. If this would happen, you would need to step in to care for these pups. This may require tube feeding or bottle feedings – and all the supplies that go with it. Puppies will require specialized formula made strictly for them. It is not good for the pups to have cow or goat’s milk. For the first 2-3 weeks, puppies will require feedings every 2 hours (yes, even overnight!). Since the mother usually licks the pups which stimulate them to urinate and defecate, you will need to act like her and use a warm washcloth to help them go to the bathroom. The amount of time that will need to be dedicated to them will depend on how many puppies are in the litter.
Once the puppies are around 4 weeks old, the mother will stop cleaning up after the pups. Which means lots of extra little poo piles that will need to be cleaned up! They will very shortly start to try out “solid” foods and just like human babies, puppies make a mess when learning to feed themselves. There is a lot of learning and socialization that a puppy requires during the stages from birth to weaning. They will need to understand affection, handling, and new experiences so that they don’t become fearful as they age. In Pennsylvania, a puppy cannot legally leave their mother until they are 8 weeks old. This means that you will want to make sure you provide outgoing, happy, and healthy puppies by this age.
Like I said at the beginning of this blog, animal shelters and rescue groups are full of pets who are no longer wanted or whose owner has had a situation where they could no longer care for the pet. You should not want to add to the deaths of these unwanted pets by breeding your pet and giving them to any individual who said they will take one. You should want to find a responsible pet owner who can care the new pup for all its life. Are you going to require an interview process for one of your pups. Many responsible breeders require an owner to sign a contract that states they will take their pet to the veterinarian and that if there is ever a time that they can no longer care for their pet, that the dog goes back to the breeder. If this is something that you feel is a good detail to have, make sure you have the space, time and finances (or other resources) to care for a dog that may come back to you.