Breeding, Facility Management, Nutrition, Reproductive Health Advice

Managing the Valuable Brood Dog

What is a Brood Dog?

A brood dog is a female dog for breeding. This webinar is full of tips for dog breeding. Dr. Marty Greer, Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services, will help you improve the reproductive capabilities of breeding female dogs.

Throughout the webinar Dr. Greer will discuss:

  1. The physical condition of a breeding dog
  2. Pre-breeding health screenings
  3. What should dogs be tested for before breeding
  4. Vaccination protocols for breeding females
  5. Optimal nutrition for breeding dogs
  6. Parasite control that will impact the health of the female and her pups
  7. The ideal environment for breeding dogs
  8. What is the best time for breeding dogs
  9. How to best time her breeding, for maximal fertility and to time her whelping

This webinar is full of tips on what to do before breeding your dog and is useful for both the experienced breeder as well as those just getting a breeding program started.

Managing a Brood Dog

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Female Dog Breeding

What do you need for breeding dogs? First, we want to talk about physical condition of our female. It’s really important that they’re an ideal body condition, neither too thin nor overweight at the time that we want her to go into heat and start becoming reproductively active. If you were to take the back of your hand, make it into a fist and feel across your knuckles, that’s what her ribcage would feel like if she’s too thin. We don’t want to be able to feel ribs as thin as this. Ideal body condition is going to be what you’d feel on the heel of your hand.

Once they become overweight, then we really get into where they’re just too chubby. So we want to make sure that they’re not that heavy. We want to make sure that we can feel ribs, but not just feel squishy. We don’t want to put them on a diet at the time that we’re going to start breeding. We want to make sure that she’s ideal going into a heat cycle, not too thin and not too heavy.

What Tests Should I Do On My Dog Before Breeding?

The second thing I want to mention is health screening, primarily brucellosis. Canine brucellosis is a disease, a bacterial disease that we see in dogs. It still exists. It hasn’t been eradicated from the United States or in most countries from around the world so it’s really important that we’re still keeping an eye on these dogs for canine brucellosis. It is a bacterial disease, but it is also a bacterial disease that is zoonotic, meaning that it can be transmitted to people. It’s of particular concern if we have young children, older people who are immunocompromised or a woman who may be pregnant.

What is a Brucellosis Test for Female Dogs?

It’s important that we’re testing for Brucellosis, not only for the sake of our dogs, but for the sake of the people that handle them as well. Testing for canine brucellosis is relatively simple. It can be done on a blood test in the veterinary clinic or as a send out test. At this point, we don’t have an in-home canine brucellosis tests. If your veterinarian is working with you and a couple of other breeders, they can generally have enough volume to make it worth their while to have the test kit in-house. If the test is run in the hospital, it’s simple to run. It takes less than 2 minutes to actually run the test itself. Of course, it takes longer than that to draw the blood, centrifuge it, separate it, and be ready to run the test. But it’s a quick test. The rapid slide agglutination test kit has been on the market for well over 40 years. It’s a pretty great test in that it’s very sensitive. It will pick up everything except very early Brucellosis tests, but it’s not very specific. You can’t get both sensitivity and specificity in a test. You get one or the other. In this case we get sensitivity, meaning we’ll get some false positives. But as far as specificity, we’re going to we’re going to get false positives because it will pick up some other diseases as well. The important thing is that it’s not going to miss dogs that are having any kind of infection lasting more than about 3 to 4 weeks from the time that they were originally infected or exposed to the disease.

Simple tests to run your veterinary clinic can run it. If they can’t, then you can get it sent out to a reference lab and get results back fairly quickly. However, because it is so sensitive, we see up to 10% false positives. If that happens, then an additional test is done usually at Cornell using agar gel immunodiffusion test, AGID test, that takes upwards of a week depending on how long it takes to ship the sample to the lab. That test is more specific and will eliminate false positives. If that test comes back positive, you really truly do have a brucellosis positive dog, in which case in most states your state veterinarian will be contacting you for a visit. Unfortunately, that means that you’re probably going to end up with some problems of keeping some of the dogs that you have.

The dog with the eye problem, the dog that looks really thin, the puppy that looks really sick, any of those dogs could have canine brucellosis, but they could have one of 100 other diseases as well, including things like parvovirus, parasites, other kind of diseases. You can’t make any conclusions based on just an examination of the patient.

The problem is you can’t get rid of canine brucellosis. Once you get it in a dog, it’s permanent. It tends to live forever in their body. It’s called undulant fever in people because of the bacterial infection sets up housekeeping in your bone marrow and from time to time flares up and then comes back and then disappears again for a while. The drugs we used to have to treat this with are no longer on the market and spaying and neutering is not curative.

Can You Breed a Dog With Brucellosis?

It becomes really complicated when you have a canine brucellosis situation. It is important that we’re preemptive and we’re testing our dogs prior to breeding because if the state comes in to your facility, and they are allowed to do so in almost every state because this is a reportable disease, it’s one of the few canine reportable diseases we have besides rabies. But essentially what they do is they come in and test all the dogs in your house, your facility or your breeding program. Any dogs that are positive can be euthanized. Some of them are held out and tested repetitively every 30 days for a total of 3 tests in 90 days. And then they continue to test all the other dogs for a total of 90 days until you’ve got everybody clear.

So once this happens in your facility, you no longer have control over what goes on with your dogs. You don’t get to make those life and death decisions. The state veterinarian does. So please be aware that this is a serious disorder, and you want to be testing for it proactively and not waiting until you’re in trouble. Brucellosis can be spread dog to dog venereal by matings.

It can be spread through to people through secretions of a dog. It can also spread dog to dogs through urine or other body fluids. And the same with people. It is really important that we’re not just testing dogs that are breeding, but we’re thinking about other dogs as well.

If they go to the dog park, if they go to a dog show, if they’re transported, if you’re transporting, for instance, rescue dogs or groups of dogs from one breeder to another in your vehicle, and you have dogs in the vehicle with them that belong to you, those could be exposures. Be very, very careful with how you manage dogs that are not brucellosis screened.

Pregnant Dogs and Ticks

The second disorder is going to be the tick borne group of diseases. There is again another simple test that can be run in-house. There’s several companies that run a test that includes heartworm, but it includes Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichia as well. The concern we have with Lyme disease and the other two diseases that are tickborne is that because they are tickborne we can see them year round in most states, and females during pregnancy can become very sick with this Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, and Ehrlichia. So it’s a good idea to have your females screened at least once a year or prior to the time that you breed them if you’re in an area with a lot of ticks or if you’re not really keeping up with your tick control with medications.

Mycoplasma in Breeding Dogs

The third disease that we can see is mycoplasma. There are some dogs reported coming in from the Eastern European countries that do probably have mycoplasma. Treating the dogs if they’ve got some fertility issues with Doxycycline, both male and female can improve fertility in those dogs. So be aware that that’s a concern.

Those are primarily the diseases that we can see that are infectious, that can cause influences in pregnancy and reproductive health. There’s a few other diseases as well, like I said, leptospirosis, but generally those are the diseases that we see.

What Shots Do Dogs Need Before Breeding?

The next thing I want to talk about is vaccines for breeding dogs. Vaccinations for distemper, adeno, para influenza and parvovirus are really important that we keep active in our female dogs that we’re using for breeding as well as the other dogs in the kennel. Parvo, of course, is one of those diseases in that vaccine. Parvo is still a pretty rampant disease in many breeding facilities and humane society shelters and so on. It’s really important that we continue to vaccinate for parvo. Distemper. We don’t see much of it in the northern states. It’s still around in some of the southern states.

Combination vaccines for dogs are very effective and very safe. We give a series of those vaccinations to puppies when they’re little. We vaccinate at 6 to 8 weeks, 12 weeks and 16 to 18 weeks and then an annual booster for most dogs. Those that aren’t in breeding facilities may go to a three year protocol. Dogs that are in breeding facilities where you’ve got a lot of puppies coming and going should probably be vaccinated on an annual basis.

What Dogs are at High Risk for Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection. There are four strains in the vaccines that we use now. Those are, again, much safer than they used to be. There are still some people who are a little bit reluctant to vaccinate for Lepto, but I still consider it to be a pro vaccine in most of the states where we have possibilities of standing water and wet grass. I think if you live in Nevada, you’re probably okay, maybe Arizona. But in general, the states that we see breeders in, we still see leptospirosis, and that can spread to dogs that are pregnant and can cause serious illness during pregnancy. And of course, lepto can be fatal to young puppies.

What Dogs Need Bordetella Vaccine?

Bordetella is the third thing that we recommend vaccinating for that comes as an intranasal and oral and an injectable vaccine. My preference is the intranasal combined with adenovirus and para influenza. Those are different adenovirus and virus and influenza strains, and we see in the injectable DaPPv. I still use the three way Bordetella vaccine and I prefer the intranasal because you get better protection against Bordetella, and you don’t get any protection in the oral vaccine with Bordetella for influenza. It’s not available as an oral product. If you’re using one of these vaccines, you’ll probably want to continue to use the three way. My preference too is the syringe free applicator. The point of that being that if the intranasal vaccine is accidentally given as an injection, it can cause liver failure and pretty serious disease in the dog. I think it’s important that we make these as mistake-free as possible. If you make up a bunch of syringes and one of them is Bordetella, it’s laying on the counter and you accidentally pick it up because one of your assistants or helpers or spouses or partners picked up the wrong vaccine and put it into a syringe and you give it by injection, it can cause very serious disease. So I like the syringe free applicator. If it can go wrong, it will. So the best way to do it is to make it as accident proof as possible, and that’s the syringe free applicator.

What Vaccines Do Breeding Dogs Need?

There are two strains of canine influenza. There’s an H3N2 and an H3N8. I like to use the canine influenza bi-valent vaccine. In facilities where you have a lot of dogs coming and going and a lot of exposure, I think canine influenza is one of the vaccinations that you should be administering.

Canine coronavirus is a little bit more of a different subject. We don’t see much coronavirus in adult dogs. If we see it, it tends to be in young puppies that are around 3 to 4 weeks of age. It is an intestinal disease. It is not the same coronavirus that we see in humans. It’s a completely different strain. It’s still called corona because it has spikes on it. We’ve known about the enteric form of coronavirus since the 1990s. We’ve known about the respiratory form since 2003. Again, those are not contagious to people. The canine coronavirus vaccine doesn’t work on humans. If you have a problem with canine coronavirus in two to 3 to 4 week old puppies with GI disease, you may want to consider including that in your vaccine for your females. But in general, it’s not considered a canine core vaccine in most facilities.

Can You Vaccinate a Pregnant Dog?

My question for you now is which vaccines are safe to use during pregnancy? The answer to that is none. We don’t vaccinate any female dogs during pregnancy for any vaccines. Not for rabies. Not for anything. In the European countries there is a herpes virus vaccine. We do not have that in the United States. That’s the only vaccine that’s labeled for use during pregnancy. Since we don’t have it here, we don’t have to really think too much about it. But I do want to mention it for our European colleagues, that’s a European 205.

What Should I Feed My Female Dog Before Breeding?

Nutritionally, I am not a fan of raw meat diets for a couple of reasons. One of them is the calcium phosphorus imbalance that we see because of the calcium in the bones of the raw meat diet. That leads to a lot of distortions. A distortion is a difficult birth. So we have Webwise Data, a company in Colorado that does uterine contraction monitoring, and they see a much higher incidence of dogs that have inappropriate labor that are not effective in expelling puppies quickly, in dogs that are on raw meat diet or on the grain free diets. I try to avoid those because of the calcium phosphorus imbalance. I also worry about parasites and bacterial diseases spread in raw meat. The parasites and bacteria that we see in raw meat diets can cause some pretty serious effects during pregnancy. We can see salmonella, shigella, a number of other bacterial diseases, and we can see parasites like neosporum and toxoplasmosis, and we can see entire litters of puppies lost to this.

Is Raw Diet Good for Pregnant Dogs?

If people are really attached to their raw meat diet and it’s because of the components of the diet, I would suggest that you try cooking it during the pregnancy. I know in some ways that defeats the purpose, but in other ways at least, you have the nutrient profile that you may be looking for, but you’re avoiding the parasites and bacteria that we can see spread through raw meat. I also I’m concerned about raw meat handling in the kitchen. A lot of people are not careful with how they handle raw meat, whether they’re cooking it for themselves or their families or for the dog. Be very careful that you’re using appropriate cutting boards that you can scrub and bleach, that you’re washing your hands before you touch other things in the in the kitchen, like the handle of the refrigerator or the towel. Be very careful with raw meat diets, whether they’re yours or the dogs.

What is the Best Diet For Breeding Dogs?

The second thing I want to mention is carbohydrates. We know that our pregnant females and females that are lactating to produce milk for their puppies need to have carbohydrates. They need carbohydrates to grow their puppies in the uterus, and they need carbohydrates to lactate. So they cannot produce milk. They cannot make nice big fat puppies for you if they’re on a carbohydrate free diet. Grain free diets make me a little nervous. I prefer a feeding carbohydrate diet that contains rice, barley, corn, wheat, milo all of those are appropriate unless your dog has food allergies. And if you do have an allergic dog, you probably should talk to your veterinarian about how inherited that’s likely to be sending it on to your puppy. Look hard at the labels of your foods before you’re feeding them that that we’re using an appropriate diet for the breeding dogs that we’re expecting to have puppies.

The problem that we also see with the grain free diets is we can see cardiomyopathy, which is a heart problem. There’s a dilated cardiomyopathy that about 30% of the dogs on with the cardiomyopathy seem to be related to a diet that’s grain free. There is a genetic form. There is a form that we haven’t completely figured out which are the other two forms. But around a third of the dogs that are developing these recent dilated cardiomyopathy are probably on a grain free diet, which is a potato and pea based diet. The other concern I have with peas isn’t just the heart, but there’s also a lot of phytoestrogens in the peas, legumes and beans that are in these diets, which probably interfere with the female’s fertility and potentially the males as well. We don’t have as many studies on that as we should at this point, but those things will be coming. So please keep your ears open and try to avoid the bean, pea and legume based diets during pregnancy and lactation. Potatoes in the sweet potatoes are probably okay, but they tend to be paired with the peas, legumes and beans. I would just encourage people to use the diets that are corn, wheat. Those are great nutrients that we see in many dogs. The corn, wheat, barley, oats, milo, unless you have an allergic dog, dogs are going to generally be better off on those types of sources of carbohydrates than they are on the other.

What Should I Feed My Pregnant Dog?

There’s only one pregnancy diet on the market. There are a lot of people who very successfully feed Purina, Hills and Royal Canin, Eukanuba and Iams diets. Those are my preferences. I don’t work for a pet food company so I can tell you this with real experience and real honesty that our experiences have been that the Royal Canin diet that’s made for pregnancy called HT 42d does a great job of improving the micronutrient profile of what these dogs need to be eating. It comes in two forms. It comes in a large dog form, in a small dog form, a large bag and a small bag, correspondingly. You cannot buy it commercially at the store. You can only buy it from the Royal Canin website.

We recommend feeding it from just before the time that she should start into a heat cycle or the time she starts until the 42nd day of pregnancy. Thus the name HT 42d. So it stands for Heat to the 42nd day of pregnancy. It works really well, and we’ve had good success with this in dogs that either haven’t been cycling normally or dogs that we’ve had some fertility issues with.

This explains the nutrient profile of what’s in the HT 42d. It has some micronutrients, including folic acid, tyrosine, some DHA and some other products, beta carotene and so forth that seem to improve the bloody show during a heat cycle, improves the development of the uterus, preparing for a pregnancy. It improves the growth of the follicles where the eggs are formed, the ovulation. It improves the formation of the placenta and the formation of the embryo, as well as maintaining the pregnancy. So these are the nutrients that you should be looking at. It is a soy based diet. I will mention that there is soy in this diet, but they chelate the phytoestrogens in this food. So if you look at the soy on the label, don’t let that throw you off. The phytoestrogens have been chelated and removed from the food, so it doesn’t interfere with pregnancy and the development of a normal pregnancy in lactation. Anybody feeding an all stage life stage food is not adequately addressing some of these smaller nutrient profiles that we need for dogs during pregnancy. After the 42nd day of pregnancy through the last three weeks of the pregnancy feed a puppy or a performance diet.

The Purina, Iams, Royal Canin and the Hills diets are all appropriate for dogs during late stage pregnancy and lactation. I like the puppy diets. They do a great job of giving enough calcium and enough calories that the dogs do a good job of being able to maintain the pregnancy and lactation.

Folic Acid for Pregnant Dogs

Folic acid for pregnant dogs is a really important nutrient in the development of healthy puppies and healthy babies. We know from studies in dogs and in humans that a folic acid deficiency can promote or lead to an increased risk of midline defects. Midline defects are going to include cleft palate, spina bifida, open up abdominal walls. There’s a number of midline defects that we see. And what a midline defect is when the right and the left side of the embryo don’t grow together and form a normal body cavity. Folic acid can be used to reduce the incidence or the risk of that. It should be fed from about six weeks prior to the time that you want the female to become pregnant through to day 40 of the pregnancy.

There is folic acid in the dog prenatal Breeder’s Edge Oxy Mate. There is folic acid in Breeder’s Edge B Strong, but you may need to increase the amount of that, particularly in some of the breeds that are at risk. Short face dogs are the ones that are at increased risk of cleft palate. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re the only breeds that have cleft palate. We can see them in any breed. They can also be related to using certain drugs like trimethoprim sulfa during pregnancy. It’s really important that we’re avoiding those drugs and that we’re using folic acid supplements in dogs at risk.

What is a Good Source of DHA for Dogs?

DHA is a fatty acid. We have good studies on this that shows that the fatty acid supplement helps to have smarter puppies. It’s available in a lot of different forms. The Alaskan Natural Salmon Oil has a DHA profile that’s important for our dogs. Studies have shown that DHA supplementation does not cause any negative growth of the joints during canine pregnancy. So this is an important aspect, is that we’re doing no harm. And we know from a study that Canine Companions for Independence did, which is a service dog organization in California. They did a study on 5,900 puppies and found that in their females that were producing litters, that the first litter of these puppies that these females had, that 50% of their puppies would graduate from the service dog program. But by the time they got to their fifth litter, they were down to graduating only about 25% of those females puppies.

So the question became, what’s happening here that we’re losing this many puppies because they’re not smart enough to become the service dogs that we expect them to be if they’re going to pull a wheelchair, pick up your keys, carry your briefcase to your office and get your beer out of the refrigerator? What’s happening to these puppies? And the answer turned out to be that the females were being depleted of DHA through subsequent pregnancies.

By supplementing DHA they found that they could increase their graduation rate. As the females got older, they were still graduating larger numbers of puppies from their litters, which is a really important thing because these service dogs are very expensive for these organizations to produce. This is a report from 2012, so this isn’t brand new information that DHA and some of the other fatty acids improve cognitive, which is brain, memory, psychomotor, immunologic and retinal functions in growing dogs. So brain, immunology, their immune systems and their eyes were all better developed on a DHA rich diet. Important information for you to have when you’re selling puppies to the people that want them to have good longevity and really smart little puppy kids.

What Does B Strong Do For Dogs?

Breeder’s Edge B Strong comes as a powder, and it comes in a liquid. From our clinical experience we know B Strong improves the quality and the frequency of heat cycles. If we have a female that’s being fed an appropriate diet of Purina, Royal Canin, and Eukanuba, one of those diets, and she’s not cycling with the frequency or not cycling at all that we would expect her to, that our first recommendation before we use any kind of drug intervention is to put her on B Strong along with the appropriate nutrition. A diet change, if that’s indicated, along with B Strong for the diet, seems to really make a big difference.

One of my own personal technicians at our practice had a dog that was three years old. She works in my reproduction department, not the dog, the technician. She had come in and said that her female hadn’t ever had a heat cycle and because she works in my reproduction department, I’m pretty sure she knows what a heat cycle looks like. So I said to her, “Well, what do you want to do about it?” She said, “Well, I want to put her on a medication to bring her into heat because I want to have a litter.” And I said, “No, no, no, not until we do B Strong.”

So we put her on to B Strong. I said, “If in 14 days she’s not in heat, then we’ll talk about it again.” And on the 14th day she sent me a photograph of the dog’s south end, because she clearly had started her heat cycle. She went on to have seven puppies. So we know that they’ve produced really well as soon as we’ve got them cycling. B Strong can make a huge difference in their quality of the heat cycle and the frequency. If you’re having difficulty with fertility in your females, start by looking at nutrition and adding the B vitamins. We don’t feel that there’s probably enough B vitamins added to the commercial diets as it seems that they’ve changed over the years. If you used to have no trouble and ten years ago you started to see a change or you’ve changed nutrition on the diet, take a look at this as a as a possible solution to your problem.

Should You Give Calcium During Whelping?

We know that calcium is really important for labor as well as lactation, as well as producing milk. It’s not going to be possible for your female to have good uterine contractions if her calcium levels aren’t high enough. The tricky part of this is not starting the calcium supplement too early. If you start it during the pregnancy, in the middle of the pregnancy, you’re going to actually tell her parathyroid gland to stop producing the hormone that mobilizes calcium from her bones.

We don’t want to start the Breeder’s Edge Oral Cal Plus calcium gel until either the day she goes into labor or the day prior to that, because we don’t want to suppress her parathyroid gland. We’ll start the calcium gel at the initiation of labor or shortly before that. The calcium gel works really quickly and it does as good a job in most cases as some of the injectable products. Things like Tums and ice cream, they’re not going to be bioavailable fast enough. You’re not going to get enough calcium into the female during labor. So you really need to use an appropriate calcium product such as Oral Cal Plus gel. We can use that calcium gel to improve her uterine contractions and frequently either use no oxytocin or a very small amount of oxytocin if we do need at all to improve the quality of her labor contractions and the delivery of her puppies promptly enough that you have good, healthy puppies coming out strong and breathing. However, her calcium needs just are starting at that point. She needs it as well through lactation and it’s especially important in small breed females with large litters.

How Do You Fix Eclampsia in Dogs?

If you have a dog with eclampsia, they develop a seizure-like activity on most of their muscles. They’re aware, they’re conscious, they’re not unconscious like a seizure, but they go into these panic muscle contractions. It’s really very miserable for the dog. Her temperature goes up and this will progress to her dying if we don’t get intervention. The Breeder’s Edge Oral Cal Plus calcium gel will work much more quickly than a powder or a tablet. During the time that she’s lactating heavily, you’re going to want to make sure that she’s getting adequate amounts of calcium.

Is it Okay to Deworm a Dog Before Mating?

Yes! For intestinal parasites in dogs such as roundworms, hookworms and whipworms and one form of tapeworm we can use fenbendazole on our pregnant dogs or on our puppies over the age of four weeks. Now, this is an off label dose. The label says to use fenbendazole for three days. It comes as a 10% suspension in this large bottle of Panacur. It also comes as Safeguard and a couple of other labels. But this works really well as a suspension. The way we recommend using it is to give one CC of the suspension for 4 lb. of body weight to the adult female pregnant dog and we give it for the last three weeks of the pregnancy through the first two weeks of lactation. So a total of five weeks. And I know the label says three days and I understand that, and I can read it, but we know that it’s very safe. Since about the 1990s we’ve been giving this protocol to our females and what we find is because we’ve done this protocol, we are now producing puppies that are born without parasites.

If the female, when she was a young dog, ever had intestinal parasites, those parasites then sit in her muscles and the stress of lactation, and the stress of pregnancy reactivate the migration of those just like trichinosis back in the old days of the pigs. They start to migrate through the female’s circulation into the milk and into the placenta and into the puppies. This is why you can have puppies at two weeks of age that already have heavy intestinal parasite loads. By interfering with that life cycle with this product, with this protocol of the last three weeks of pregnancy and the first two weeks of lactation, we can very easily interrupt this life cycle and prevent the development of these puppies with roundworms and hookworms. It also will interrupt the life cycle that ends up causing the possibility of children or other people that are exposed to parasites developing a zoonotic disease from the parasites. So instead of waiting until we have puppies that are five weeks old, you’re weaning them at four and five weeks and they’re kind of getting diarrhea and they’re kind of puny and they don’t feel very good, and they’re not thrifty and they’re got little belly aches and they aren’t eating, and they’ve got diarrhea, we can get ahead of this by doing this protocol. You’re going to have fat, healthy, wonderful puppies. I’ve been breeding for 40 years and I love this breeding dog deworming protocol. It works really well. The important thing to know is you can deworm the female and she can have a negative fecal sample and you’ll still have intestinal parasites in your puppies because the muscles have these parasitic cysts in them. So not that you haven’t dewormed her before you got her pregnant. It’s just you’ve got to deworm during the pregnancy to interrupt this life cycle migration.

What is the Best Heartworm Medicine for Pregnant Dogs?

We see a lot of dogs in the southern tier of states with heartworm disease, so it’s important that we have our dogs on an appropriate heartworm preventive year round, even in the northern states. There are many heartworm preventatives on the market, many of them are milbemycin or ivermectin based. Those will be Sentinel, Interceptor, HeartGard Plus, Tri-Heart. They’re all safe to use on a breeding dog except Trifexis. And I don’t want to call out one specific product, but Trifexis doesn’t have any safety label on the product. So be very careful that you’re reading labels on your medications, both for the heartworm medication and the flea and tick medication. If you read the labels on the heartworm preventatives, we know that Heartgard, which is the ivermectin based product, says, “Safe on breeding females, stud dogs and puppies aged six or more weeks.” And then Trifexis says “use with caution in breeding females. The safe use of Trifexis in breeding males has not been evaluated.” So my thoughts on this is if they haven’t tested it in the males and we don’t know if it can be safely used in females, I just wouldn’t use it in a facility where I had breeding animals. I just think it’s smart to say stay with products that we know have safety indications on them.

What is a Safe Flea and Tick Prevention for Breeding Dogs?

Flea and tick medications for breeding dogs will usually also manage mites and lice. There are two forms of those medications. There’s a topical that’s the liquid that goes up the back over the shoulders and at the back of the dog. Some of those are safe during pregnancy, some of those are not. We know Frontline is safe for use during pregnancy, we know Vectra is not. So you need to read your labels. There are four oral medications-Bravecto was the only one labeled as safe for breeding, pregnant and nursing dogs. Simparica, Credelio and NexGard are not tested, so it’s not saying that we’re calling them out on anything. It’s just saying that the label doesn’t indicate if it’s safe or not. I don’t want your dog to be the test dog in the study that determined that it wasn’t safe.

It’s really important that you read labels and use an appropriate product for your female dog and pay attention to the males as well because it frequently won’t indicate males are tested either. The Bravecto label specifically says there were “no clinically relevant treatment related effects on the body weights, food consumption, reproductive performance, semen analysis, litter data, gross necropsy, or histopathology findings on adults or puppies.” This is what Bravecto says. Credelio, NexGard and Simparica don’t do that. So pay attention to your labels.

The third category of flea and tick medication is the Seresto collar. And again, that’s not labeled as safe in male or females at this point. So I would stick with the products that we know are. So read your labels. If you’re not sure how to read the label, call our pharmacy at Revival. We’ve got all this information there for you to help you select products, but you can safely have your dogs on heartworm, preventive intestinal parasite control and flea and tick parasite control safely during all stages of reproduction.

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What is the Best Environment For a Dog in Labor?

When creating the best environment for breeding dogs you’ll want to consider ventilation, biosecurity, temperature, lighting, waste, water quality, inter-dog relationships, and bathing. You know that you need to have good ventilation in your facilities. I’ve seen facilities, pictures of facilities that don’t have the upper part of the building, the interiors, finished. It has exposed insulation. It has places that moisture can accumulate. So those are going to cause problems with humidity. Too much urine accumulation will cause ammonia issues, and ammonia can be very irritating to the airways, especially in little puppies. So make sure your facility is clean and that you’ve got good airflow through the facility.

Can Dogs Get Sick from Bad Air Quality?

Air quality is really important for all dogs especially breeding dogs. There are a lot of people that like to use essential oils. We don’t know if some of those are safe during canine pregnancy and lactation. We do have some anecdotal reports of people that have started using essential oils and have fertility issues and they stopped, and the fertility issues disappeared. So think about what you’re using and think about the cigarette smoke. If you’re a smoker, smoke outside, don’t smoke with the dog in the house, don’t smoke with the dog in the kennel. Remember that we see low birth weight babies in dogs just as well as we do in humans. So be careful with your cigarette smoke as well.

Biosecurity in the Dog Kennel

The second thing we want to talk about is biosecurity in the dog kennel, and that’s going to be reducing the bacteria, parasite and viral loads of visitors to your facility. You want to make sure anybody that comes to visit has washed their hands with soap and water. Hand sanitizers are not sufficient. You need to remove the organic material with soap and water, use something antibacterial. There’s lots of good products on the market. If you’re having them come to visit to hold puppies, make them take their jackets off if they’ve been wearing as an outer garment and have them take their shoes off or walk through a disinfection mat so that you can disinfect the shoes of people coming into your facility. They can carry on things like parvovirus and parasites, and you want to keep your puppies healthy at the same time that you want visitors to be able to come see them. Be very cautious with how you’re managing your biosecurity.

How Do You Warm Up a Cold Newborn Puppy?

Temperature is really important in the kennels. I personally like heat sources for my puppies from the underneath, so the newborn puppy is not above. Heat lamps and that type of heat source make me nervous. I set one of my barns on fire with a heat lamp. I think you have to be very cautious with the use of those types of heat sources. But the heat sources from underneath. If the facility doesn’t have electricity, you do have a way that you can still heat from underneath. But this heated nest is really great because the puppies are attracted to the heat source if they’re chilled. The nice thing about this is it doesn’t dehydrate, it doesn’t start a fire. Your female can lay off the whelping nest next to the puppies and they can themselves crawl over a nurse off of her. But she’s not subjected to the heat. So you can keep your environmental area at 70 to 75 degrees and the whelping surface start at 90 degrees for the first week. I lower that temperature by about five degrees a week until we get to a room temperature. So 90 the first week, 85, the second and so on.

We also have a product at Revival called the Puppy Warmer. It comes as two units, it comes as a puppy incubator, that you can very specifically set the temperature in the environment. It is set up to have a temperature gradient in this incubator as well as what we did on the nest, because we know puppies want to move to sources that they’re comfortable in. If they’re too warm, they can move away. If they’re too cool, they can move towards the heat source and can be warmer. This product was developed to have a heat gradient in it. You can use this for newborn puppies the first when they’ve come out at C-section or as vaginal birth if they’re wet and cold, you can warm them up very quickly in this.

Then the other unit is the Puppy Warmer Oxygen Concentrator. What the oxygen concentrator does is takes room air, which is 20% oxygen and turns it into 95% oxygen without an oxygen tank by simply plugging this in and running the unit into the incubator. So you can create an oxygen enriched environment with these two units. They are awesome. You’ll buy this once and they will last you the rest of your breeding career. They are the most terrific set up that you have, especially if you have brachycephalic puppies, pugs, French bulldogs, breeds that tend to be weak or sick puppies. You’ll save puppies with this.

Dog Kennel Lighting

The next thing we want to talk about is lighting in the kennel. Day length is an important way for us to manage our dog’s heat cycles. We know dogs don’t cycle as frequently when the days are short in the wintertime as they do during the rest of the year. A lot about January 1st because the days start to get longer on December 22nd. By January 1st, we’ve got dogs coming out of our ears that are in heat in our practice. So again, daylight is really important to our dogs and if you’re having difficulty with cycling, you need to get those females outside more. You want to change the lighting in the kennel to a full spectrum daylight type of lighting. Don’t turn the lights off in the kennel during the afternoons and evenings. You may need to turn those on so that you have 12 to 14 hours of daylight in the kennel to improve the female’s likelihood of cycling. So keep that in mind if you’re struggling with heat cycles or females that aren’t cycling normally.

What Can I Do With Dog Waste From a Kennel?

Dog waste, of course, is a really important item that we need to keep our kennels clear of. Having the dogs up on an elevated surface or keeping the kennels clean so that frequently you’re moving the waste out is important. You need to eliminate the waste, but you also need to use a surfactant like a soap, to eliminate the organic material before you disinfect. You cannot over disinfect. You can’t get rid of all the parasites and all the bacteria and all the things you need to get rid of by disinfecting. You have to eliminate the waste. You have to get rid of the large material. You have to get rid of it with a surfactant, a soap, and then be careful when you are spraying to clean because you can end up with some pretty large amounts of aerosolized waste products that you can end up breathing or the dogs can end up breathing.

Water Quality for Dogs

Water is the number one nutrient that our dogs take in. It’s only second by the food that they eat. So remember, good water quality is really essential. If you’re struggling with dogs or diarrhea or some illnesses that you can’t fully understand, have your water tested for coliforms for nitrates. Your county extension agency can usually run these at a very low cost and take in several water samples. Don’t just take it from your kitchen sink, take it from anywhere in the kennel, any kind of hose bag or water source that you’re using in the kennel, because you can have leaks in the water system, and you can have contamination in the kennel or in the facility that you may not have in the drinking water that you’re using for yourself and your family. Check multiple sources if you’re going to go to the trouble of doing this. Your water should be clear of coliforms. Coliforms are the bacteria that cause the diarrhea, and it’s the bacteria that should be in stool. So you don’t want fecal contamination in your water source. And of course, nitrates are an agricultural byproduct that can end up in water sources as well.

Dog Kennel Stress for Breeding Dogs

Inter-dog relationships and stress are really sometimes overlooked by people. If you’ve got crowding in the kennel, if you’ve got breeds of dogs that don’t necessarily like to get along well together, if you’ve got shih tzus or Corgis or malamutes, dogs that tend to be a little bit aggressive toward one another, too much stress, too much intermingling of dogs, too many dogs staring at a litter of puppies, making a new dog mom nervous. Those are all things that can increase stress levels that don’t improve mothering skills. She really needs to have a nice, quiet environment where she feels safe to raise her puppies well. Use housing as a good way to manage that.

Keep your dog housing not so overcrowded that they’re feeling stressed. If you’re still struggling with that, something like the ThunderEase diffuser kit or the ThunderEase collar can be really helpful in improving maternal skills. We use a collar on all of our females that we do C-sections on. We try to put that ThunderEase collar on 2 to 3 days before her C-section, and we find that we have much calmer mothers, much better moms when we when we manage them that way. Don’t invite the neighbors over, don’t have too much crowding in the kennel. Your dog needs a nice, quiet place to raise her puppies.

Can I Bathe My Pregnant Dog?

Bathing your pregnant dog is an important step. Prior to the time she whelps, a good chlorhexidine bath with Vet Basics ChlorConazole shampoo is a really good practice to take part in. Give the female dog a bath two or three days before she has the puppies just to make sure she’s good and clean. It reduces the bacteria and reduces the parasites that she may have on her skin, or she may have around her rectal area or her mammary glands.

You might want to consider shaving some of the hair off of the mammary glands just to make it easier for puppies to find their way to the to the nipple so that they can nurse better.

Dog Breeding Timing Progesterone

Timing the dog breeding, of course, is a really essential step in making sure that we have good breeding outcomes. You can use behavior as one indicator of when she’s ready to breed, but vaginal cytology has improved that, and a progesterone dog test improves that even further. If you want to have nice big litters with nice quality puppies, it’s really important that we know exactly when she ovulated so that we can breed. But it’s also important that we know when she ovulated so we know when the end of the pregnancy should be so you can be present, so you can schedule a C-section, so if she gets into a situation that she’s in pre-term labor, you can intervene with that.

Now, vaginal cytologies are easier to do, and we can have these done at the veterinary clinic. Some people do these on their own. All it takes is a cotton swab that you put well up into the female’s vaginal tract. Spin it around, and then we put it onto a microscope slide, stain it, and look at it microscopically. The other advantage of doing this cytology is if we see white blood cells early in the heat cycle, that tells us that she may have a bacterial infection vaginally and we need to manage those. Basically what you need for a vaginal cytology are cotton swabs, a microscope and some slides, some stain for slides. So these can be purchased and used as a way that you can manage the dog’s breeding, but it’s still not as good as canine progesterone testing.

Timing our breeding with progesterone is the most accurate way we can determine when she ovulates, which tells us two things. One is when to do the breeding and the advantage of progesterone testing is that they’re very accurate. They’re easy to interpret. Anybody can figure out how to read these results. They’re widely available so they can be used both on the human progesterone testing and on veterinary, and it’s reproducible. If you took the same blood sample to three labs, you would get similar not identical, but similar results. Instead of having a staff member with a crystal ball, and mine is in the shop, we can much more accurately determine when the females should be bred. Many veterinary clinics have the equipment. They just need to add the reagents and the wells to their order if you decide that you want to have your veterinary clinic start doing progesterone testing with you.

Due Date for Dogs

There are two reasons we want to do a progesterone testing. One is to time the breeding, to make sure we get the breeding done at the right time. And the second is to know a dog due date and when to time our C-sections. You may have a veterinarian that’s willing to get up at 2:00 in the morning and do a C-section for your bulldog, but those are increasingly hard to find. And we know that it’s not good on the staff and it’s not good on the doctors not to get a full night’s sleep. And it’s not good for you either. By timing our progesterone, we know exactly what day to do our C-sections from the day that we do the breeding. We need to know both ends of the pregnancy, not just when to get the semen put in, but when we want to take the puppies out. We do our C-sections in our practice 62 days after they ovulate for almost all breeds, unless they’re bulldogs or bully breeds like Frenchies and the Pugs, or unless they’re carrying a really large litter. If I have a golden retriever that’s pregnant with 14 puppies, she’s probably going to have her C-section 61 days after she ovulates. All of the other breeds with smaller litters will be 62 days. In our lab we call ovulation five nanograms. Some labs will call it for some labs, we’ll call it eight, but somewhere in that range of 4 to 8 is where ovulation occurs.

Progesterone doesn’t actually signal ovulation, the LH peak does, but the LH peak is very short, and you can only test for that if you test every 24 hours. So most of the time testing every 24 hours for a female is not very practical. That’s why progesterone testing has become the hormone of choice. No one does estrogen testing in commercial labs, so that is on the graph simply for educational purposes, but not because it’s useful in a clinical setting. We know progesterone starts to rise as soon as the LH peak occurs. LH stands for luteinizing hormone, and that’s the hormone that actually creates the ovulation.

When Are Dogs Fertile?

Female dogs are different than other species. Dogs are not fertile the day they ovulate. Dogs need 2 to 3 days for their eggs to mature. Cows are fertile the day they are ovulate, cats are fertile, the day they ovulate. Dogs, not so much. Dogs wait 2 to 3 days for their ovulation, after their ovulation for their eggs to become fertile. The fertile period is very short. We only usually have about 24 to 48 hours for good fertility during a six month time period. We want to breed two days after ovulation with fresh semen. If we’re using fresh natural breeding or fresh chilled semen, and three days if we’re using frozen semen. So it’s really important that we have good timing, especially on our frozen semen readings.

The book Canine Reproduction and Neonatology goes chronologically through the time that you’re thinking about using a dog for breeding and the health screenings that you want to do in advance of that through the heat cycle, the pregnancy, how to manage pregnancies, how to manage whelping, and how to manage neonates as well as male fertility.

What is The Best Way to Breed a Dog for the First Time?

A lot of people recommend that you do a breeding first with fresh semen and not frozen semen, just to be sure that you have a fertile female before you spend the money on shipping the expensive fresh chilled or the really expensive frozen semen. A natural breeding is ideal. We tend to see our biggest litters with natural breeding, bigger than with most frozen and fresh still breeding, even bigger than vaginal AI.

Hopefully you have a female that’s cooperative. If you use an experienced male, one that’s a gentleman, but one that’s an experienced male, those usually create the best breeding. If you put an inexperienced male with an inexperienced female, a lot of times you get a lot of nothing. It works best to use somebody with some experience and the breeder included. If you’re inexperienced with breeding, you may want to find a veterinarian or a cobreeder that would be helpful in helping you get the first breeding done because those can be a little bit of a challenge.

If you have any questions or need help with your female dog for breeding, call a Revival Pet Care Pro at 800.786.4751.

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Written by: Marty Greer, DVM

Director of Veterinary Services

Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.