Why is it important?
Deciding to breed from your dog is a major decision - there are a lot of things that can go wrong, as well as a lot of important decisions that you'll have to make! It can be difficult, and heart-breaking, and expensive, and rewarding (often all at the same time!), so we've put together this brief guide to help you through the process
OK, let's look at the details
Before you decide to breed, it's really important that you're fully prepared. Although actually getting the puppies is the highlight, to get to that stage, there are a lot of preparatory steps. So, before you commit, are you really ready? Is the bitch really suitable to breed from - does she have a good temperament, is she fit and healthy, is she old enough, and can you get all the proper health checks done (such as Hip- and Elbow scoring, and perhaps DNA tests)? Can you find a reputable stud dog, who's had all of his health checks too? Can you assist the bitch when whelping, and help her raise a litter (which could contain 12, or 14, or even more puppies!)? Can you care for the pups (worming, vaccinations, microchipping) and then find them all good, loving homes? Remember, not everything goes according to plan, either - so are you prepared to pay for a caesarean section, if it becomes necessary, bottle rear some or all of the pups, arrange for treatment of any that become ill, and take back any that the new owner decides they don't want?
How do I decide if it's right?
If the answer to every question is yes, then definitely consider breeding. If, however, you're in any doubt, remember how many dogs there are in pounds up and down the country waiting for a new home. So, if you do decide to breed, you'll need to make sure you're legally covered: if you are producing five or more litters per year, or if your Local Authority think you may be breeding for commercial gain, you will need a breeders license, so check with them before you proceed! In addition, you may want to check what your pet insurance covers - it often excludes any conditions relating to breeding.
What should I do next?
Your next step is to get your bitch well and truly checked over by one of our vets - they'll be able to recommend any additional tests you may need. Then you will need to find a stud dog - it's important to check that he's fully tested and healthy as well, and that he isn't too closely related to your bitch (inbreeding is a Bad Thing and we really want to avoid it). If he's not bred before, you might want to consider checking his fertility, especially if you're buying him for stud purposes, or paying a large fee! It's also worth thinking about legal contracts with the dog's owner, to avoid any misunderstandings.
How can I tell whether she's pregnant?
Once she's been mated, we can check for pregnancy from about three and a half weeks with ultrasound, but it isn't really totally reliable until about four weeks - and bear in mind is it NOT possible to count how many puppies there are in an ultrasound scan.
What is Eclampsia?
Eclampsia ("milk fever" or hypocalcaemia), usually occurs at the end of pregnancy or within a couple of weeks of birth. It usually causes shivering and muscle tremors, but can progress to muscle rigidity, seizures and collapse.
What if the bitch doesn't give birth on the due date?
Well, the most likely reason is that the dates are wrong! However, it's important to rule out Uterine Inertia - where the uterus just doesn't push. This is most common in smaller litters, especially of small and toy breed dogs, but can occur to any bitch. It can sometimes be treated with injections, but usually a caesarean section is required.
What if she's really struggling to give birth?
This is an EMERGENCY, known as Dystocia, or an Obstructed Birth. This occurs when a puppy gets stuck in the birth canal, and is potentially fatal to the puppy and to the bitch. If the bitch is straining without result, or there's a prolonged gap between puppies, contact your vet for advice straight away.
Are there any common problems with the newborn pups?
Weak or sickly puppies are not uncommon. There are a wide range of different causes for weak and puny puppies, but it's always worth getting the litter checked out if you have any concerns. Sometimes, even the smallest runts can be saved with appropriate care, so don't give up until your vet has had a chance to check them!
Breeding requires a great deal of effort, not to mention expertise - but that should be the least of your worries, because you can always talk to us for any advice you need.