So you want to have a litter of pups?

By Cat Henstridge The Pet Street Vet. Breeding a dog is a big undertaking and many people underestimate the time and effort that will go into the process. Not to mention the risks to the bitch (there is no truth to the rumour that having a litter is ‘good’ for her) and the fact you have to find loving, responsible homes for the puppies once they are born. However, some people are determined to go ahead, so how do you ensure you breed the best possible quality puppies and keep your bitch safe and healthy?

If you have a pedigree dog then the first place to start your research is the Kennel Club website. In particular you will be able to find out what sort of pre-breeding testing is required. For example, Labradors need to have their hips x-rayed (hip scoring) and eyes tested and some breeds need blood tests to ensure they are free from genetic disorders. These tests are all carried out by vets and are designed to phase out inherited problems. They are not cheap and if your dog fails then you need to give up your ambitions at that point and have them neutered. Also, pedigree dogs who are bred should be Kennel Club registered themselves. This means they will have a full pedigree history (vital to ensure close matings are avoided) and their parents will have been tested as well. If your pet is not Kennel Club registered, again, you may need to think again about breeding.

If you have a cross breed and are planning on mating them, even if they are lovely dogs, then my honest reaction would be to ask you to think very carefully. When you breed dogs of unknown parentage, you never know what you are going to get and the pups may be nothing like bitch or dog. When breeding the aim should be to produce the best quality puppies possible, who have the best chance of getting good home and even though pedigrees do have problems, most people want one, not a cross breed.. The Kennel Club has come under some criticism recently but it is working hard to improve the health of all breeds and it is still the only dog breeding regulator. I think the current trend for ‘designer dogs’ is damaging as it has led to people thinking these are healthier creatures but while in some they may dilute pedigree dog problems, equally for others they can make them worse.

Once you have had the necessary tests performed you then need to find a suitable partner! Again, the Kennel Club is the place to start with this. They will list all the registered owners of your chosen breed in your area. You could also go back to the breeder of your pet to ask their advice, they are usually more than willing to help. Especially if this is your first time breeding, having the help and support of a more experienced owner is invaluable. They will be able to talk you through what to expect and any pitfalls you may encounter. Talking to your vet is important as well, they will be able to give you an honest assessment of your dogs fitness to breed and advise on the health issues that may arise.

During most of the pregnancy you can treat your bitch as normal but towards the end you will need to start changing her diet. As the pups grow inside her there will be less room for her stomach, just at the stage when her body needs all the energy it can get. You should start feeding her a good quality puppy food in the last couple of weeks of pregnancy, your vet will be able to recommend a good brand.. These are very calorie dense and also enriched with calcium. She should also be wormed regularly, again, speak to your vet for advice.

Leading up to the birth you should create a welping area in your home where she can have the pups and bring them up. This should contain a large, comfy bed, a feeding area and a space for the pups to toilet once they can walk. You need to stock up on cleaning equipment, newspaper and towels, welping and looking after puppies is a messy business! Don’t forget they will be with you until they are eight weeks old. You should also stock up on milk replacer, the best ones are puppy specific and available from your vet, and puppy food. You need to educate yourself about the welping process and know what to expect and when to call for help if things go wrong. Chat to your vet about their out-of-hours services, so you know who to call for advice in the middle of the night.

One final point, and I hate to single out a breed this is very true, think very carefully before breeding a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Although lovely, they are the most over-bred dog and vastly over-represented in rescue kennels, to the point where many are euthansed every week because homes can’t be found. I am sure every person who breeds a Staffie, as with any dog, thinks they will ‘never’ end up in a kennels but the sad fact is that many do. I also know of several litters recently which have been born where the breeders struggled to find homes, the market really is saturated.

I am not at all anti-breeding (after all without it I wouldn’t see any cute wriggly puppies in my consulting room!) but the sad fact of the matter is there are thousands of unwanted dogs in rescue centres all over the country and irresponsible breeding only adds to their number. The only good reason to breed from your dog is if they are a good example of their type and have an excellent temperament. If you are doing it because you want a cute litter of puppies, think it would be good for your children to witness the ‘miracle of birth’ (a depressingly common reason) or for the money, then you really need to think again. You need to be prepared to stay up in the nights during and following the birth, have time to hand rear the puppies if you need to and, most importantly, have the funds for any complications (a caesarian will cost many hundreds of pounds), not to mention the cost of feeding, worming and caring for the pups.

Breeding dogs is a messy, time consuming and expensive business. However, it is also fantastically rewarding and can be a lot of fun. If you are thinking about doing it, chat to as many people as you can who have experience, make sure you know what to expect, when to call for help, ensure you are doing it for the right reasons and if you do decide to go ahead, good luck!

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