Many people want to see their dogs have pups, but realistically this can be dangerous for your dog and can also add to the huge problem of abandoned animals. Dogs Life learns why breeding should be left to the experts.
Many dog lovers will recall the exciting birth scene in the popular Disney cartoon 101 Dalmatians. The labour is going well behind closed doors and suddenly the nanny brings out the last Dalmatian puppy born still. Guardian Roger begins to rub the little guy with a towel and a few agonising minutes later the pup miraculously comes to life, healthy and happy.
In real life, breeders are sometimes not so lucky. There are many dangers involved during and after the birth and not having the experience and knowledge can result in serious injury or death of both the mother and the puppies.
Dogs Life spoke with Dr Mark Allison of Balgownie Veterinary Hospital in Balgownie, NSW, and RSPCA NSW Deputy Chief Inspector David Oshannessy about why breeding dogs is best left to registered and qualified breeders, and not the general public.
Most dogs give birth without any problems and left on their own are usually very successful, Dr Allison tells Dogs Life. However, sometimes things can go wrong before, during and/or after the birth. “One out of five births could have problems naturally,” he said. Statistics show about 40 per cent of birth problems are caused by overlarge pups and another 40 per cent are caused by uterine exhaustion.
“The older the dog, the more likely there will be a problem, such as uterine enertia (uterus not contracting as it should),” says Dr Allison. Some breeds are also more likely to have birth problems, such as the Chihuahua, Silky Terrier, Bulldog, Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier and other small breeds. It is safe to start breeding when the dog is about two years old and not passed the age of six, breeding six to eight times in its lifetime.
“Most registered breeders know their limits,” Dr Allison says. But then there are unqualified breeders, also referred to as backyard breeders, who churn out puppy after puppy without much concern for the dogs health and wellbeing.
“Vets get tired of going out to do caesareans. There are too many pups to get put to sleep,” Dr Allison continues. Of those that do survive, many end up at the pound, adding to the problem of overcrowded kennels. RSPCA NSW Deputy Chief Inspector David Oshannessy says these pups are sold cheaply and people who buy them can’t really afford to keep a pup and later can’t meet the veterinary expenses. Ultimately, the dogs end up on death row.
“We (RSPCA) are opposed to excessive breeding of companion animals,” says Oshannessy. “Dogs continue to be euthanased because of the shortage of homes and not desexing is a major reason why dogs end up at the pound. We can reduce the number of unwanted dogs by desexing, so we don’t run into the problem of backyard breeding.”
Within six years, and with irresponsible owners, one female dog and its offspring can be the source of 67,000 puppies! Breeding irresponsibly not only creates many unwanted pets, it also adds financial pressure to the breeder.
“A young girl living in a housing commission area and who doesn’t have money called me after hours to operate for one-and-a-half hours on her Maltese that was giving birth. She owes me $800 and the pups are not worth much as its a crossbreed,” relates Dr Allison.
Whats more, after the pups were born the bitch had milk fever (making too much milk) and lost calcium, resulting in convulsions. Again Dr Allison ran to the rescue after hours. He urges unqualified breeders to leave breeding to registered breeders who have the knowledge and experience. It is also up to the general public. The more we buy pups from backyard and unprofessional puppy mills because we pity these pups, sadly the more we are exploiting the problem by financing it.
Problems with birth Sharon Munns, a German Shephard breeder from Marottah, NSW, and a member of the Royal NSW Canine Council, started breeding dogs 25 years ago and faced many challenges with her dogs birthing.
“I had massive vet bills and relied on the vets until I learned,” Ms Munns tells Dogs Life. She once lost the whole litter of puppies to a sudden and unexplained seizure.
“As a breeder, you may have to put down your dogs,” she said. “Some backyard breeders let nature take its course and leave the pups for three days to die on their own. They don’t want to take them to the vet and be charged for putting them down.”
Like many dedicated breeders, Ms Munns has spent years building her knowledge base on everything to do with dogs and feels angered by breeders who don’t care for the wellbeing of their animals and only want to earn a quick buck.
She said some breeders do not feed their pregnant bitches a premium diet, opting instead for cheap, dried or canned food.
Ms Munns has invested a lot of money in getting the right foods and vitamin supplements to keep her dogs healthy.
“You have to spend on average $30 per dog a week,” she advises. She also does months of investigation before getting a stud dog to make sure he is clear of any genetic diseases, such as hip and elbow dysplasia. Both the female and male should have a physical examination before breeding, she emphasises.
“People think because the dog is hip and elbow x-rayed, their dogs wont end up with bone problems, but that’s not true,” she states. “Choosing the right stud dog comes with experience. If you’re dedicated to improving the breed and producing the best pups you can, you’ll make it.”
But a breeders responsibility does not end once the pups are born. They have to be prepared to feed the pups if the bitch dies. “You must feed the pups every two hours, so it gets to be full-time work if you have a litter of six,” Ms Munns says.
Once the pups are in the clear, they have to be microchipped and vaccinated before sale, as required by many state laws. To avoid vaccinating at six weeks, some unprofessional breeders and puppy mills sell their pups at four weeks while they should still be suckling from their mum. No professional breeder will sell you a pup less than eight weeks old. This is to avoid socialisation problems that can arise if the pups do not spend enough time with mum and siblings.
Being an experienced and qualified breeder involves getting to know your dogs personality and “being in touch with your dogs feelings”, she said. In fact, her best breeding bitch, Siriah, would have died on the operating table two years ago if she had not trusted her sixth doggy sense.
“I can tell when somethings not right,” Ms Munns says. Siriah was due to have four pups in one weeks time and she had taken her to the vet to make sure the pups were all right. The vet said there was no problem. However, the next day, Siriah was lying down and not looking 100 per cent so Ms Munns took her to a specialist centre, where she received an ultrasound that showed four healthy pups. The vet wanted to keep Siriah overnight, howe’ver Ms Munns insisted on taking her home.
Ms Munns called her daughter, who is also a vet nurse, and asked the vet there to do a caesarean. One-and-a-half hours later, he opened her up to find her uterus had ruptured into hundreds of pieces. The pups had been dead for three to four days and septicaemia had set in.
“Siriah lost a lot of blood. She almost died and had a blood transfusion and heavy antibiotics all week. She survived it but never had pups again. She got desexed after that,” Ms Munns states.
All about the breeder
Steve Austin, dog trainer and Royal New South Wales Canine Council (RNSWCC) media spokesperson, said to become a good breeder one must have an excellent understanding of dog structure and a good understanding of the dogs temperament and genetics.
“You have to plan ahead if you want the puppy you produce to be perfect in temperament,” Mr Austin said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. You plan four to five matings in advance to produce the perfect pup.”
The advantage of breeding purebred dogs is that breeders know the size, outwardness, characteristic and temperament they are going to get.
“Nothing is wrong with crossbreds,” he says. “Purebred or crossbred, a good breeder of dogs understands what two dogs will produce when put together.”
Mr Austin said people who are interested in becoming a qualified and registered breeder could gain knowledge from a variety of seminars and courses available in the community. Canine councils have seminars on the subject and TAFE offers a petcare technician course that covers breeding. The Pet Industry Association of Australia (PIAA) and the National Dog Training Federation also offers relevant courses. Professional breeders and veterinarians may also be helpful in guiding potential breeders in the right direction.
To become a good breeder, one must also abide by the laws as stated in their canine council, local council and local state agriculture department.
“For instance, you can’t breed a bitch over a certain age or more than a certain number of times,” he said.
State and local government laws regarding breeding also set standards for kennel locations and sizes, noise pollution, lighting, ventilation, bedding, security, pest control, waste disposal, cleaning and disinfection, disease prevention, health checks, staff, euthanasia, food, water and other areas of animal care. Animal welfare laws also cover the sale and rehousing of dogs and puppies, for instance, permitting the sale of puppies after eight weeks of age and only if they have been microchipped and vaccinated. Local government laws also require breeders to register their dogs with the local council.
Making responsible dog owners MAD!
The housing and welfare of dogs in backyard breeding situations are a major concern to Wayne Asplet, St George Animal Rescue Chief Executive Officer of NSW Animal Services, which is responsible for the three St George council areas in NSW. Mr Asplet says they seize 200 to 300 dogs from backyard breeders every year!
“Dogs are also stolen for breeding,” he said. “All stray animals go to the pound. Then the council sends (the breeder) a fine, but they take off. We are catching more people because they are forgetting their dogs are microchipped. But now they are trying to take the chip out on their own.”
For some people breeding starts as a hobby, but the moment a puppy is sold, it becomes a business. One would think it is easy to spot a breeding facility that is run by unqualified breeders but in many cases, these makeshift kennels are hidden from public view in the backyard and the breeder brings a clean and happy looking puppy outside for buyers to see. However, such conditions are not always kept secret, according to the RSPCA.
“We receive complaints from neighbours and members of the public about animals living in disgusting conditions,” Mr Oshannessy says. “They are not microchipped, vaccinated and have suspected parvo because they are brought up in an unhygienic environment.”
The best way to control backyard breeding is to educate the public, Mr Oshannessy advises. Always ask to see the paren’ts of the dogs, where the dogs are kept, and ask if your breeder is registered. If not, ask why. Also asking to see the papers of the dogs paren’ts can be a clear indication if you are purchasing from a good breeder. Many people believe purebred or well-bred dogs are expensive. In many cases, pups from registered breeders are actually cheaper than those from pet stores, plus you get papers with the dog and you can see the paren’ts first-hand.
But as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for! If the dog is a little more expensive from a professional breeder compared to an unprofessional backyard breeder or puppy mill, you are paying for the quality of the dog and will have less chance of the dog succumbing to sickness and hereditary diseases. You will also not be part of the reason why so many dogs end up homeless or infected with horrifying diseases.
Queensland German Shepherd breeder Irene Fitzgerald knows firsthand the dangers involved in whelping. The birth of puppies to her bitch, Spice, was happening very slowly, with the pups arriving over an hour apart. She recognised that the whelping was not happening; a puppy had not reached the birth canal and was stopping the others from progressing. She rushed Spice to the vet for an emergency caesarean and although one of the puppies died, the timely surgery saved the other two.
Mrs Fitzgerald said this litter was a difficult one for Spice as she is an older bitch, at six-and-a-half-years old, who hadnt had a litter before. Spice was very unsettled with a noisy pup so Mrs Fitzgerald slept beside the whelping box for three nights until the new mum was confident enough to manage on her own.
“If I had left her on her own she may have harmed the puppy,” says Mrs Fitzgerald. “She was picking it up and taking it out of the box. Mum has a lovely temperament, but she was uptight to start off with.”
In the end, Mrs Fitzgerland ended up with two very small puppies one was the first born and the other was the last.
“All I can say is thank God for medical intervention, some knowledge, gut feelings and basic common sense,” she says. “My vet said it (emergency caesarean) was a good call. If I had waited too long I would have lost the last puppies.”
Normal stages of labour
Stage I: Lasts four to 24 hours. This is when the bitch is restless, builds a nest, pants, possibly vomits and refuses food.
Stage II: Lasts two to eight hours (depending on litter size) during which the bitch lies on her side and contractions begin. First to appear is the birth sac, which the bitch usually chews through, and then the head of the first pup appears. Bitch chews through the umbilical cord and usually eats the afterbirth. Once the contractions start, the first pup should arrive within one to 1.5 hours, usually in 30 minutes. The delivery pattern is irregular.
Stage III: Last set of foetal membranes should be passed within three hours. There should be a greenish black discharge for 12 to 24 hours after the birth and then a clear reddish fluid for a few days.
It is much better to leave breeding to the experts, for the health and wellbeing not only of the pups, but also of the mother. Breeding is not a cheap exercise and many breeders will tell you how much hard work and dedication goes into it. There is no easy buck to make in breeding and you could not only have a sick dog on your hands, but also be out of pocket for thousands of dollars in vet bills. Things to consider!
What if during the breeding: The stud dog you have chosen is carrying a venereal disease and gives it to your bitch, which not only conceives but also gets an infection which you have to pay to get cleaned up at the vet. Or the stud dog is not experienced and once the two are joined tightly in a tie, he decides to chase the neighbours cat out of his yard. He bolts for the cat, ripping his penis loose, causing your bitch to haemorrhage from within?
What if during the birth: The puppies are too large for your bitchs hips. She never goes into labour, the pups die and she becomes infected by the decaying bodies. Or the pup is coming out breach and because the water sack has burst early, it gets stuck and your bitch tries to help by pulling on the pups leg hard, peeling the flesh from the leg. A dead pup may also get stuck in the birth canal and your bitch, who is well into hard labour, contracts so hard trying to give birth that her uterus ruptures and she bleeds to death on the way to the vet?
What if directly after birth: The mother has no idea what to do with a puppy and she drops them out and leaves them in the sack to drown. Or she tries to smother them because she finds them disgusting. She may also get too enthusiastic in removing the placenta and umbilical cord, either ripping the cord out to cause a gushing hole of blood you hopelessly try to stop, or disembowelling the pups as they are born, forcing you to put all of them to sleep?
What if, when you think you are in the clear: Your pups inhale fluid during birth, pneumonia develops and death occurs within 36 hours. Or the mothers milk goes bad, you lose some of your pups before you discover what is wrong and you end up bottle feeding the remaining pups every two hours, only to find them dying from infection. The pups may also develop fading puppy syndrome and die or your bitch develops mastitis and her breast ruptures. If she develops a uterine infection from a retained placenta, she may need to be spayed to save her life and you pay hundreds of dollars in vet bills. But the infection goes into her blood stream, infects the milk that kills all the pups, and then your bitch succumbs a day later.