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Breeding Concerns for Pet Owners

by Dr. N.J.Hayes

 

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Estrus and Mating

When will my dog be old enough to breed?

Some males will start to have sperm by 7 months, but 10 months is more usual. Most have sperm by the time they reach 1 year. This early sperm is usually of a lower quality than sperm obtained from an adult dog. Adult dogs between the ages of 18 months to 4 years are usually in their prime and deliver the most viable sperm for impregnating the bitch. The quality starts to drop off after that and by 10 years old, the sperm of most stud dogs is of such poor quality that it will fail to produce a breeding.

The female dog, or bitch, also has an immature reproductive system at this age. The old adage of breeding the bitch during her first heat cheated a lot of puppies and mother dogs out of full health and vitality. Some bitches will come into their first heat around 6 months. They don't reach physical maturity until between 1 year to 2 1/2 years. Their bones and joints are still developing. If you want consistent, healthy litters, wait until your bitch is physically mature. This is something that you should talk to your dog's veterinarian about. She will need a good physical exam - before breeding - anyway.

You also need to be aware of the mental maturity of your bitch. You're going to be asking her to be responsible for 1 or more extremely tiny babies! Is she still a baby herself? Many of the smaller breeds seem to become mentally mature more quickly than the large breeds.

It is fairly common practice to breed the smaller females during their 2nd heat cycle while the larger breeds (such as Mastiffs, Wolfhounds and St. Bernards) need to wait through 3, 4, or more cycles. When you add to the physical immaturity the possibility of larger litters for the larger breeds, it's pretty easy to understand the importance of waiting a little longer. Breeding the larger bitches before they've reached physical maturity can produce severe "swayback" and bent legs.

If I pass up her first heat, when will she come back in?

The female's cycle length will be as individual as she is. Most come into season for the first time between 6 and 12 months, but the larger breeds may not come into season for 2 years. Wild canines only come into heat once a year; but, our domestic canines usually settle into a cycle of around 5 to 7 months. There are some small breed bitches that come into heat 3 to 4 times each year! Whatever her cycle settles into, she will likely maintain that into her old age. She will not experience menopause. Her fertility will simply drop off as she gets older until she will no longer "take".

The reproductive (heat) cycle of the female goes through several stages. Not unlike the human.

  1. The eggs in the ovaries start to mature and the estrogen level starts to raise
    males are attracted to the female and rejected
    The vulvar lips swell a little and there's some bloody discharge
    The female spends more time urinating and wandering from door to door
    Her urine contains pheromones and hormones that are signaling nearby males that she's getting interested
    This stage lasts around 8-10 days
  2. Around day 11, when the estrogen level gets high enough, the eggs are released
    The female becomes Very interested in the males
    She has a clear to bloody discharge

    This is the prime breeding time!

    This can last up to 21 days after the start of day number 1
  3. Stage 3 is the "letdown"
    Her progesterone levels are high
    she may decide she's pregnant, gain weight, develop "boobies"
    She may decide to build a "nest" or nurse on stuffed toys
    The males lose interest
  4. She gradually resumes her "natural" self as her heat cycle passes
    This is the time when you need to be most concerned about pyometra -
    • an acute infection of the uterus
    • as the heat cycle is halting, the cervix closes and any infection present becomes trapped and allowed to prosper.
    • symptoms include lethargy, fever, excessive thirst and loss of appetite
    • Any intact female dog can get pyometra, young or old, whether she's been bred or not!

To further add to the confusion that surrounds breeding, a few females ovulate early and some ovulate late during the cycle. Whenever they ovulate, the signs in step #2 will still be there. The discharge will be less bloody and she'll be Very interested!

Can't you just do a test and tell me when?

There are 2 tests that your veterinarian can do to help determine the best time to breed your bitch:

  1. Testing the blood progesterone levels or the blood luetinizing hormones (LH levels)
  2. Your veterinarian does a vaginal smear to check changes in the vaginal cells
  3. Testing progesterone levels is highly accurate; but, blood has to be drawn periodically during early estrus. The vaginal smear method is widely used because it is less expensive, but also is much less accurate. If the bitch has a history of unsuccessful breeding, when using AI or frozen semen, or when bringing the stud some distance; the progesterone test is preferred.

Most modern breeders will track the bitch's hormone levels and only breed during the ideal 3 day window (10 to 14 days) so as to increase the success of the breeding. The mating usually takes place twice to ensure success. Careful observation will confirm the tie.

Is there anything I can do to ensure that they mate successfully?

Breeding is usually accomplished easily, as long as the bitch is in stage 2. The bitch will be very interested and will encourage the male by play bowing and backing up to him. The initial phase of coitusSometimes the male is reticent because he has had a bad experience of is inexperienced. Most hesitation goes away within a few hours and the breeding takes place without any help on the part of the humans involved. A quiet place by themselves is usually all that's required. It is desirable for the owners to observe the breeding (through a window, for example), because a bitch can breed to more than one dog during a heat cycle and may have multiple fathers for a litter.

If, for whatever reason, natural breeding isn't possible; artificial insemination is an option. Your veterinarian can discuss that option with you. It is recommended that both parties confirm their permission to the breeding by signing a contract with terms that agreed upon the conditions in case the bitch does not become pregnant. Tests may need to be run on both to determine the timing of the breeding and fertility.

The male's owner said there was a good tie and we only needed one breeding. Is this true?

When the male first enters the female, his penis is still soft. It is held erect by a small bone inside called the baculum. If she's in season, she holds her tail to one side (or "flags"). After he enters, he moves around and trys to get a better grip, thus dancing around. His penis stiffens and swells while he's doing this. The "tie" occurs when the gland at the base of the male" penis swells and the muscles of the female's vagina contract to hold it. The sperm have already been released into the bitch's vagina. That occurred during the "happy dance" while they were getting together. The female can become pregnant without a tie! The tie will last between 15 and 30 minutes and helps to ensure that the semen don't leak back out. He'll move his leg over her back and turn around to put all four feet on the ground. During the tie, he is releasing prostatic fluid.

The stage of breeding known as 'tied'The tie is perfectly normal. Don't douse them with water, ice or anything else in an attempt to break the tie. The sperm have already been ejected. If the male's owner said there was a 15 min tie, he/she means they stayed together for 15 minutes. The male is unable to separate from the female.

It is important to keep the female calm. Most will stand quietly and wait, others panic and start thrashing around. This can cause serious damage to the male penis and the female vagina; possibly preventing future breeding or causing possible trouble with the whelping. If the female is a great deal larger, she can physically harm the male. Remember, he can't leave. She's holding him there. After the tie, make sure that the male's penis has gone back into it's sheath.

If your female has tied to an undesirable male, and you want to terminate the pregnancy, you will need to discuss it with your veterinarian.

Please do not hesitate to contact us at 309-685-4707if you have any questions or concerns.

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