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Steps to Prevent Pregnancy Problems in Bitches


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Experienced breeders understand the importance of ensuring that a bitch is a good candidate for breeding. No pregnancy is the same, thus the importance of evaluating a bitch’s physical and nutritional status prior to breeding.

It also helps to partner with a veterinarian to guide you through all facets of breeding, pregnancy, and delivery. Veterinarians who specialize in reproduction, neonatology, and genetic diseases are known as theriogenologists.

At Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Julie T. Cecere, DVM, Ms, DCAT, and clinical associate professor of theriogenology, and Alyssa Helms, DVM, and third-year theriogenology resident, advise breeders on steps to help prevent pregnancy problems. One clinical observation they have made is how easily bitches in prime fitness and optimal body condition whelp their litters.

“It is the couch potato bitches that often get into trouble,” Dr. Cecere says.

Reflecting on best practices for dog breeders, they offer their perspectives on how breeders can help things go smoothly Although nothing is guaranteed with dog breeding and delivering puppies, these guidelines provide worthy considerations.

Should a Bitch Be Bred?

“Once breeders have identified a bitch as having desirable attributes and having passed breed-specific health clearances, they then must choose an appropriate male with complementary attributes,” Dr. Cecere says. “We advise them to have a breeding soundness exam to be sure she is healthy and has no genetic conditions or abnormalities that would hinder her pregnancy.”

“Generally for most breeds, a bitch is not developmentally or physically mature to be bred until she is around 2 years of age,” she continues. “However, for Toy and small breeds, they may reach maturity as early as 18 months of age.”

On the flip side, some breeds are considered senior dogs at age 7, which corresponds with a decline in fertility.

“Older bitches also are at increased risk for health conditions and comorbidities that could negatively affect their ability to carry a litter to term, whelp naturally and lactate properly,” Dr. Cecere says.

“Only bitches in excellent physical and nutritional condition as determined by a veterinarian should be considered for breeding past age 7,” Dr. Helms adds.

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How Often Should a Bitch Be Bred?

Back-to-back pregnancies can be OK – up to a point, according to Dr. Cecere.

“From a physiologic and nutritional standpoint, a bitch should not be bred on more than two consecutive heat cycles without a non-pregnant cycle off,” she says. “The total number of litters a bitch should have over a lifetime depends on the individual dog. Most of this will depend on genetics, temperament, health, conformation, and other traits she brings to the table as a whole. If she requires a Cesarean section or intrauterine insemination to get pregnant, this must be taken into consideration as well.”

Is Infertility Real or Not?

One of the most common concerns of breeders is whether their bitch is fertile.

“Many of the infertility cases that are being referred here are due to a bitch being bred at the wrong time,” Dr. Cecere says. “Poor timing during a bitch’s heat cycle or estrus can cause a missed breeding or small litter.”

Progesterone testing is key to knowing the appropriate timing for breeding.

“If you know when the bitch is ovulating, or when the eggs are released from the follicles, this tells you the fertile window to optimize the chance of pregnancy and having a full-sized litter,” Dr. Cecere says. “It also allows for the calculation of an accurate due date and aids in appropriate timing of intervention at whelping should a C-section be needed or desired.”

In the bitch, progesterone is a reproductive hormone that increases in the bloodstream just before ovulation. As the progesterone level increases, luteinizing hormone is released from the pituitary gland, triggering the release of eggs from the follicles. Progesterone testing can be done every two to three days, starting about five days into the heat cycle. When poor timing results in a singleton puppy or small litter, problems can occur.

“With a singleton pregnancy or one with two or three puppies, the dam is at risk of dystocia (a difficult delivery), as there may not be enough signal to begin parturition or birth,” Dr. Cecere explains. “Additionally, there is increased risk of an oversized puppy or puppies, which can lead to dystocia or death of the puppy or puppies.”

Planning and preparing to breed a litter of pups is a rewarding part of being a dog breeder. Knowing that you have a knowledgeable veterinarian, like Dr. Cecere and Dr. Helms, whom you trust and rely on to help you is comforting.

Tips On Breeding Bitches

• For most breeds, a bitch is not developmentally or physically mature to be bred until she is around 2 years of age, though Toy and small breeds may reach maturity as early as 18 months of age.

• Most breeds are considered senior dogs at age 7, which corresponds with a decline in fertility and increased risk for health conditions and comorbidities that could negatively affect their ability to carry a litter to term, whelp naturally and lactate properly.

• Back-to-back pregnancies can be OK, however, from a physiologic and nutritional standpoint, a bitch should not be bred on more than two consecutive heat cycles without a non-pregnancy cycle off.

• Infertility cases referred to specialists are commonly due to a bitch being bred at the wrong time during her heat cycle, or estrus, which can cause a missed breeding or small litter.

The post Steps to Prevent Pregnancy Problems in Bitches appeared first on American Kennel Club.

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