Canine Reproduction and Breeding Dogs
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith

Become informed

Breeding a dog should not be undertaken without a thorough understanding of what is involved.

I recommend getting as many of the following books as possible either by purchasing them or borrowing them from the library or friends. Some excellent books are available to read prior to deciding to breed a dog. These include the following:

  • The Techniques of Breeding Better Dogs by Dr. Dieter Fleig
  • Breeding a Litter - The Complete Book of Prenatal and Postnatal Care by Beth J. Finder Harris
  • The Whelping and Rearing of Puppies by Muriel Lee
  • Book of the Bitch by JM Evans and Kay White
  • How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With by Rutherford and Neil
  • PAWS to Consider by Sarah Wilson and Brian Kilcommons
  • The Dog's Mind - Understanding Your Dog's Behavior by Bruce Fogle DVM, MRCVS.

Age at breeding

Dogs should not be used for breeding until after two years of age to allow time to see how they mature both physically and mentally.

The female dog should be allowed to attain her adult size before breeding. If bred early, she will put her energy into feeding the unborn/newborn puppies instead of into finishing her growth.

Genetic problems such as seizures and poor temperament may not be apparent until the animal is 2-3 years of age. Animals with such problems should not be bred.

Health evaluations

Breeding animals should be determined to be healthy, and as can be determined, free from genetic or hereditary disease. Many dog owners make the decision to breed their dog with little thought given to the number of genetic traits that can now be tested for. By breeding dogs that are free of these conditions, future owners can avoid much heartache.

Hips cannot be OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, Inc.) certified until after 24 months of age. Medium and large breeds should be checked for hip dysplasia prior to breeding. Small and toy breeds should be checked for femoral head necrosis (Legg-Perthes Disease). Elbow clearances can be received by OFA at the same time. Plan ahead: allow 4-6 weeks from the time the x-rays are taken to the time the results are received.

Eyes should receive a CERF (Canine Eye Registration Foundation) exam by a veterinary ophthalmologist yearly at least through the years the animals are used for breeding, and preferably continued through life to verify the health of the eyes. This exam checks for cataracts, progressive degenerative retinas, distichiasis, entropion, ectropion, and other eye abnormalities.

Heart clearances from a veterinary cardiologist should be obtained. This test should include a resting and after-exercise exam. This should be done yearly on breeding animals.

Both the male and the female should have a negative Brucellosis test before breeding. This is necessary even if artificial insemination is performed, as the male may still pass it to the female. The female is unable to pass it to the male if artificial insemination is done, but she could pass it to the puppies. If natural breeding is done, the male should be checked before breeding each female.

Dr. Foster examining a dogCheck with your veterinarian for certain other diseases that should be screened for before breeding. These include but are not limited to hypothyroidism, Von Willebrand's disease, copper storage disease, deafness, luxating patellas, hernias, or cryptorchidism.

Certain other conditions such as allergies, chronic skin conditions, chronic ear problems, etc., should make you hesitate and think hard about breeding. These traits may be passed on to the puppies and the unsuspecting new owners.

When the female is coming close to cycling (coming into season), make an appointment for a physical exam, vaccinations, stool check for internal parasites, and heartworm check. She should be at her ideal weight at this point. Those female dogs being too heavy or too thin may have an increased difficulty conceiving, carrying the litter, and whelping.

When to breed

Several ways are available to determine when to breed the female. When an experienced male is available, the easiest is to breed every other day as long as both are receptive to breeding. If artificial insemination is to be done, vaginal smears are used to determine when ovulation is going to occur. Progesterone assays are also available to help determine time of breeding. Remember, though, the bitch is on her own schedule for breeding; it may be a holiday, you may be sick, or there may be a blizzard on the days she should be bred. The same goes for when she is whelping.

The decision to breed

Again, remember the decision to breed dogs should not be taken lightly. Properly caring for breeding animals; care of the bitch during pregnancy, whelping, and after delivery; care of the puppies, and finding good homes for the puppies is a time-consuming and very expensive endeavor. Ask any top quality breeder, and they will tell you it takes a lot of dedication, money, and knowledge to do it right.

For more information on vaginal smears, see Auburn University-Veterinary Medicine-Vaginal Cytology.

References and Further Reading

Cain, J; Lawler, D. Small Animal Reproduction and Pediatrics. Pro-Visions Pet Specialty Enterprises. St. Louis, MO; 1991.

Ettinger, SF. Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 3rd ed. W.B. Saunders Company. Philadelphia, PA; 1989.

Evans, JM; White, K. Book of the Bitch. Howell Book House. New York, NY; 1997.

Feldman, E; Nelson, R. Canine and Feline Endocrinology and Reproduction. W.B. Saunders Company. Philadelphia, PA; 1987.

Finder Harris, B. Breeding a Litter: The Complete Book of Prenatal and Postnatal Care. Howell Book House. New York, NY; 1993.

Fleig, D. The Technique of Breeding Better Dogs. Howell Book House. New York, NY; 1992.

Fogle, B. The Dog's Mind - Understanding Your Dog's Behavior. Howell Book House. New York, NY; 1990.

Holst, P. Canine Reproduction: A Breeder's Guide. Alpine Publications. Loveland, CO; 1985.

Lee, M. Whelping and Rearing of Puppies. T.F.H. Publications, Inc. Neptune City, NJ.

Padgett, GA. Control of Canine Genetic Diseases. Howell Book House. New York, NY; 1998.

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