Reproduction and Genetics

Submitted November 24, 2008

Q.) I have a male stud dog that I have successfully bred in the past. The last two times I have tried to breed him he will mount the female for a few seconds and then quits and is not interested. This has happened with two different females. I know the females were ready because I successfully bred them with other stud dogs. Any idea what might cause this type of behavior?

A.) There are two options that come to mind in a situation like this. Certainly the list could be longer than the two that I'm going to mention; however, they would be the first two I'd investigate.

The first is a pain situation. It may be that in the process of mating the stud dog is becoming painful and is reluctant to proceed. I would recommend a thorough physical exam of the dog by your veterinarian to determine if there is a problem somewhere. The two systems we most commonly see affected in this situation would be the skeletal system (particularly back, hips and rear legs) or the reproductive system itself.

If the exam is completely normal then I would worry about a past trauma (physical or emotional) associated with the breeding process. These situations are a little harder to diagnose and deal with because it essentially requires you to be a doggy shrink. My concern would be if he had a bad previous experience, such as an aggressive female or potentially was injured during the breeding process. As he mounts the female he could be recalling that previous episode, which is causing him to shut down because he doesn't want to experience the previous pain. Some dogs also will have a hierarchy issue during breeding. If he has ever been disciplined in the past for sexual behaviors, is a submissive dog, or has been taught around certain male humans he is not the alpha, all can affect him during the breeding process. This is particularly true if the trainer of the dog is involved in the breeding process. Sometimes the fix is as simple as removing yourself from the breeding area.

Submitted 8/18/08

Q.) I have a four-year old English Setter bitch that has never come into heat. I kennel her with a male so if she did come in I would know it. She is highly energetic, healthy and with no other problems that I know of. A vet that doesn't know hunting dogs told me that she was too skinny to come in to heat. She is not skinny, she was healthy and very fit for hunting. She eats as much or more than my larger males so I know she is getting enough food. I would like to breed her, any suggestions?

A.) As you've found out the toughest dogs to get bred are the ones we really want to breed. The textbooks do indeed talk about highly athletic dogs, very thin dogs, and dogs under a lot of stress not cycling. That being said I have not experienced those conditions in real life. I know of a number of highly competitive field trialers whose dogs regularly cycle during their most intense training.

You mention that she is getting an adequate amount of food and my follow-up question would be is she getting an adequate quality of food. Reproducing females have a tremendous amount of stress placed on their bodies, and certainly require nutrition above and beyond your typical dog. Add to the mix a performance-reproducing female and nutrition can get extremely touchy. I would evaluate the food you are feeding for quality of ingredients (particularly for animal-based proteins and fats), a good mix of carbohyrdrates without ingredient splitting, and quality vitamins and minerals. I realize this is a very basic answer, but I'm continually shocked at the number of clients that come in with performance dogs that are being fed complete garbage.

If her nutrition is more than adequate the next step would be to look at the dog. My recommendation would be for a complete work-up to make sure the rest of her body systems are in order. To start with I'd recommend a complete blood count, a chemistry panel that included a look at the thyroid, a urinalysis and fecal. That may sound like a lot of testing, but if you truly want to find out the source of this issue, you are going to have to rule-out other problems that can affect the reproductive system.

Let's assume that all the tests come back within normal limits, my next step would be to start looking harder at the reproductive system. The reason I didn't start here is that the other testing will likely be less expensive and issues with the other systems would be more common than primary reproductive issues. Lastly, if the cause were a treatable problem unrelated to the reproductive system, you could treat it and potentially still breed. If the problem is with the reproductive system, breeding may not be as good an option, may not be possible and because of the high heritability of reproductive traits...may not be advisable.

An ultrasound of the abdomen, with particular attention payed to the uterus and ovaries, would be helpful in identifying any potential abnormalities. From there you could start taking a look at the hormone levels, which can get expensive because they are not very commonly performed. Another option would be to periodically check progesterone levels. Progesterone levels rise around the time of ovulation and stay elevated for a long-time; it is the reason a dog's body acts as though it is pregnant whether it was bred or not. By monitoring progesterone several times throughout the year, you could at least determine if she is ovulating and you, and your males, are missing the heat cycle. If she is ovulating silently you'll have to come up with a plan for detecting these missed heats.

Unfortunately there are no quick fixes here and problems with females can be frustrating to figure out and in some cases we never get to the bottom of the problem. Because the reproductive system isn't necessary for maintaining life it is easily affected by the other systems of the body, hence the need to check out everything in a case like this.

Submitted 11/05/07:
I have just had my seven-year old English pointer female bred for the first time as she would not allow a male to breed her, but this time in went off without a hitch. My concern is that I think I am seeing some blood drops on the kennel floor, is this normal?

Since she is a little older for a first time female, I would recommend erring on the side of caution and have her checked out. While some discharges can be normal, others can indicate some very serious problems. I would particularly be concerned about the possibility of a pyometra, which could result in an emergency surgery situation.

With these breeding females it is better to find a problem early, because the later it gets, the more severe and potentially dangerous the problems can become. Also, if all is normal, you’ll sleep a lot easier at night.

Submitted 9/2/04:
I have a Springer Spaniel puppy that has a slight underbite, how common is it and is it hereditary?

I just had a conversation last weekend with another sporting dog veterinarian about the subject of mouth confirmation. His take, and my own, was that too much emphasis may be put on mouth abnormalities if they only occur in one dog in a litter or a line. The important point there is "MAY." If you have a known problem, then it should be taken seriously. I could find nothing describing this as a problem in Springers.

You describe a slight underbite, which if it doesn’t affect the function of the dog and the dog's mouth (with lips in normal position) looks normal, I wouldn’t worry too much. Now, if this is a condition that appeared in multiple dogs in the litter, or appears in any pups subsequently produced from these dogs, I would evaluate the breeding program. If this is just one dog out of many in the line, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

Submitted 11/01/07:
My drahthaar is nearly six months old and in the middle of her first pheasant season. I want to have her spayed, but I also want her to have as many bird contacts as possible before the season ends. What’s the recovery time after spaying? If I wait to have her spayed until after the season am I running too close to her first heat?

There really isn’t a right or wrong answer here. Under ideal situations the recovery time is about two weeks; however, a lot will depend on the recovery during those two weeks as to whether a dog should be run through cover, especially thick, late-season cover, after the surgery.

As to her first heat, this can be highly variable and will range from as early as 5 months to as long as two years. Typically a female will come into heat when she reaches mature body weight, which means bigger dogs usually come in later. I have personally had dogs come into heat earlier than this and one much, much later. If she hasn’t come into heat by the end of the season there will be no worries about going ahead with the procedure because she is “close.” However, if she does go into heat, I’m an advocate for waiting a while to perform the procedure. The bitch is unique in that her body will think she is pregnant whether she is bred or not. This means that for about 60 days after her heat cycle her reproductive tract will be larger with more blood vessels which can increase the risks of complications at surgery. Also at the end of the “false” pregnancy the mammary tissue is stimulated by the reproductive hormones and will become enlarged and also present surgical issues.

My personal recommendation, or preference, is to wait for that mammary development to subside prior to spaying them. The key is to not wait too long and allow her to come back into heat.

As to the absolute best time to spay a dog, most veterinarians will advocate anywhere from eight weeks to six months of age. The more we learn and the more we look at this I’m convinced there is no magic age and it definitely needs to be discussed on a client-by-client basis for the best of that particular pet.

Submitted 10/3/07:
I have a two-year old black Lab that I have had for about three months. I planned a hunt next weekend. It appears she is going into a heat cycle, can we still go on our hunt or do I need to cancel?

Your dog would be fine to hunt, the problems will result from the other dogs along, at camp or in the area. Intact females in an active heat can drive male dogs insane and could very easily ruin a hunting trip if there is mixed company. I have had no problems hunting my females on public land during their cycles; however, I know of individuals who have not been as fortunate with male dogs making courtesy calls during the hunt. There are definitely some potential problems, depending on the makeup of the dog team, and I would discuss the matter with all of those involved prior to making the decision to bring her or leave her home.

The main issue I have had hunting intact females around the time of there heat cycles typically revolve around the dog having a significant “lapse” in training or change in behavior. More dog owners than not, will describe many females as having lost their mind around the heat cycle. For some females this will occur during her heat cycle, for others it can be during the false pregnancy timeframe. Hormones definitely have an impact on behavior, sometimes good, sometimes bad, this is no different for a female dog in heat.

Submitted 7/17/2007:
I have a 14-month old female English Setter who has not come into heat yet. I intended to have her spayed at 7-9 months of age but found out when she was seven months old that she has a recessed vulva. It has been recommended by three vets (one a reproduction specialist) to let her go through her first heat in order to avoid infections and longterm problems. She is muscular and active and not gained any weight in 2-3 months. I could not have missed her cycle as she sleeps indoors and we spend a lot of time at a dog park with many intact male dogs who show her no interest. Her first heat seems very late. Could something serious be worng?

First, I would agree with the other vets’ assessments about having a bitch with urinary/reproductive tract issues go through a heat cycle. The estrogen stimulation helps with the body’s defense mechanisms, and it is one of the few health-related reasons I strongly recommend having a non-breeding dog go through a heat cycle.

As to the heat cycle, at 14 months I still wouldn’t be too concerned. My three females (two of which are now spayed) ranged in first heat onset from seven months to 18 months. If she is otherwise healthy, I would not be too concerned. Some bitches will have silent heats or minimal first heats. If you are overly concerned you could talk with your vet at your upcoming appointment about doing some hormone assays, but I would even hold off on those.

Submitted 2/5/06:
I have a four-year old female weim that has had one litter of pups and I am hoping to have her bred again this year. The issue is the timing of the heat cycles. Is there a safe/reliable method of inducing a heat cycle? Her last cycle was December and I was hoping to have her bred in April.

When it comes to the reproduction of the bitch, I am one who does not like to play around with hormone levels, especially when the issue is more human convenience. In my mind as soon as you start manipulating these hormones, you are adding one more unknown variable that may affect the current breeding, health of the bitch and future reproduction. So, from my standpoint the answer would be none that I currently use.

That being said I did just have this issue come up with a friend that was looking to induce heat before a stud dog was going to be unavailable. Thankfully his bitch came into heat without intervention, but I did talk to some people I respect and they did offer up some protocols that they have had great success with. The drug used in the protocol is cabergoline, which is labeled for induction of estrus in Europe. The key with any breeding issues with dogs is to be sure you are utilizing a veterinarian that has an interest in reproduction. It is not brain surgery, but it does take an interest and knowledge to make sure things go correctly.

Submitted 3/11/07:
We have a six-month old male black lab. We are sending him back to the breeder this month for obedience and gun dog training. We were going to neuter him before he goes but the breeder says to wait until about 12 months. Isn’t this rather old-school? I would appreciate your thoughts as this has sent up a “red flag” for me with this particular trainer and program.

As I mentioned in the previous question, with reproduction questions, particularly spaying and neutering there are a million opinions among veterinarians and others. Had your trainer said, “don’t neuter at all, as it will affect his hunting ability” I would have agreed that his suggestion was “old school.” However, I don’t think he was necessarily out of line with his recommendation.

Spaying and neutering are situations I do not treat as a cookbook issues, meaning I do not make blanket recommendations for all of my patients but rather look at each individual animal-owner situation and decide together a game plan.

With large breed dogs it has been shown that if they are neutered prior to the growth plates closing that the dog could end up larger than it should, as the testosterone is needed to close the growth plates. I have not seen anything convincing of the potential negative long-term effects of this though, other than having a bigger dog. I for one like small athletic dogs in the field, as they do not appear to break down as easily, which for me is a big point.

My typical talk with the owners of a male, large breed hunting dog is that I talk to them about this issue and that they may want to wait until he is at mature body development. However, I also stress that this would leave open the possibility of developing some annoying male behaviors from sexual behavior to marking and that if they don’t want to take that risk we could neuter sooner or at the first sign of these behaviors.

Submitted 3/09/2007:
I have a one-year old GSP female that is in her first heat cycle. How long after the cycle is over is it safe to have the dog spayed?

This is one of those questions that if you asked a dozen vets you would probably get a dozen variations on an answer. My personal opinion, and what I recommend to my clients, is to wait a couple of months. The reason for this is that the bitch’s body thinks it is pregnant each cycle, regardless of breeding history. What this means is that the reproductive tract and associated tissues are gearing up for puppy production and raising. This means you have 60+/- days of the body thinking it is pregnant.

In addition, with a first heat female there will typically be a tremendous amount of mammary development around that 60 day-post heat mark. This is related to hormonal stimulation of the area for the first time. In an ideal world I like this development to return to normal prior to spaying as it means the body is done “thinking” it is pregnant and many of the tissues have returned to normal size and many of the extra vessels and bleeding risks have subsided as well.

The downside is some people will wait too long and the bitch comes back in to season prior to them scheduling the appointment. The key is to be vigilant and get the appointment scheduled appropriately. Many vets don’t feel there are increased risks with spaying them closer to the heat cycle and many will go ahead a week or two after the bleeding stops. I personally still feel there is an increased risk and thus make my recommendations accordingly. Not that one way is right or wrong, just how I like to handle this situation.

Submitted 8/25/06:
I have a 10-month old weimaraner who has just started her heat cycle. I was wanting to know how long the heat cycle will last, and also how long will it be after this heat cycle before she goes in heat again? We plan to breed her on her next heat cycle, is it true you need to wait until the second heat, or do we need to wait longer?

I appreciate that you are doing your research, but I will warn you that my answer from here on out will be from the soapbox and I apologize if I offend.

One of my pet peeves is people who buy a dog and make the claim “we are going to breed her” from the very beginning. In my opinion there are only two reasons to breed: one is to better the breed and two is if you have a dog who epitomizes all of the good qualities in the breed. With a 10-month old pup you don’t know either of these yet and won’t know for a while if you do.

Also, by the time the dog goes into heat and then to ask these questions is a little like buying a car, traveling down the interstate and then asking “how do you drive this thing?” The textbook answers to your questions are that many people feel the heat cycle consists of nine days coming into heat, nine days during heat and nine days coming out of heat though most of the dogs I’ve dealt with do not follow these as rules. Concerning the next heat it varies from dog to dog but typically ranges from 4-8 months with six being average.

The earliest I would consider breeding a female is after she is two years old. The reasons for this are many but also have to do with health clearances and skeletal majority. After two years of age OFA will certify her hips, this will also give you more time to check into other health clearances, such as having her eyes CERF’d. Also by two you are getting to know what you have as far as behavior, temperament and ability in the field.

I commend you for searching out some of this information, but at the same time I beg you to do more research prior to taking the plunge into becoming a breeder.

Submitted 7/10/06:
My fiancé and I have decided to wait through our chocolate lab’s first heat before getting her spayed. Is there any tips you have for us? Also she is six and a half months old now and 55 pounds (her mother was 60 and her father was a lean 130) she isn’t fat by any means but she seems a little on the short side. She had a bout of parasites as a pup and ear infections, do you think she is a runt?

Heat cycles in indoor, large breed dogs can be a mess, and the most important advice I probably will provide is to make sure you have a couple of pairs of heat pants to use during the process. Many people think the dogs will only discharge for a couple of days when in actuality some dogs will continue to have a fair amount of discharge for 20-30 days. As far as timing of the cycle, technically a dog will go into heat at mature body weight, which may be difficult to anticipate with the weight range of the two parents.

The other points that should be stressed would be to make sure there is no opportunity for her to be accidentally bred. Many people assume that a dog in their yard or garage is safe; however, with some male dogs, where there’s a will there’s a way. I have heard every story from digging under fences to chewing through doors.

With your question related to your dog’s size, I would pray she has her mother’s genes. A thin, smaller framed dog, in general, will have a healthier, longer life. Even though the father is lean, 130 pounds is way too big for any Labrador. Make sure you are feeding measured amounts of a large breed puppy formula. It may take her longer to reach a mature body weight, but in the end she will reach her normal weight and be healthier for it in the long run.

Submitted 12/28/2005:
I recently “adopted" a seven year old male WPG. I also have an eighth month old female lab. The WPG is a very nice dog, hunts very well, great inside the house, etc. Will neutering him affect his hunting drive in any way? The reason I ask is because the prior owner also had a lab (male) and after neutering claimed that the lab turned into a total “wuss” (his words). He states that the dog lost most of his drive. Is there any chance of neutering affecting his hunting ability? Thank you for your time.

This is a rather complicated issue, as I think there is a lot of unfortunate misinformation out there on this subject, and in fact, there is no black and white answer. Here is my take on this particular issue looking at both male and female dogs:

Each vet or practice has their own take on these issues and not one is right or wrong, but rather the medical opinion of that individual. My personal opinion is that the vast majority of dogs AND owners benefit from having their dog altered. There are many reasons for this, but at the top of the list are: they don't have to worry about a heat cycle, decreased risk of mammary tumors, male behavior issues can be headed off, as well as testicular cancers, etc. As far as looking at studies, we could do that until we are blue in the face, but if we look at severity of risks vs. benefits, I think you will see the scale tipped in favor of spay/neuter.

I think people would be shocked at how many accidental breeding calls a vet fields in the course of a year...it happens a lot. As far as breeding dogs, I believe there are two reasons to do so: one is to better a breed and two is to perpetuate the genetics of a truly great dog. Virtually every sporting breed out there has a number of great breeders and lines and there just isn't a need to keep all dogs intact.

As far as musculature and performance in the field, I 100% do not buy that it is dictated by a dog being intact or not. I see a tremendous number of obese intact males and females, and I see a tremendous number of athletic spayed/neutered dogs. Again it goes back to the big picture: what is the dog's activity level, nutrition, etc. Too many intact animals (not just dogs) are grossly obese and out of shape, a lot of this comes down to exercise, desire and nutrition…hormones may aid or benefit some of that development (ala BALCO), but they are not the most important factor.

I also have witnessed that if a dog has the drive to hunt, they will do so with or without their reproductive organs. I think too many owners have an unnatural connection to this part of the dog. Either they will hunt or they won't, especially in an older dog like yours it should be a non-issue.

There was a great article in one of the last issues of The Pointing Dog Journal written by Rick Smith about some of the best dogs he had ever hunted with were spay/neuter dogs and he gave a litany of reasons for this. It was a relief to me to see such an article coming from a trainer and not a vet to validate some of the points we try to make.

I truly feel this is an individual decision and do not want to come across as bashing anybody for whether they spay/neuter or not (I have one spayed and one intact female...a point I also go over with owners). This is not a black and white issue, but rather a decision you and your vet will make.

I have NEVER and I repeat NEVER had a client who was devastated that they had spayed or neutered their dog. In fact, I have had a number of hunting dog owners thank me for neutering their dog and actually making them a better companion, as they became more focused on the owner and less focused on being a male dog. I guess the short answer would have been no, neutering should not turn your dog into a “wuss.”

Submitted 10/25/05:
I am the proud owner of a brace of English Setters, one male and one female from different lines. The female will not let the male mount her or even come near when she is in heat. I have heard that AI is one way to deal with this problem, and it seems like a logical solution. How does one go about AI and what should I know about it? Can I perform the needed actions? What are the risks? Is there a trick to it? Does this require a vet and if so how much will the cost likely be? Any information would be greatly appreciated.

The first thing I would recommend would be to familiarize yourself more with the reasons you are breeding, what to expect once your female is bred and what your plans are for the litter. I’ve mentioned it several times and so won’t go in to detail, but I personally feel that most people would be better served buying a puppy rather than producing them. With that being said, some bitches are difficult to breed and occasionally will need to be restrained or muzzled while the male goes about his business. One thing I worry about in this situation is the fact you may be passing this type of behavior on.

More commonly the problem I encounter is that the bitch’s ovulation is being incorrectly timed. There are some handy rules of thumb out there about breeding, but unfortunately these dogs don’t read the textbooks and many of them will ovulate (and be in estrus) at widely varying times from when the first discharge is noticed. So, in order to get her bred, with or without AI, I would look into having her timed at her next cycle.

Typically I like to start seeing the dog at Day 4 of discharge starting. I begin with vaginal cytologies and then progress to performing progesterone tests to determine ovulation. I strongly prefer using laboratory progesterone testing where an actual amount is determined rather than in-clinic testing. The in-clinic tests can be very subjective, as they deal with color change and subjective interpretation. One thing you should know going in, timing a bitch and performing AI can quickly get expensive and so make sure to discuss charges up front and have the expense factored into your decision.

Once you have the timing down, and if she still will not allow herself to be bred you may want to consider AI, which should be performed by your veterinarian. One note on breeding dogs: you will want to find a vet who is interested in reproduction…which many are not and will tell you so. There is no magic to timing and breeding dogs, but it does take some interest and knowledge to pull it off correctly.

A good friend of mine who was my mentor in learning reproduction made a good point to me years ago, and that is Mother Nature’s way is the best route if at all possible, as vets we are never going to improve on that through AI. Typically we’ll rely on AI when the first route is not available, but never to improve our chance of success.

Submitted 4/19/05:
I’m coming to the conclusion that neutering my dog would make his later years a lot more problem-free, especially from testicular cancer and enlarged prostate. Is that true? Are these diseases more prevalent to certain breeds? And are there downsides to castration? If he continues on his path to doing well in the NAVHDA UT test I’ll likely use him as a stud for a while and am wondering what is the oldest he can be and still benefit from castration?

There are a lot of sound medical reasons behind neutering; although, the health concerns of an intact male are probably not as great as those for an intact female. Of course a dog without testicles will never develop testicular cancer, which as far as health reasons ranks at the top of the list. With male dogs you can see prostrate problems in neutered and unaltered males. There are some perianal tumors that are common in older male dogs that are hormonally responsive and are related to the dog being intact. As far as age benefits, there really isn’t a cutoff as far as having the surgery performed or when you will see some of the benefits. A couple of exceptions: with geriatric dogs the risk of anesthesia may outweigh the benefits, and in some dogs that have developed “annoying male behaviors,” if the behavior is learned it will be no guarantee that neutering will solve the problem.

The biggest neutering benefits likely hinge more around behavior issues than physical issues, like cancer. Many people do not realize some of the subtle effects testosterone has one even the best behaved male dogs. A few years back I had a client with two intact yellow labs, one of which developed a large testicular tumor and was sick when he came in for a visit. The owner was very reluctant to have the dog neutered over concerns of it affecting his hunting abilities. After convincing him that he wouldn’t be hunting with the dog if I didn’t take the testicle, he agreed to have me neuter the dog. A couple of months later he brought in the other dog to be neutered, as he could not believe the difference in behavior in the first dog. The dog only wanted to be with him, never attempted to roam and was actually more focused in the field. His great dog had suddenly become better. Now, I’m not saying that neutering is going to improve every dog, but there are a lot of behaviors that are mediated by testosterone and when removed, become non-existent.

Basically I take every client on an individual situation and discuss the pros and cons of spay/neuter with their pet. I don’t make blanket recommendations that all pets should be spayed and neutered, but rather come up with a plan in each situation. By far the majority of homes do better with a spayed/neutered pet. I would recommend talking this over in further detail with your vet and make the decision from there.

Submitted 3/30/05:
My almost seven year old, non-neutered Brittany is healthy, happy and even tempered. Is there any sound medical reason to have him neutered? While he is OFA good and an excellent hunter he has not been used for breeding and I have no plan to do so.

This is an extremely common question I get asked, and more so from hunting dog owners. Yes, there are a lot of sound medical reasons behind neutering; although, the health concerns of an intact male are probably not as great as those for an intact female. Of course a dog without testicles will never develop testicular cancer, which as far as health reasons ranks at the top of the list.

The biggest neutering benefits likely hinge more around behavior issues than physical issues like cancer. Many people do not realize some of the subtle effects testosterone has on even the best behaved male dogs. A few years back I had a client with two intact yellow labs, one of which developed a large testicular tumor and was sick when he came in for a visit. The owner was very reluctant to have the dog neutered over concerns of it affecting his hunting abilities. After convincing him that he wouldn’t be hunting with the dog if I didn’t take the testicle, he agreed to have me neuter the dog. A couple of months later he brought in the other dog to be neutered as he could not believe the difference in behavior in the first dog. The dog only wanted to be with him, never attempted to roam and was actually more focused in the field. His great dog had suddenly become better. Now, I’m not saying that neutering is going to improve every dog, but there are a lot of behaviors that are mediated by testosterone, that when removed, become non existent.

Basically I take every client on an individual situation and discuss the pros and cons of spay/neuter with there pet. I don’t make blanket recommendations that all pets should be spayed and neutered, but rather come up with a plan in each situation. By far the majority of homes do better with a spayed/neutered pet. I would recommend talking this over in further detail with your vet and make the decision from there.

Submitted 12/22/2004:
What are the signs of a retained placenta or retained pup after labor and delivery are over?

Both of these conditions have the potential to become very serious, and if not addressed early, can lead to a number of long-term complications including death. I always recommend having x-rays taken late in the pregnancy to determine the number of pups that should be delivered.

Once the labor process has started, these are the signs I look for that a problem may be developing. The first being if the bitch is actively straining for 20 minutes or more without producing a pup. I would make the phone call to your veterinarian at the 20-minute mark to determine the next step in treatment.

Other signs that will warrant the bitch being examined:

  • She has a greenish/red-brownish discharge, but no puppy is born within 2-4 hours
  • Fetal fluid has passed more than 2-3 hours ago, but nothing more has happened
  • The dam has had weak, irregular straining for more than 2-4 hours
  • The dam has had strong, regular straining for more than 20-30 minutes.
  • More than 2-4 hours have passed since the birth of the last puppy and more remain

As far as retained placentas, the bitch will usually have a thick, dark vaginal discharge. One key with a bitch after the whelping process is to be familiar with what the normal discharge is going to be and what the abnormal discharges will look like. I cannot emphasize enough the need to educate yourself about the breeding process prior to ever even contemplating breeding a bitch. I think with the number of puppies in the world people assume the breeding process is an easy undertaking, when in actuality it is one of the bigger risks we put our bitches through.

References: Simpson, G. et al. (1998) Parturition. In: Manual of Small Animal Reproduction and Neonatology. Pp. 127-142. BSAVA, Kinglsey House; Shurdington UK.

Submitted 11/13/2004:
I have a 4 ½ month old GSP pup that hasn’t dropped a second testicle yet. Is there a surgical procedure to drop it if it doesn’t come down on its own? My vet wants to neuter the pup if it doesn’t drop by six months of age.

I know of no such surgical procedure, and if it can be done, I doubt there would be many vets who would perform such a procedure. A retained testicle can be an inherited trait, and sexual traits are highly heritable, thus by correcting such a fault you would allow the dog to pass on the trait to its offspring. As far as leaving the testicle, there are numerous health risks associated with this option. The testicles are designed to hang away from the body so that they can perform at a lower temperature. With the retained testicle up in the body, it is at a higher temperature and has a very increased likelihood of becoming cancerous.

I would agree with your vet with the timing issue as well. I usually recommend giving a dog until six or seven months of age before neutering, though if they haven’t descended by then they likely will not. If the testicle doesn’t drop, I’d strongly recommend getting him neutered.

Submitted 7/1/04:
I have a three-year old setter that has not come in season for two years. I have had her checked and she is healthy and active. Do you have any suggestions as to what I could use to bring her in to heat?

This can be a difficult one to answer. I’m going to assume that at one-year of age she did have an observable ‘heat’ and so my answer will now pertain to a dog that had an evident cycle and has not had one since. I’m also going to assume that you’ve had a complete work-up done to rule-out non-reproductive causes.

My first thought is that you potentially could be missing the signs of heat when your dog is coming in to heat. This can be especially true of dogs housed outside in kennels. Often owners are not regularly observing the vulva and the bitch maybe keeping herself clean of any discharge. This may not sound feasible, but more times than I thought possible I’ve had a dog in, questioned the owner about the dog’s heat cycle, told that it happened a couple of months previous and found a dog very much in proestrus on exam. To combat this I would recommend observing the vulvar region twice weekly until the problem is resolved.

You may want to also consider having progesterone levels run to ensure the dog hasn’t ovulated in the previous two months. As a last resort, if all the above check out, you could talk with your veterinarian about protocols to induce estrus; however, there is not a treatment protocol that reliably induces fertile estrus and ovulation in all bitches.

Submitted 6/29/04:
I have a 24-month old intact female weimaraner. Over the last year she has come into heat at 3 month intervals. Her first cycle was August of last year, then November, February, and May. She is on schedule to come in August. How concerned should I be with the frequency of her cycle from a health standpoint? My research thus far indicates that she may be at an increased risk of pyometra. My vet believes this to be true; however, he saw the risk as a lower probability. The grand plan if she continues to measure up (she is on course to be tested both NAVHDA UPT and AKC SH this fall) is to breed her in late winter/spring of ’05.

Thank you, and I look forward to your reply and advice.

The most likely explanation is a condition called “Split Heats.” Typically what happens is that in one or more of the episodes incomplete follicular development is occurring and no ovulation is taking place. Thus, the dog shows all of the proestrus signs that you are observing as ‘heat’ but likely would not be able to be bred during each of these episodes, as no ovulation has occurred. The good news is that in young females this pattern of split heats typically resolves without treatment. As you get closer to breeding this dog, or if the pattern continues, I would recommend hormonal assays (especially progesterone) during these episodes to determine if ovulation is actually taking place.

Certainly there could be other issues with this dog, such as follicular cysts, true ovulatory failure or short anestrus, but with the history and the age I would assume the simple answer first and see if it resolves. When it gets close to the projected breeding date (i.e. the cycle previous) I would start planning to have hormonal testing done if the problem is still present.

One last note, sometimes stressful situations (intense training, hunting, shipping to be bred etc.) can cause a dog to interrupt a cycle. It sounds like from your description the dog is likely undergoing a lot of training. Because of the regular interval you describe this is likely not the case, but something to think about as well, especially when is time to breed.

Submitted 6/1/04:
I am a first time dog breeder. Last week I had my female spend some quality time with a male. How can I tell if it took and she is pregnant? Also is it OK to give my female her heartworm medicine during a pregnancy? What special advice to you have for an owner during pregnancy?

Unfortunately you’ve illustrated one of my biggest pet peeves with dog owners…doing something and then asking the questions. I would strongly advise that you purchase one of the many books/videos on the market that deal with breeding dogs and whelping a litter. Too many people think that because there are so many dogs in the world that nothing must ever go wrong with the process, and although most breedings and births go off without a hitch, there are numerous potential problems that a prospective breeder needs to know about and needs to know how to handle them when the condition arises. Keeping a bitch intact is much more dangerous than one may think, with many potential hazards throughout her life, from pyometras (pus-filled uterus), to dystocias (trouble with birthing) to mammary tumors.

My line to potential dog breeders is to really examine their purpose; in my mind the only reason to breed is if you feel you have two dogs that are going to better the breed, or at a minimum continue what’s best about their breed. Too many times I’ll ask people why they have their dog intact and the only answer I get is “I’m thinking about breeding him/her” with no thought towards WHY are you going to breed him/her. With that I’ll get off my soapbox and answer your questions.

Unfortunately there isn’t a good way for you to be able to tell if your bitch is pregnant. The dog is somewhat of an oddity in that every time it cycles, its body thinks it is pregnant for the full 63 days (on average). This is the reason so many bitches go through false pregnancies. Early on it is difficult for us to tell as well. Essentially you have to wait until about day 26 of pregnancy before the fetuses are palpable and possibly a little sooner if you are using ultrasound.

As far as the heartworm medication, I would consult the label and/or your veterinarian in order to make sure. You definitely want her on preventative, but there are a lot of options on the market and I’d hate to tell you to go ahead and have you be using one that may be questionable during pregnancy.

The special advice I would have would be to educate yourself on the process of what a bitch goes through during pregnancy…especially the nutritional aspect, and also be prepared well ahead of time for the whelping process. The biggest problem I see is owners getting too worked up and then working the bitch up during the whelping process. My recommendation is to stay out of the process as much as possible, give the bitch her space, and if possible watch her from another room via a mirror or some other system that won’t be so disturbing to her. You also may want to check out the April/May 2004 issue of Gun Dog magazine. Tom Holcomb DVM has a nice little article in there about whelping and raising a litter.