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Dog Reproduction - Important Considerations For Safe Dog Breeding, Pregnancy, and Labor


What do I need to know if I want to breed my dog?

The first thing you need to be sure of is that your male or female dog that you're planning to breed is healthy, health-screened, the right age, and nutritionally where they should be before we start breeding.


Dr. Marty Greer
Smallanimalclinic.com

What is the most important factor when considering canine reproduction?

You want to make sure that this is a male and female that you really think adds value to the gene pool. We don't want to just randomly breed any dog. Just because your neighbor said you had a cute dog doesn't mean that you should produce a litter. We are very careful with the pre-evaluations of all the dogs based on temperament, health, nutritional status, personality, and all the factors that go into making a male or female dog a qualified parent.

Will my dog need breed screening, and do they get that from a vet?

Most dogs should have some health screenings done before they're bred. The OFA website has a sub-website called CIHC, which is the Canine Information Health Center. There they list each of the health screenings that are recommended based on what the breed club has determined are the most important health screenings to do for that individual breed. Even for some of the dogs that are combination breeds like the Goldendoodles and Labradoodles, there are health screenings that we recommend for those as well. So it's not necessarily a recommendation by a veterinarian, but rather by the health club. Now, some of the screening needs to be done by a veterinarian. A cardiologist needs to do the heart. An ophthalmologist needs to do the eyes. A veterinarian needs to do the X-rays of the hips, elbows, shoulders, hocks, and whatever bones or joints that we want to do. But there are some DNA tests that can be done based on cheek swabs that can be submitted directly to the testing lab without reaching out to a veterinarian for that assistance.

Do veterinarians offer dog infertility consultations?

There are a few veterinarians that do. There are probably around a hundred veterinarians in the country that actively are engaged in canine reproductive services known as theriogenology. So not all veterinary clinics are interested in working with breeders, but the ones that do are really very highly skilled in that assistance. So you want to seek out a veterinary clinic that's interested in working with breeders. Not all veterinarians find that breeding services are something that they care to offer.

What is involved when assessing my dog's fertility?

The males are easier to assess because we can do a semen collection and assessment. We look at motility, which is the swimming action, the morphology, which is the shape, the count of the sperm (how many sperm are in the ejaculate), and longevity, which is how long the semen lives once it's put into an extender. Females are a lot harder to assess. So we really don't know until we've done breeding on a female if she's going to have good fertility or not. Some of it, of course, is based on her health and on her nutrition. Some of it's based on her age. Dogs over the age of six tend to have a reduction in their fertility. So we want to make sure that we're breeding young dogs that are healthy and that are getting appropriate nutrition, which is generally not a grain-free or a raw meat diet.

So we want them on a good, mainstream, high-quality pet food so that we make sure we have maximum fertility. I'll tell you, there are a lot of dogs that have fertility issues that are related to nutrition that people tend not to appreciate. So all those factors need to be taken into account.

Do veterinarians offer dog progesterone testing?

A lot of veterinarians do. All the reference labs will do progesterone testing, which generally has a lag time of one day or more if they need to be sent out. IDEXX just came out with in-house testing that can be done on the Catalyst One machine about a year and a half ago. So more veterinarians can do progesterone testing now than in the past. We've been doing progesterone testing in-house for over 15 years, but a lot of veterinarians aren't comfortable with interpreting the results. They may be able to offer the service of the test and the report, but then they would need to be referred to someone that does theriogenology to do the interpretation and make a decision on what breeding timing needs to be done.

How is my dog's pregnancy status evaluated?

Well, the best evaluation, in my opinion, is to do an abdominal ultrasound to look at the puppies. We can do that after day 24 to day 28, depending on the quality of the machine and how the bitch was timed. So we do a lot of work with ultrasound. There is a blood test called the relaxin test, but the downside to it is it assesses if a placenta was formed. It doesn't assess if the puppies are still alive. It doesn't assess how many puppies are there. It doesn't assess if you're losing some due to resorption and about 30% of all puppies that are conceived resorb. So it's important that we do the best test and, in my opinion, that's abdominal ultrasound with a good quality machine.

What is whelping assistance for dogs?

There can be a couple of kinds of interventions for whelping. Most people whelp their dogs at home and they don't have much veterinary assistance. We do offer scheduled C-sections as well as emergency C-sections, as do most of the clinics that do a lot of canine reproductive services. So C-sections can be used as an intervention. There's also a telemedicine service called Whelp Wise, a uterine contraction monitoring service that’s been around for 20 years. It's a company that's based out of Colorado and run by an obstetrical nurse, Karen. With that, you can order equipment that she will rent to you, and then on a twice-daily basis, you can put on a uterine contraction monitor, just like they do in people.

They can assess the quality of the uterine contractions, the length, and the timing of them. If any whelping assistance is needed such as injections of calcium or oxytocin, those can be administered based on what they're seeing on uterine contraction monitoring. If things aren't going well, then you can always make a decision to change from planning a whelping at home to planning a whelping with veterinary assistance. Generally, that means a C-section.

Can dogs have cesarean sections?

The answer is yes. We do them a lot. There are some breeds of dogs that are predisposed to having dystocia, which is difficult whelping. Those are going to generally be the brachycephalic breeds, which are the short-faced dogs, the pugs, the Bulldogs, the French Bulldogs, the Shih Tzus, some of those. Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis are also notoriously not good whelpers, as well as Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs and Bernese Mountain Dogs. Also, if dogs have had a history where they've previously needed a C-section, then many of those will be scheduled C-sections. So instead of waiting until you get into trouble or you’re potentially losing puppies, we can schedule a C-section. If progesterone testing is done well in advance and we can very specifically assess what day the female ovulated, we can then schedule the C-section so that you can safely get a C-section done during regular hours without going to an emergency clinic and without waiting until your puppies and your mom are in trouble.

Are there any risks associated with me trying to breed my dog?

Sadly, yes. Pregnancy is not risk-free. Fortunately, risks in pregnancy are very small and very infrequent, but there is always the possibility of a complication during pregnancy, a complication during labor, a complication during C-section, or a complication after delivery with metritis or mastitis, or other health concerns that are associated with pregnancy. So although pregnancy is generally pretty low risk, it is never completely risk-free. Unfortunately, we do see an occasional dog that has an unfortunate outcome. So we do want to think hard about how important that whelping and that breeding is to us before we make a decision to breed our females.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (920) 269-4072, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Reproduction - FAQs


Dr. Marty Greer
Smallanimalclinic.com

What is the reproductive age range for a dog?

We generally recommend waiting until dogs are at least two years old for their first breeding, primarily because that gives us an opportunity to complete their reproductive testing, such as OFA hips and elbows, and some other tests we feel are crucial to run before dogs are bred. There are some people who will breed younger. We never want to breed on the first heat cycle, although sometimes dogs plan things a little differently than we do so we want to be aware of that. In general, we also try not to breed much over the age of eight and recognize that dogs older than six tend to have about a 33% decrease in their fertility. So the older female and older male dogs have a decline in fertility as they age. Once we get past eight, we don't recommend breeding most females. The males can be continued to be bred as long as they are still able to produce sperm, and that could be well into their teens.

How will I know if my dog needs help breeding?

You'll generally know if your dog needs help breeding if you think that one or the other, the male or the female, is accurate on when the breeding should take place and you still haven't been able to achieve a mating or a tie. You can come to our office, and we can do a progesterone test. We can have results on that back in less than an hour. At that point, we can determine if one of the dogs is correct—if the male or the female is right about the timing—and if we should proceed with the breeding. If that is the case, then we can collect semen and do one of the three different kinds of inseminations that we can do. One of them is vaginal insemination, one is transcervical insemination, and the last is surgical insemination. Our choice depends on the quality of the semen, the age of the female, her fertility, and some other issues as well.

Are there any breeds of dogs that are predisposed to needing reproductive services?

Oh yes. There are definitely breeds of dogs that need reproductive assistance. Mostly they're the breeds that are the brachycephalics—the short-faced dogs, the Bulldogs, the French Bulldogs, the pugs, some of the other short-faced breeds, and the American bullies. Those are really large bully-type breed dogs. Then there are some other breeds as well in which it may be an age issue. It may be a hip issue. It may be some other kind of health concern. So it's not universally only Bulldogs and bully breeds that need help. Corgis don’t have great success with natural breedings. So we frequently need to intervene with some kind of insemination, collection of the semen, and insemination for the female.

Is there a sperm bank for dogs?

There are sperm banks for dogs. In fact, there are many sperm banks for dogs. Some companies have franchises. There are other veterinary clinics that have independent semen banks. So there are a number of them just depending on who you're working with, but they are all across the country and the world. In fact, we get semen shipped into our semen bank from semen banks from all over the world. So there are many semen banks, many sperm banks, and depending on who they're affiliated with, there are two different kinds of semen that we work with. One is in pellets and one is in straws if we're using frozen semen, but we can ship fresh semen and frozen semen all over the country and the world.

What is the procedure for surgical insemination?

Surgical insemination is pretty much what it sounds like. It is surgery. The incision is made similar to a spay incision with a dog under general anesthesia. As such, we want blood work, EKG, IV fluids, appropriate anesthesia...the whole bit. We anesthetize the female and exteriorize her uterus far enough to adequately see where we want to put the semen. Then we inject a catheter or a needle with the semen into the uterus. We close the female up, suture up, wake her up, and send her home the same afternoon that she came in for the surgical breeding. But the alternative to that is transcervical insemination, and that's done with an endoscope. It's a rigid endoscope. The female is awake. There is no sedation. There is no anesthesia and there is no surgical incision. So by using the scope instead of surgical insemination, we can still deliver semen frozen, fresh, and freshly chilled directly into the uterine horns without anesthesia and without the stress of a surgical procedure.

Can I inseminate my dog at home?

Actually, you can inseminate your dog at home if you choose to do vaginal insemination. Anything more sophisticated than that requires a veterinarian's assistance, of course, but vaginal AIs are allowed. In fact, a few years ago the AKC determined that clients are allowed to do their own vaginal inseminations and still register the litter as an assisted semen breeding. So yes, you can do them as long as you're using fresh semen. Frozen semen should never be put in any way other than with transcervical or surgical because the success rate of inseminating frozen semen vaginally is about 11% as opposed to about 80% when it's put into the uterus directly.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (920) 269-4072, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

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