The age of the bitch is very important when considering her to breed with. She should be of an age where she is physically mature, but on the right age of 4 1/2 years for her first litter. So? How old should a bitch be before she is bred for the first time? This depends entirely on the physical and mental development of the dog, and in some cases the age they have to be before they can have their final health tests. For example, slow maturing breeds (majority of the giant breeds and some smaller ones) they shouldn't be expected to carry a litter until at least 2 years, although 2 1/2 years would be deemed more suitable. The smaller toy breeds that are quick maturers are deemed suitable for breeding on their 3rd season, with the exception of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, who should be 2 1/2 years at minimum after having an MRI for Syringomyelia, and their parents should be at least 5 years, still clear of heart defects.
There is also a maximum age for breeding from a bitch for the first time, or breeding from a maiden bitch as they are often called. Some disagree with the definitive age, but in my experience, I would not breed from a maiden bitch after 4 1/2 years due to the rigidity of the pelvis setting in making it difficult to pass pups through the birth canal. The older a maiden bitch is, the increased risk of haemorrhaging (the uterus deteriorates over time and breaks down more easily) and increased change of needing a C Section, compared to those starting out younger.
As with all dogs: bitches should be on a well balanced diet, whether you choose to feed a raw diet, wet or kibble, it must be good quality food and full of the necessary vitamins and minerals and high in nutritional value.
Before mating the bitch you need to decide what feed you are going to wean her puppies on to and bear this in mind. It is normally best (if feeding kibble or wet food) that you stick to a puppy version of the food she is already on as the ingredients will be similar and shouldn't upset her stomach when you change her food over at 4-5 weeks gestation.
The protein in her diet is increased from about 4-5 weeks gestation period (after pregnancy is confirmed by scan or palpation). This is in preparation for the milk production and the energy required to raise a litter. It is important to remember: whatever you put in mums mouth goes straight to the puppies during gestation and lactation.
Keep calcium rich foods to a minimum and don't supplement calcium in the diet (or any other vitamins or minerals). Keep calcium to a minimum for the last 10 days of pregnancy to prevent the onset of eclampsia.
See links page for recommended food.
Exercise for all dogs is paramount, especially in dogs you are deciding to breed from. The bitch should be in hard condition- this means at the peak in her fitness. Hard muscle, lean but not thin, great stamina and good cardio system.
It is tempting to rest a bitch throughout her pregnancy. This is possibly the worst thing you can do for her. Keep her walking and free running (at her own pace) up until she decides that she is too heavy to continue running around. Remember if she were a wild dog, she'd be chasing down prey for as long as possible. However, try and keep her strenuous activity to what she is happy with. Never push her to do more than she wants to. Let her listen to her body and when she decides she has had enough, allow her to rest. Avoid things like agility too, especially after 20 days gestation when implantation occurs.
Vaccinations (annual boosters) should be planned around her seasons, if possible, but should definitely not happen after mating or during lactation. Flea treatment should also be avoided during pregnancy and if necessary applied before mating.
If you bitch contracts fleas whilst pregnant. DO NOT use a spot on treatment. First try bathing the bitch in a good quality shampoo and conditioner (not a flea shampoo). If this fails, apply frontline SPRAY to the bitch under the guidance of your vet. Consult your vet before undertaking any flea treatments on a pregnant bitch.
Worming- the cause of so many arguments amongst responsible breeders. Personally I believe in worming the pregnant bitch. She should be wormed on the first day of her season with her regular wormer, then from 40 days gestation to 2 days post whelp she should be wormed with Panacur. Panacur is the ONLY LICENSED wormer to be used during pregnancy. It works different to regular wormers which cause the worms to be pooped out, Panacur works to prevent the dormant larvae (found in all dogs) from being transmitted to the foetuses.
She will also be wormed when the puppies are wormed at 2 weeks, 5 weeks and 8 weeks to prevent cross infection.
It is spread by mating and contact with vaginal secretions, male semen and nasal secretions of infected dogs. It cab be transmitted to puppies in utero, through contact with vaginal secretions during birth and through nasal secretions after birth. The adult herpes virus carrier may have no symptoms, or they could present with painful vaginal or penile lesions. Where lesions are not apparent, on internal examination of the bitch blister-like vaginal wall lesions may be found. As a normal adult dog body temperature is 101-102F, and the herpes virus is unsuccessful at manifesting at these temperatures, it mostly does not present a problem in the adult canine.
CHV1 is also one of the causes of kennel cough. When not apparent the herpes virus is able to hide in the ganglia of the nervous system. CHV1 causes infertility, re-absorption of litters, abortion, still birth and fading puppy syndrome. It does this by attacking the placenta starving the puppies of nutrients. Fading puppy syndrome is characterised by a new born puppy failing to suckle, crying, weight loss, and literally ‘fading’ despite intensive care. The pups can also have soft greenish yellow faeces, sometimes mistaken for parvovirus or coronavirus. They can have a painful abdomen, a rash on the belly and bleeding under the skin. These puppies usually die within a few hours. Where puppies contract this virus and survive, they are often left with cardiac and/or brain damage.
Blindness and staggering are common presentations. As new born puppies are not able to regulate their body temperature the CHV1 virus can thrive. CHV1 it also over-burdens puppies’ immune systems leaving them prey to other infections and diseases. Small litter sizes and low birth weights can also be a sign of CHV1.
CHV1 can be tested for by blood sampling and on post mortem examination. Serum samples should be taken 2-3 weeks apart from the pregnant bitch near the time of whelping. This should show a rise in anti body titre if she is manifesting CHV1 There is also a PCR test which detects the genetic material of the virus. It is taken from cells or fluids.
Post mortem examination on a puppy will show multiple subcapsular haemorrhages and discolouration of the cortical parenchyma of the kidneys. The spleen and liver will have dark red areas and a frail parenchyma. The lungs will be oedematous with heterogenous appearance with grey and reddish areas. There will be haemorrhagic lesions in the myocardium. There will be evidence of bleeding under the skin and around the abdomen. On fresh post mortem sampling CHV1 can be isolated from the lungs and kidneys but false negative results are common.
Since April 2003 there has been a vaccine to protect against CHV1. this should be given to the bitch during heat or in early pregnancy (up to 10 days post mating) and again 1-2 weeks before her whelping due date. (The gestation period is around 63 days) If it is an accidental mating with no pre-planning and it is too late to give the vaccine in heat or during early pregnancy it is beneficial to still give 1 x vaccine rather than having none. The vaccine is an emulsion to be given sub cutaneously. It has no contraindications. It must be stored away from light and at between 2 and 8 oC. It is dangerous if injected into a human as it could cause swelling and necrosis. The vaccine protects the puppies from CHV1 infection. It should be given during each pregnancy. There is no cure for canine herpes virus, so a canine that already has it will have it for life.