Although breeding your dog may seem like a natural and simple thing to do, there are many important considerations and steps involved with success in ending up with a healthy litter. If you have any questions after reading this guide, please call us.
A female dog is called a bitch, the male a dog. Birthing is called whelping or parturition, and the offspring are puppies. The length of pregnancy, called gestation, is 60 to 63 days (but can range from 57-70 days).
Estrus, commonly called coming into heat, is the time of ovulation when the bitch can become pregnant. Bitches usually come into heat at about 6-12 months, then approximately every 6 months after that. Bitches should not be bred until at least their second heat to allow them to mature. Their first whelping should be before 4-5 years of age or they are at higher risk of having whelping problems. Average length of the heat cycle is 21 days: 7 coming in, seven in (the actual breeding period), and 7 going out. This can vary greatly from one bitch to another, from 3 to 10 days for each part of the cycle. Onset of estrus is marked by swelling of the vulva, then a discharge that may appear clear or red-tinged. You may also notice some behavioral changes, and male dogs will start hanging around your home (keep your bitch under close supervision – leashed or penned, not just tied up). Vaginal smears performed every other day can pinpoint the actual onset of the breeding period.
Select a male based on breeding, conformation and temperament. Remember that any undesirable traits are likely to be passed on to your puppies – select only superior dogs. For many breeds (generally larger breeds) we recommend X-rays to screen for problems such as hip and elbow dysplasia before deciding to breed either male or female.
Before breeding your bitch, get her in good health. Obesity greatly increases the risks of pregnancy and whelping, and decreases fertility. She should receive a booster on her DHLP-PV within six months of breeding (but at least 2 weeks before the breeding date). Some dog owners will require a Brucella test; this is a contagious disease of dogs, transmittable to humans, that usually is passed during breeding. If a stud owner requires this test, they are doing so to protect both their dog and yours. To avoid injury to the male, let the dogs become acquainted while leashed. If the bitch acts aggressively or tries to injure the male, stop breeding attempts and re-introduce them after a vaginal smear to check her heat status, or after a day or two.
During breeding, the female will stand with her feet planted and her tail off to the side. The male will mount her, and after breeding will remain attached to the female for 5-20 minutes; this is called the tie. It is natural at this point for the dogs to be joined facing in opposite directions. Leave the dogs alone until the tie ends naturally. The bitch should be bred every other day until she rejects the male.
There are several methods of pregnancy diagnosis, all with some limitations. Palpation can be done from 20 to 30 days, but may not pick up puppies in obese dogs or those with only one or two pups. Ultrasound, can pick up pregnancies from 21 days, but is best performed from 28 to 35 days. This method is not always accurate on the number of pups, but it can be done earlier than x-rays. The most accurate method is X-rays, taken after 45 days. This allows us to give an accurate count of puppies about two weeks prior to whelping.
Bitches often go through false pregnancies, exhibiting all the signs of pregnancy, including mammary development and nesting behavior. This usually only lasts 60 days, and is easily identified by performing ultrasound to rule out pregnancy.
Many bitches will go through a period early in their pregnancy when their appetite is poor. This is normal and should only last for 7-10 days.
About 2 weeks prior to whelping, prepare a nest for your bitch. In a quiet place, such as a closet or small room, place a box large enough for the bitch to be able to lie in comfortably. Small round plastic children’s wading pools work well for larger dogs. Do not place the nest in a busy area, as whelping may be delayed or interrupted if strangers are present or it is too noisy. Line the box with a thick layer of newspaper and towels or a blanket.
The approach of whelping is signaled by mammary gland and vulvar enlargement, and decreased activity. Your bitch may also exhibit restlessness, nesting behavior and lack of appetite for 12-24 hours before parturition starts. There are three stages of the birth process:
Stage 1: 6-12 hours. Panting, restlessness, onset of contractions. Body temperature drops 1-1 1/2 degrees. (Usually below 100F)
Stage 2: 2-4 hours. Contractions and expulsion of fetus. Pups come every 10-30 minutes – often two will be born in a short period of time, then the bitch will rest for 45 minutes to an hour. Allow the bitch to break the cords and clean all the puppies. She may want to eat the placentas. This is normal, but not necessary. Do not allow her to eat more than 2 or 3, or an upset stomach is likely. Count to be sure there is a placenta for each pup. Call us IF:
-Active contractions go for 30 minutes with no pup born.
-There is more than 2 hours between pups.
Stage 3: Expulsion of remaining placentas and uterine involution. Call IF 12 hours go by without expulsion of all the placentas (retained placenta).
Handle the newborn pups as little as possible for the first few days. Do not allow other dogs in the nesting area. Keep the number of people visiting to an absolute minimum, and do not allow them to touch the pups for the first 3-4 weeks to avoid disease transmission.
Milk starts forming in the mammary gland 1-2 weeks prepartum, and may drip for a day or two before birth. The composition is very different from the milk of other animals, therefore cow’s milk is inadequate as a substitute. If the bitch has insufficient milk for a large litter, special milk replacers (such as Esbilac) must be used. Healthy, satisfied pups will wake, cry for a few moments, nurse, then sleep again. Unhealthy or hungry pups will cry for extended periods, then fall quiet as they weaken. These pups need immediate attention!
Some bitches will experience hypocalcemia (low blood calcium), especially if they are nursing large litters, in the first 3-4 weeks of lactation. These bitches are nervous and restless, progressing to panting, whining, incoordination and collapse. This is a medical emergency! Feeding calcium supplements during pregnancy increases the problem.
Ensure a good-quality ration for your bitch, not a local or elevator brand. Feed her normally for the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy, then start adding puppy food to the ration for the last 4 weeks. This will ensure protein, vitamins and mineral levels adequate for the growing pups. DO NOT feed calcium supplements to a pregnant bitch – this will only increase the chance of hypocalcemia. During the nursing period, feed her puppy food. Start offering the puppies food at 4 weeks – moisten dry puppy food to a mush with water (not milk). When they are completely weaned, fast the bitch for 24 hours to decrease milk production, then place her on her pre-pregnancy ration. Puppies can be completely weaned by 6 weeks, but should remain with their littermates until 8 weeks to ensure normal behavioral development.
We will supply you with a safe dewormer to use on your bitch 2 weeks prepartum. She should be dewormed again after the pups are born, and the puppies should be dewormed at 3-4 weeks and 6-7 weeks of age. Pups should receive their first vaccinations at 6-8 weeks, and receive boosters every 3-4 weeks after that, through at least 16 weeks. Pups born in the spring and summer should receive heartworm preventive medication starting at 4-8 weeks.
A WORD OF WARNING
Breeding an animal is a serious endeavor and should be considered carefully. Any experienced dog breeder will tell you that proper breeding, including good nutrition and health care, is rewarding, but very demanding and rarely profitable! Any animal not used for breeding will remain in better health if spayed or neutered.