So You Want To Breed From Your Dog…..
*This blog has been sponsored by Agria Pet Insurance but the views in it are my own!!*
You have a bitch, she is a nice dog, you think having puppies might be fun thing to do, interesting for the kids and maybe a way to make a bit of cash, so why not?
Indeed, why not?
I believe that although we have a huge over-supply of dogs in the UK and in rescue centres, one of the main reasons so many dogs end up there is because they have been mass produced by puppy farmers. Who not only breed puppies that are highly likely to have health and behavioural problems but they sell them without any care to the first person who walks through the door. Easily bought and then easily discarded when things start to go wrong.
If you breed responsibly, look after the puppies properly and pay more than an iota of attention to the people you sell them to, I am all for it. I really, genuinely, think that if more people did this, fewer buyers would be pushed towards battery farmed puppies and eventually, the numbers of abandoned pets will fall.
(Unless your dog is a Staffie, in which case I beg you not to, they are THE most over-bred dog in this country, rescues literally have them piling up at the door. Lovely dogs though they are, we don’t need any more.)
However, it isn’t an easy choice.
Neither, it is ‘good’ for your bitch to have a litter, quite the opposite in fact. Nor it is a guaranteed way to make money. Educational for the kids? Maybe. At the very least it will teach them how much mess babies make and how much time you have to spend cleaning up after them!
I am sure to you, your dog is perfect, but is she perfect enough to produce more like her? You need to be objective. Not just from a health standpoint but also from a behavioural one. Is she mature enough and maternal enough to cope? Because if she ain’t, it will be you doing the round-the-clock feeding, not her! Also, there are absolutely no health or mental benefits to her being bred whatsoever. Anything you have heard that contradicts that is a total old wives tale. In fact, giving birth and suckling pups can cause a whole host of health issues and she may even have to have emergency surgery.
Can you afford it? It is possible you will come out in profit, but definitely not guaranteed. Most bitches manage the birthing process by themselves but if she needs veterinary help or even a c-section, that could easily cost up to a thousand pounds. Which will need paying there and then, not once you have sold a couple of pups.
If you dodge that bullet, you will still need to buy wormers, flea products, loads of food – and good quality puppy food doesn’t come cheap -, cover microchipping and maybe even vaccinations for the puppies. There is a LOT of paying out before you cash in and what if she only has one or two pups? You could easily end up out of pocket.
You can now take out insurance to cover you for any complications arising from the pregnancy or birth, with a policy from Agria Insurance. It will even cover the pups to the age of 14 weeks old, after they have left your care, and new owners will qualify for 5 weeks free standard insurance once they take the pups home.
There is a lot to consider but breeding a litter of puppies can be an extremely rewarding experience and, I think, a way to beat the puppy farmers. It’s hard work but fun and incredibly satisfying knowing you are sending great quality, well bred dogs out into the world.
So still interested? Then here is my advice on the things you need to consider when breeding your bitch. Yes, it is long. No, it is not exhaustive. Like I said, this isn’t going to be easy…..
Firstly, you need to ensure your bitch is a good enough dog to justify producing more like her. Not only must you ensure she is old enough.. Most people advise they are at least two years old before they are mated to ensure they have the necessary maturity to cope with the process and the puppies and Agria insurance won’t cover you if she is under a year old. She needs to be in the best of health, have all the pre-breeding testing for her breed (even if you are planning on producing ‘designer’ puppies!) and have a good, calm and pleasant personality. Don’t forget, behavioural traits are just as heritable as physical ones.
Then, you need to find a mate. If you have a Kennel Club registered dog, you can search their databases for suitable match, if you don’t, it will be harder. However you find the ‘other half’ you must make sure they are quality dog and, just like your bitch, they must have passed health testing and be behaviourally sound.
For the actual mating process, I would advise you try to speak to experienced breeders on the nitty gritty of the timing and amount of ‘goes’ they should have. There are blood tests your vet can perform to pinpoint exactly when she will ovulate.
You can consider having the pregnancy confirmed by your vets using either blood testing in the early weeks or imaging (x-rays or scans) or palpation later on. However, although your practice will be happy to confirm the presence of pups, they are unlikely to give you exact numbers, especially with scans or just by feeling her tummy, because it is notoriously difficult to be accurate. If you are desperate to know exactly how many are in there, she will definitely need an X-ray in the late stages of gestation.
During the initial stages of the pregnancy, there isn’t much you need to do but as she reaches the final few weeks, you need to be paying closer attention to her health and her diet. So, from day 42 until 3 days after birth, you should be worming her daily with a liquid wormer from your vet. You also need to treat her with a veterinary standard flea product (one which is safe for pregnancy, so be sure to consult your vet). If she was to have fleas and they infested the pups, they could potentially cause a a life threatening anaemia.
With respect to her diet, a gradual change onto a puppy food at this stage is necessary, these diets are very energy dense and high in calcium. By now the puppies are often taking up so much room in her abdomen, she simply doesn’t have the space in her stomach to eat enough normal dog food for it to be adequate. Ask your vet to recommend a good quality brand, the best ones will have feeding guides for pregnancy as well as puppies. Change her gradually onto this over a week or so and continue to feed it once the puppies have been born; her calorie requirement will sky rocket at that stage as they start to suckle.
For the actual process of the birth itself, you need to be prepared for anything. Read up about it, speak to experienced breeders and your local vets for advice. If you are at all concerned during the process you should ring them and be ready for a midnight dash to the practice. Although the vast majority of bitches get on with things fine and nature takes over, complications can and do arise.
Once the puppies have arrived, don’t expect to sit back and let Mum do all the hard work! Although most cope fine, some can reject the pups or not have enough milk, which might mean you need to take over feeding them. In the early stages this can be like having a whole litter of newborn babies to look after, with milk at least every two hours around the clock.
Hopefully, at least in the initial stages, your dog will take care of the cleaning process but once the pups are on the move, they become little mess machines. Get well stocked up with newspapers and blankets and be prepared for bedding changes several times daily. As the best place to rear a litter is in the heart of the family home (NOT a shed or anywhere outside), there will be some disruption to your normal routine for a while.
Once weaning comes around, things will get worse! Always wean on to a good quality (i.e. expensive) puppy food and start by dampening the kibble down with puppy milk replacer. Expect to have the pups eating you out of house and home by the time they are ready to go!
As a responsible breeder you will also have a duty of care towards both the health and the behavioural development of your puppies.
Health wise, you need to educate yourself on how to give them a decent check over soon after birth to make sure there are no major problems. You need to be worming them every fortnight from birth until eight weeks old (speak to your vet about a suitable product) and you should be weighing them regularly to ensure they are growing properly and feeding well. Keep an eye out for fleas, which can cause serious blood depletion if they are left to get out of control. Once they are old enough, between six and eight weeks, you should take them to your vet for a health check to ensure there are no problems before they go to their new homes. You should also consider starting their vaccinations, so they have protection on board before they leave you.From April 2016, you need to have them microchipped before they are two months. Again, this is a job best done by your vet and can be combined with a full examination.
You also need to be keeping a close eye on Mum; ensuring her milk supply stays constant and being vigilant for mastitis. Her food requirement will sky rocket as the pups get older and take more milk, you will be getting through a lot of puppy food well before the pups are ready to eat it!
Behaviourally, you need to ensure that you are rearing dogs who are happy, confident and calm individuals who are able to cope with modern family life, and this starts from the moment they are born. This is why it is so important they are reared in a home environment, with all the sights, sounds and smells of family life. This is also why it is vital they are exposed to many different types of people and not just handled by their breeder; children, men and women should all be involved. For more detailed information on how best to socialise young puppies, I advise checking out www.thepuppyplan.com
Obviously, once you have bred these puppies, you are going to want to sell them. Unless you want to keep them all! Tempting yes but possibly not very practical. If you have bred a Kennel Club registered litter, you can list them on their website as soon as they are born and don’t forget to apply for their pedigree certificates, so they are ready to go with the puppies to their new homes (Only dodgy breeders promise they will ‘arrive later in the post’).
If they are not KC registered then once they have reached a couple of weeks old, or even before, start to let people know about them. Ring your local vets, tell your friends and family, place an ad in the paper and there are plenty of places to advertise on-line. However, you will need to distinguish yourself from all the puppy farmers and traders out there, who are currently flooding the market and who I hope you will push out of business! Do this by spreading the word early and allowing potential buyers to visit the litter well before they are ready to leave. Traders only get their pups at 8 weeks old (despite the fact they often pass them off as ‘home bred’), so can’t let people see them any sooner.
Don’t forget, you are assessing the buyers just as much as they are checking out you and the pups. Don’t just sell these babies to anyone, you want to be sure they are going to be responsible pet parents, able to care for their dog right the way through it’s life. If you get a bad feeling, just don’t sell them one. A good buyer will come armed with lots of questions and (especially if they read my stuff!) a healthy dose of suspicion!
You also need to help these new owners on their journey. Consider applying for pet insurance cover for the pups, so they have some protection for the first few weeks. Agria Pet Insurance offer 5 weeks free, other companies have similar deals. Make a pack for each puppy which includes details of their breeding and parents, when they have been wormed and flea’s, when vaccines will be due and what they have been fed.
Also, don’t forget to include all your contact details. The very best breeders will offer to have their dogs back at any point if the new owners can’t cope. This may be, understandably I think, beyond the scope of someone who is just a hobby breeder or doing it once, but you should keep yourself available in case there are any questions.
Once all the puppies have gone to loving new homes, give your kitchen a good clean and then put your feet up, you will need it! If you think you might do it again, give your bitch at least one season to recover and if that is enough, then contact your vet about getting her spayed!
If you have read this far down then well done!! This is one of the longest articles I have ever written but, just like breeding a litter, it isn’t something you can go into half heartedly. If you are still keen then continue to research, like I said, this is not by any stretch, an complete guide but if you do go ahead, I wish you luck and hope it will be a great experience for you, your bitch and your family!