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The Basics of Dog Breeding

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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It is a scene repeated all too often. A panicked owner and a pet in distress presented in labor. Sometimes what is happening is normal. Labor takes time and the pet's guardian is simply overanxious. Sometimes the situation is more serious, and the pet may require medical intervention or even a cesarean section. The best way to avoid or prepare for these situations is to be an informed, knowledgeable owner before breeding your dog.

Visit Your Vet

Before deciding to breed your dog, a visit to your veterinarian is essential. Your pet's doctor can make sure your dog is in excellent health, currently vaccinated and free from internal and external parasites. Discuss a proper diet for pregnancy, as certain nutritional requirements will increase. If you have a purebred dog, be sure to discuss any possible inherited problems, because each breed has a tendency to develop certain diseases or conditions. Your veterinarian can tell you what problems are common among your specific breed and if your dog is a good breeding candidate. Temperament is important. Nervous, anxious, shy or aggressive dogs often make poor parents and pass these traits on to their puppies.

Select A Mate

Finding the right mate for your dog should be done carefully and with consideration. Choose a mate that best complements your pet's temperament and physical characteristics. An experienced breeder can often be helpful in showing you how to recognize your dog's strengths and weaknesses. All purebreds recognized by various kennel clubs have a set of physical standards considered to be the goal of breeding a litter of puppies. Check the breed standard guides for your particular dog and then evaluate your dog against the accepted standard. Look for a mate that best complements and balances your pet's structure, temperament, color and size.

Understand Your Dogs Reproductive Cycle

Your veterinarian can explain in detail your dog's reproductive cycle. This is essential if you will be caring for the mother during pregnancy and labor. A female becomes fertile approximately twice a year. This is known as the heat cycle, and for a few specific days within this cycle, she will be fertile and will accept a male. When these days occur is individual to the dog and will be influenced by size, age, and if she has had previous breedings. A successful breeding may require several encounters between male and female to ensure a pregnancy because fertility can vary from day to day. The day of the first breeding is considered to be day 1 of pregnancy. The length of pregnancy, or gestation period, is 61 to 65 days, the average being 63 days from the first day of breeding.

Labor and Delivery

During the first few weeks of pregnancy your pet will probably not demonstrate any noticeable differences in behavior. As the time for delivery approaches, your dog may become restless and begin to nest. She may want quiet and isolation or constant company. Every pregnancy and labor is unique to every dog. As delivery approaches, your pet will experience a natural fall in body temperature. You can take your pet's temperature rectally. When it falls below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, most labor begins within 24 hours. Labor in dogs looks a lot like labor in people. You will see your dog actively contract the muscles of the abdomen and uterus to help push the puppies forward. Sometimes a fluid filled sac is produced before the puppy is seen. These are the membranes of the placenta, and each puppy has its own. You may see only the sac for several minutes before the puppy is delivered. Sometimes the puppy and the placenta are delivered rapidly. Breech births, where the puppy comes out tail first instead of head first, are common and usually pose no problems. In general, if your dog has been actively contracting for more than one hour without producing a puppy, it's time to call your veterinarian.

Be Prepared

We all hope for a smooth labor and delivery with a beautiful litter of healthy puppies as a result. But if you expect the best you must also be prepared for the worst. A cesarean section is often necessary and even anticipated in certain breeds, such as the English bulldog due to the large size of the puppy's head. Not all puppies survive; some are born with birth defects. And contrary to popular belief, not all dogs are "natural mothers." Some dogs simply refuse to care for their puppies and can even display aggression. If this is the case, you must be ready to assume the task of surrogate parenting. Puppy milk replacers, heat sources, pet nursing bottles, and lots of time and love will be necessary to see them through the first 6 weeks.

Mothers Need Love Too

Your new mother dog will need attention too. Talk to your veterinarian about diet adjustments to help meet the new nutritional demands of nursing. Learn how to check her milk glands for signs of pain, inflammation or sores from nursing. Observe for discharges, bleeding or foul odors from her reproductive tract. Don't bring strangers into the house for a few weeks, as new mothers are protective. Limit visiting and handling of the newborn puppies until they are a few weeks old. Keep the nesting area or nursery clean and change bedding frequently.

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