Breeding, Reproductive Health Advice
Passport to Dog Breeding Success
January 19, 2022
This webinar with Dr. Marty Greer, Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services, will provide you with information on dog breeding and pregnancies. Dr. Greer will discuss:
- How to time breeding and whelping using progesterone and vaginal cytology
- Prenatal care and how to maximize pregnancy outcomes
- Puppy count X-rays and how to get the most for your money
- Whelping supplies and knowledge. How to best prepare for whelping
- Planned dog C-sections. Is a planned C-section right for your dog?
This webinar is useful for both the experienced breeder as well as those just getting a breeding program started. If you have any questions on how to breed dogs or need help, call us at 800.786.4751.
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Progesterone Levels in Dogs
Progesterone is the hormone that we have as a veterinary community decided that is going to be the most effective test that we have to tell us when we can breed our female dogs. It’s going to vary, along with the type of semen, how we interpret the results, and with the type of insemination. It’s really important that we have all this information. When a veterinarian or you are trying to use progesterone testing to help time of breeding, we need to know all that information.
Progesterone testing has turned out to be the most effective hormone in timing readings. As a female comes into heat, the first thing that happens during the start of her heat cycle is her estrogen rises. As the estrogen rises, her vaginal tissues start to cause quantification. That’s how we can assess on a vaginal cytology that a female’s coming into heat.
Estrogen rises, vaginal quantification starts. Shortly after estrogen rises we see an LH surge or a large peak. LH stands for luteinizing hormone. LH, Luteinizing hormone is actually the hormone that causes ovulation to occur. That’s what tells the ovaries to release the eggs to the oviducts and that’s when ovulation really happens. One problem with LH testing is that it requires testing every 24 hours to catch that very narrow peak. Estrogen goes up on a wide graph and then drops down widely and then we see progesterone go up. But it goes up slowly. It kind of wobbles at the baseline and it goes up slowly. And once progesterone goes up, it stays up for 63 days. So estrogen isn’t that helpful. There’s no commercial lab that runs it. LH is helpful but requires 24 hour intervals of testing. I don’t know many clients or many dogs who want their blood drawn every 24 hours and need to be at the veterinary clinic.
That’s how progesterone kind of evolved. I’m going to probably credit Dr. Hutcherson at the Ohio Veterinary Clinic to say that he did a tremendous job of some of this initial work and getting statistical analysis done to try and correlate when progesterone was at what level that was going to create a good opportunity for fertile breeding. Wwhen we see progesterone start to rise and it goes from two to somewhere in the 5 to 8 range, we know that’s when ovulation took place.
Ovulation in Dogs
Ovulation in the dog is different than ovulation in other species. Cows, cats, horses, people, when they ovulate an egg is ready to fertilize. Dogs need maturation of the egg before it’s ready to fertilize, that’s why we don’t read the day of ovulation. That’s why we breed two days after ovulation with fresh or natural breedings, and three days after ovulation with frozen breeding. That kind of gives you an idea of how this whole thing works. Progesterone will have some wobble on the baseline before the progesterone gets above three. We have a lot of clients that will get a 1.2 and then they’ll get 0.8 and they throw up their arms in despair and they’re like, Oh my gosh, this is never going to work. She’s not going to ovulate. I missed or this is horrible. And the answer to that is really, that’s not the case. What’s really the case is until they get to three and above, there is baseline level. The baseline does a little bit of this, but once she gets above three, it rises, and it progressively rises and stays up for 63 days. Pregnant or not pregnant, the progesterone rises, and it stays high for 63 days. It’s a really great test for us to be able to run and it’s available in many veterinary clinics and if it’s not, it’s always available in the reference labs that we can send them out.
Do Male Dogs Know When a Female is Fertile?
Yes, we’ll see male dogs that are more interested as the female approaches her fertile period. We’ll see female dogs that are more receptive to breeding.
Vaginal Cytology in Dogs
Using vaginal cytology in dogs tells us a couple of things. One is it helps us to time when we want to start progesterone testing. If we see strong evidence of proestrus, we may not want to do a progesterone at the first visit. If we need to know if she’s even in heat, because we do have people that come in and they say, well, she keeps herself really clean. I’m not sure if she’s in heat or not. Can you progesterone test her? The answer is sure. But we can also use a vaginal cytology to help us determine if she’s in a heat cycle at all. And then the third thing we can use vaginal cytology for is other pathology. Is there a tumor in her vaginal tract? Does she have an infection, a vaginitis, or a uterine infection?
Dog vaginal cytology does require a microscope slide, a cotton swab, some particular stains, some special stains, and a microscope. The slide at this point is proestrus, so early in the heat cycle. She has a bloody vaginal discharge, but she’s not yet ovulated. You’re going to see big round cells that have a big purple nucleus in them. Those are epithelial cells. People call these parabasil cells or just unquantified or non-quantified epithelial cells. These epithelial cells look like a fried egg. They are all signs that she’s still in proestrus. Red blood cells are normal to see in proestrus just because she has a bloody vaginal discharge. Little purple dots are bacteria. Some people get a little freaked out about bacteria, but there should be bacteria in the female’s vaginal tract at this point in her heat cycle. It’s normal flora, normal bacteria, just like you have flora on your skin, flora in your intestinal tract. She should have bacterial flora in her vaginal tract as well to protect her against any kind of bacterial infection from pathogens. It is normal to see bacteria there and seeing that bacteria does not mean that you should start an antibiotic. That is absolutely normal to see.
As we go along through estrus, this is where she’s actually in estrus, E-S-T-R-U-S, not O-U-S. O-U-S is the heat cycle. U-S is the fertile part of the heat cycle. In estrus, the epithelial cells are now larger, they’re more angular looking, they’re staining darker. Many of them have lots of their nucleus so they don’t look like fried eggs anymore. They look like potato chips. This is where we see the bacteria pretty much gone. The red blood cells are pretty much gone. We just see these big epithelial cells. And there’s probably a good reason for the female to have this kind of change in her vaginal cytology. This means that a vaginal lining is thickened and it’s more capable of withstanding comfortably the 20-minute tie that she may have to withstand during the time that she’s being bred.
Diestrus in Dogs
Then we get into diestrus. This is after ovulation. Again, the cells become more round. They have their nucleus back. They return to the fried egg appearance and the background cells don’t have red blood cells anymore. But these are white blood cells. That is normal after ovulation. Again, not a reason to get alarmed.
Then we go into anestrus, which is the four month period between these cycles. Again, these are normal epithelial cells. The color difference is just based on different staining, but you can still see that there are these big fried egg looking cells. Absolutely normal. Now on cytology, this bacteria on the left hand portion, that’s completely normal. But if proestrus before she obviously if you see these neutrophils, these white blood cells, that’s an indication of infection. If you see those in proestrus, that’s a reason to put a female on an antibiotic. Seeing bacteria is not. So it’s really important that you’re talking to your veterinarian about appropriate management of the dog’s heat cycle.
Dog Breeding Timing Progesterone
We want to use progesterone timing both to time when she ovulates, but if it’s done properly enough and effectively and frequently enough, we can also time when she’s going to either whelp or have a C-section. That would be getting her unpregnant. We need it to get her pregnant and we need it to get her unpregnant. We test on the front end of the pregnancy to get her pregnant and we test on the back end of the pregnancy to get her unpregnant. Now, if we have good timing on the front end, I don’t need progesterone on the back end. But for people that have, for whatever reason, not adequately timed their females, then we may need to do progesterone testing on the back end to see when she’s due.
Different kinds of breedings require different timing, and different kinds of semen require different insemination techniques. A natural breeding obviously is always going to be fresh semen. If we’re going to do a vaginal insemination, that has to be either fresh semen or fresh chilled semen, semen that was shipped to us fresh but not frozen. If we’re going to do frozen semen, we have to use either transcervical insemination or surgical breeding.
TCI Dog Breeding
You can also do TCI (transcervical insemination) with fresh semen, and you can do TCI with fresh chilled semen. You don’t have to do a TCI unless you’re using frozen semen. But it is a great tool if we want to improve litter size or if we have a female with low fertility or a male with poor semen quality. By delivering the semen with transcervical insemination directly into the uterus, we get better outcomes as far as pregnancy.
Surgical breedings can be done by almost any veterinarian. Transcervical inseminations require some fairly expensive and specialized equipment with some extra training. Some people deliberately and some people accidentally have multiple sire breedings, meaning that they have more than one father on a litter. That doesn’t impact future litters, but it is important if you do have more than one stud dog involved in a breeding that you’re DNA testing and you know exactly who the father of the litter is before you register puppies, if you do have a registry that you’re using.
With progesterone, how do we interpret those results? That in part depends on the machine. Usually ovulation is between four and eight. We typically call it about five in our practice, but 4 to 8 is the range most people use. We’ll see a rapid jump, almost a doubling of the progesterone level when we know she’s ovulated. The larger females tend to rise more steeply. Smaller females tend to rise on a lower, slower basis. But nevertheless, we know two days after ovulation, she’s in a fertile period for fresh semen and three days for frozen semen. In our practice the magic numbers are five. And then the other magic number is 20. For frozen semen we want to see her progesterone above 20. With fresh semen we typically see it two days after ovulation at around 8 to 15. For frozen breeding, three days after ovulation is around 20 or above. The egg in the dog needs time to mature and the progesterone testing that you’re doing must be from a reliable laboratory. You want to try to use the same lab every time.
There are quantitative progesterone tests and semi-quantitative progesterone tests. Quantitative progesterone tests. The Tosoh or Mini-Vidas will give you a number. This prints out 2.43. It’ll print out 5.87. That’s a quantitative number. Semiquantitative is a well or a membrane color change. It’s pinker than yesterday, there’s a blue dot that wasn’t there yesterday. Those are semiquantitative. They’re okay but they’re not good enough to use frozen semen and they’re not good enough to time surgical readings and they’re not good enough to do C-sections based on. I want actual numbers in my world when I’m doing a planned to surgical breeding, a planned frozen semen breeding or a planned C-section.
Different results come off of different machines. So you need to know what the number on that machine means compared to the machine that they run at the diagnostic lab like IDEXX, because they’re not always the same number. The number we get off of our Catalyst and our IDEXX or off of our Tosoh, a five is a five is a five. But if you’re using them in a Mini-Vitus, they’re five might be an eight on someone else’s machine. So it’s really important that you know which piece of equipment you’re using and what the interpretation of that machine is.
Dog C Section
We’ll typically do a canine C-section 62 days after ovulation for most dogs, or 61 days for the bulldog breeds. The boys, the Pugs, the French Bulldogs or females with an especially large litter. If I have a golden retriever that’s pregnant with 14 puppies, I’m going to do her C-section on day 61. If I have a golden retriever that’s pregnant with three puppies, I’m going to do a dog cesarean section on day 62. That kind of gives you an idea of how we interpret. So instead of having to come into the veterinary clinic for reverse progesterone every single day, again on a daily basis, it gets to be a bit of a drag for you and for the dog. Then we don’t need to do reverse progesterone. We know when her C-section should be scheduled, and we can put her on the books and go ahead and do her C-section.
Reverse progesterone testing should be done well before she goes into labor but when you think she’s getting close, so typically a day or two before you think she’s due, you can do your reverse progesterone. But if you don’t have any idea and that’s the problem is according to the literature, females are pregnant 58 to 70 days. Well, that’s not actually true. That’s based on breeding dates. If you base it on ovulation dates, females are pregnant 63 days plus or minus 24 hours. Period, end of discussion. That’s it. So you only have a 24 to 48 hour window when they’re actually due. If you think she’s getting close you can do a progesterone, but I really think you’re going to save money and come out ahead if you do good timing at the beginning, then you know what day to put your whelping on the schedule, what day you should be checking her during the night, what day you should take a day off of work, what day you should go in for C-section. You can really narrow that window down to two days with good progesterone testing at the beginning.
If we’re doing reverse progesterone, we want the progesterone to be below two. But I like all the stars to be aligned. That means I want the ultrasound to show that there’s a maturity of the fetus looking at the intestines and the kidneys of the puppies. Yes, we can actually see those. I want to see that she’s doing some nesting. I want to see that she’s producing milk. I want to know with a puppy X-ray that the skeletons look mature. I want all the stars to align. So I’m not counting on just one parameter because taking puppies too early is dangerous. It’s not dangerous for the female, but it certainly is for the puppies. If we have puppies born more than two days before their due date, they’re not going to have mature lungs. They’re not going to survive. We need to be absolutely certain that our timing is good. The disadvantages to reverse progesterone, our number one, veterinary scheduling, if your staff has to come in on Saturday and Sunday and Monday and Tuesday and see if you’re ready to go yet, that gets to be a little annoying to the veterinary staff. It’s really nice for the veterinary team to know how many C-sections they have scheduled so that they can appropriately schedule other appointments around it.
Number two is inaccuracies. We can see some females that have their progesterone drop prematurely because there’s something wrong with the pregnancy or something wrong with her ovaries ability to produce progesterone. So if her progesterone drops prematurely and we’re assuming that the progesterone is accurate, but it drops below two and it’s really because she’s trying to abort the litter, not because the puppies are full term, that can lead to a disaster. Number three is increased costs. It costs you more money if you go to the vet clinic every day. Number four, it’s increased travel, so if you can progesterone test every three days to find when she ovulates and know what date your progesterone at the end and know what date you do your C-section at the end, it’s much less expensive than driving to the vet clinic every single day for ten days in a row. The last thing is, of course, it requires last minute arrangements if you don’t know when she’s due to have her C-section. So that can be a lot of stress and trouble for the veterinary team to get together.
The current state of veterinary care in most practices is we have staff shortages. Most veterinary clinics are operating at about a 25% staff shortage deficit. We’re starting to see staff burnout.
Dog Prenatal Care
When it comes to dog prenatal care, the first thing I want to talk about is food for your breeding female. Food, I’m going to recommend that you’re either feeding a performance diet, which would be like a Purina sport 30/20 ,or a puppy diet. I really like those diets. I really also like HT42d, which is Royal Canin’s diet. That is the only company that makes a pregnancy dog food. If you’re struggling with infertility or you’re struggling with other issues, this pregnancy diet can be really helpful. It’s a great diet. I feed this to my own personal females It comes two sizes, a large breed and a small breed. You can only buy it from their website. You cannot buy it at the retail store. There are micronutrients in this food that are specially designed to support canine pregnancy. It supports behavioral changes during heat. It supports the growth of the eggs, it supports fertilization, the formation of the embryos and the formation of the placentas. This food is fed from the start of the heat cycle to the 42nd day of pregnancy. Thus the name HT for Heat and 42d for 42 days. Terrible name for a dog food. Awesome dog food. If you’re struggling with fertility, take a look at this food. You’ll improve the quality of your females, heat cycles and their fertility. The other alternative that I feed if I don’t feed the Royal Canin puppy or the Royal Canin HT42d is the Purina Sport Performance 30/20. It is an all stage life stage. It is meant to be for a high performing dog, so it will support pregnancy and puppy growth. So you’re going to say to me while I looked at the label and the labels all look the same, what I’m feeding is just as good. And the answer is it probably isn’t. Macronutrients like fats, carbohydrates and proteins are easy for you to take a look at on the label and see what the percentages of the food are. But the macronutrients don’t tell the whole story. The vitamins and minerals that are listed here on this slide are in micro quantities. If you’re looking at this, you can see that those are things that aren’t typically on your pet food company’s label. So it’s much better to feed a pregnancy diet or performance diet. We see better fertility. And if you’re having fertility issues and you call and ask to talk to me, the first thing I’m going to ask you is what do you feed? The second thing I’m going to ask you is have you brucellosis tested? So that pretty much sums up the two first questions we’re going to have.
Is Raw Meat Good for Pregnant Dogs?
Raw meat diets? I feel like it’s kissing a pig. You’re going to have bacteria, you’re going to have parasites. There’s just a lot of things that go wrong with raw meat diets. The grain free or carbohydrate free diets. We need our females to have carbohydrates to grow their puppies, and they need carbohydrates to lactate. So please avoid the grain free diets. You need to have grains in them. Wheat, corn, oatmeal, millet, soy. Those are all absolutely fine for dogs to eat. So please don’t be feeding a raw meat diet or grain free diet.
Folic Acid for Pregnant Dogs
For our dog prenatal care, we want them to be on supplements such as Breeder’s Edge Oxy Mate prenatal during the early start of the heat cycle. This does support a lot of the nutrition that they need for pregnancy and birthing. Folic acid is seen in some of our supplements and that’s a very important nutrient to have, particularly if you have the brachycephalics breeds of dogs like the Frenchies and the Bulldogs.
A midline defect is anything that affects the formation of the puppy where right side and left side have to come together. The classic one is the cleft palate, or where the palate doesn’t fully fuse in the center. If you have a puppy that’s born, that’s having milk come out of the nose or they’re not nursing effectively, the first thing you want to do is take a look at the palate and see if there’s any kind of a defect in it. Folic acid is very important, especially in the brachycephalic breeds, that the females are on adequate amounts of folic acid. And this needs to be started about six weeks before she’s bred. If you’re planning to breed of female, you don’t want to start this the day she comes in the heat. You want to start it prior to the time she comes in the heat.
What Supplements Should You Give a Pregnant Dog?
DHA is another nutritional supplement I like to see given to pregnant dogs. DHA was discovered to create smarter puppies and better retina development for better vision. It’s important to even start DHA on the females when they’re getting ready to be bred for their pregnancies. Studies have shown by adding DHA to the females’ diet and that indicates to the puppies diet, we know that we can improve their brain and retina development. And there’s no detrimental effect. It doesn’t damage joint development or anything else. There have been really extensive studies showing how important this is. I have had clients that have started adding DHA to their females diets, and they come in and say, I have never had such smart puppies.
B Vitamins for Dogs
Next is Breeder’s Edge B Strong. If we have females that are having poor fertility or not having regular six month cycles adding nothing other than B Strong to their diet and the appropriate diet of either Purina or Royal Canin will bring females into heat. It’s like magic. If you’re struggling with fertility, struggling with infrequent heat cycles, by adding this to the females diet and typically within 2 to 4 weeks we’ll see females come into heat and start cycling.
Breeder’s Edge In Between for Her is a supplement meant to keep the females in good condition so that next time she’s ready for a pregnancy, she’s ready to go. The Breeder’s Edge B Strong is to help bring them into heat and to manage the pregnancy so they are complementary to each other at different stages of the female cycle. I recommend using both.
Probiotics for Pregnant Dogs
I think it’s really important that our females are on probiotics as well as the puppies. The Breeder’s Edge Nurture Flora comes as a paste, very easy to give to newborn puppies. You can put a little dab on their tongue. It’s important to get the right bacteria in their gut. We also know that we can see less mastitis and less metritis, which is an infection in the uterus, in our females, if they are on a probiotic. If you’re seeing mastitis or metritis in your line of dogs, don’t start using antibiotics. Bathe the female before she comes into labor and have her good and clean so that she’s less likely to get an infection, and have her on a probiotic such as Doc Roy’s GI Synbiotics. You’re going to be in better shape.
Dog Body Condition
Next is body condition score. Very important that our female dogs are at the appropriate body condition. I don’t want my females too thin, and I don’t want them to heavy when we’re trying to get them pregnant. So my best rule of thumb on this is either have a scale in your kennel that you can weigh the dogs, or you can teach your kennel staff or your spouse or your partner or whoever, this little trick. When you put your hands on the female, the back of your hand is what the rib cage should feel like, if you run your fingers across it. If you run your fingers across your knuckles and you can feel those bumps, that’s a female that’s too thin. And if you push on the heel of your hand and she feels like that, she’s too fat. So too fat as the heel of your hand, too skinny as your knuckles, and just right as the back of your hand. So use that as your body condition score tool.
Can Pregnant Dogs Take Heartworm and Flea and Tick Prevention?
I think female dogs should all be on heartworm preventive, but I try to time it so that you give the first heartworm pill at the start of her heat cycle. You give the next one 3 to 4 weeks later so that you’ve missed the first three weeks of a pregnancy. That’s the first trimester, when most fetal development takes place. Make sure that anything that you’re giving for heartworm or flea and tick prevention says it’s safe for use in breeding dogs. It doesn’t say pregnant dogs, it doesn’t say female dogs, it doesn’t say male dogs. It says breeding dogs. Very important that you’re paying attention to that. Most heartworm preventives other than Trifexis are safe. However, a lot of the flea and tick products are not. So we want to look very carefully at the label. Heartgard is safe. The injectable ProHeart is safe. Interceptor, all those are safe. Flea and tick preventive are different. A lot of the topicals are not safe because those translocate across the female’s body and onto the mammary glands and onto the puppies. So be careful with that. And then on the oral products, Bravecto is safe, but Simparica, NexGard and Credelio, those three are not tested in breeding animals. Bravecto is the only one that is labeled for use in breeding dogs. Support the companies that support your breeding program and don’t use drugs that you don’t know about. It must stay safe.
If your veterinarian has sent home a product that isn’t safe or you want to check on it, Google product insert and the name of the product. You don’t have to be a veterinary professional. It will show up. There’s a Freedom of Information Act. You have to be able to access that product label. So pull it up. It’s on a PDF. It’s usually teeny tiny, but on your computer screen you can expand it enough to read the label and see if it says it’s safe for use in breeding dogs. If it doesn’t, don’t use it. I don’t want your dog to be the footnote in the paper where they start talking about defects that we saw in a breeding program because of a product that wasn’t tested as safe.
Can You Worm a Pregnant Dog
Next will be deworming pregnant dogs for intestinal parasites. We’re all aware of worms in our dogs, but what you may not be aware of is if your female ever had roundworms when she was a puppy or at any stage in her life, during her pregnancy, those parasites that encysted in her muscles will reactivate because of the stress of pregnancy, migrate through her bloodstream across the placenta and into her puppies. The same thing will happen with hookworms, except they will migrate through the bloodstream and through the mammary glands and into the milk. This is how puppies are born with parasites. Roundworms through the placenta, hookworms through the milk, and then into the puppies. What do we do about that? We can use fenbendazole very safely during pregnancy, during the last three weeks of pregnancy, through the first two weeks of lactation and it will very effectively block that migration. You can prevent the migration of roundworms and hookworms into the puppies by using fenbendazole for five weeks. The label says three days; this protocol is five weeks. This protocol was published 20 years ago.
The dose is basically one CC of the suspension per 4 lb. of body weight. It’s a 10% solution, one CC per 4 lb. of body weight. So a 10 lb. dog would get two and a half ccs a day, a 60 lb. dog would get 12 ccs a day. You may have to mix it with Splenda or something sweet or peanut butter or something to get her to take it.
If you’re unclear on how to calculate the does, please call. We can help you with it. We can tell you that doing this for the five weeks will prevent that migration. So instead of, at weaning when your puppies are three weeks old and you’re trying to get them off of the mom and onto solid food and onto water and starting to make that transition, and they all get diarrhea, and they all feel crummy, and you end up going to the vet for an appointment. You can completely prevent that if you’re using the appropriate dose of fenbendazole. That’s Panacur. It’s the same thing as Safeguard. It also takes care of giardia. So fenbendazole’s safe. In puppies that are over six weeks of age, metronidazole you want to avoid in puppies under eight weeks of age and you want to avoid metronidazole in pregnant females. So, fenbendazole during pregnancy for giardia, for roundworms, and for hookworms.
For a pregnant dog who had Giardia as a puppy you can safely use and fenbendazole, Safeguard, during the last three weeks of pregnancy. Now, Giardia doesn’t pass through the placenta or through the mammary glands, but you know, if the female has any loose stool, any diarrhea around her tail, anything on her feet and the puppies crawl through it, they can get giardia when they’re pretty young. So you want to bathe your females with chlorhexidine. You want to make sure she’s on fenbendazole. You want to do a hygiene clip so she’s nice and clean. She doesn’t have clinkers hanging off of her tail. You want her good and clean when she goes into that whelping box with her new puppies so she doesn’t spread any disease.
Can You Treat a Pregnant Dog for Coccidia?
Albon is the only drug I recommend for coccidia in dogs, however do not use Albon during pregnancy or when the puppies are less than four weeks old. Albon during the pregnancy can cause midline defects even up to day 45 of the pregnancy. The other coccidia drugs that are being discussed out there are not labeled for use in dogs in the United States. I just simply don’t use them. Albon is a very effective product if you weigh the puppy and dose it accurately. If you’re guessing how much the puppy weighs or if you’re not shaking up your bottle sufficiently, it’s like paint. It’ll settle out in the bottom. When you get a new bottle of fenbendazole, when you get a new bottle of Albon, the recommendation is to shake it like a paint shaker and then divide it up into smaller bottles so that you have a more uniform distribution of that product as you’re dispensing it to the puppies. If it’s settled out and it’s really thick and really stuck to the bottom, the top half of the bottle is going to be weaker and the bottom half of the bottle is going to be stronger. Pre-shake those bottles, get them pre-dispensed and get ready to go. Albon is still a very effective drug against coccidia. I don’t like the unlabeled drugs for coccidia or for Giardia. Please stick to fenbendazole and stick to Albon because we know those are safe. Those are all oral products.
What Shots Do Dogs Need Before Breeding?
We recommend vaccinating our breeding female dogs for distemper, adenovirus and parainfluenza, parvo and lepto. Canine coronavirus only in situations where you’ve proven coronavirus in your kennel. Rabies, of course, required by law. Bordetella I use the three way Bordetella which is Bordetella parainfluenza and adenovirus, the nose drop. The injectable or the oral don’t include all three and you’ll get more kennel cough if you’re not using the nose drop Bordetella vaccine. Influenza depends on your environment. We had an outbreak of influenza a few ago. I would probably not use influenza unless we have another outbreak. Which vaccine should be given during pregnancy? The answer is zero. Do not vaccinate pregnant dogs.
Pregnant Dog X-Rays
It’s very important that we take good puppy count X-rays. We need to know how many puppies she’s going to have. So, you know, at 2:00 in the morning, if you can go to bed, we need to know if you’re having too many or too few puppies. So if you need to schedule a C-section, you could do that. We need to know that you’re not leaving a puppy behind, that you think the female is done having puppies. And it turns out three days later, she’s running a fever. She’s really sick.
We’ve actually had two females that have gone to other veterinary clinics around us. And puppies have been left behind at C-sections. So be very aware that you need to get all the puppies out of the uterus.
If a puppy gets left behind, the females can get really sick. They’ll run a fever, they may rupture their uterus. Obviously you’re going to lose puppies that have been left behind for three days, but their greatest risk is to that of your female. We don’t want to lose her life over a return puppy. It’s very important that we know exactly how many puppies are there.
How do we get good X-rays? Well, there’s a few tips that you can use to help your veterinarian get better X-rays. Number one, you want to take her to the veterinary clinic fasting. So that’s usually a morning appointment. Take her in without breakfast because food in her stomach makes it hard to count the number of puppies. Number two is she needs to have an empty colon. If you walked her and she didn’t have a stool, you can either put a match or a suppository in her rectum. Please put it in rectally and that will stimulate her to have a stool. I don’t know who decided putting a match in a dog was a good idea, but everybody that does obedience and other performance events know that a match in the female’s rectum will make her go. If we take our first X-ray and there’s stool in the colon, my staff doesn’t take an additional X-ray. They put a match in and/or a suppository and they send her outside. Even in really nice weather, especially important when it’s zero degrees out that she will have a stool within probably 3 minutes of the time she goes outside. Very quickly we can stimulate her to have a stool. Then we take a right and a left lateral, which may not mean anything to you, but to your veterinary clinic or your veterinary team that means she lays on her left side down and she lays in a right side down and we take those two X-rays back to back.
I don’t take X-rays with them on their backs because that doesn’t tell us anything about puppy counts. The backbone of the dog and the puppy going over each other so you can miss counting puppies. Digital X-rays always make it better than film and most veterinary clinics, but not all, use digital now. It needs to be after the 55th day of pregnancy. If you X-ray too early, the skeletons are too faint on the X-ray, and you can’t adequately see the number of puppies. Walk her before you take her in. If she hasn’t had a stool, take your book of matches along. Super important that you work with your veterinarian. If they’re not giving you an accurate puppy count X-ray, you need to work with them because they should be able to tell you exactly how many puppies they’re having, unless you’re above ten. Once you get above ten puppies, I’m going to cut him some slack, it can be hard to see. There’s a lot of scatter, there’s a lot of overlap. But if you’re having smaller litters, they should be able to give you an accurate puppy count X-ray.
How to Prepare for a Dog Giving Birth
Make sure that before your female goes into labor or before you travel to the veterinary clinic, that you have all of your whelping supplies together and organized. It’s nice to have them all in one place, especially if you don’t have a litter frequently. I keep them all in an ice chest or a storage box so that you can have everything together. You’re not running all over the house trying to find the pieces and bits of things that you need to put together when you’re trying to get to the vet on an emergency basis. Keep them all organized, keep them together, get your list together and get your stuff ordered well enough in advance of the appointments or the whelping that you don’t have to call Revival and ask them to overnight things to you. Be organized, be prepared and Revival’s Whelping Kit can help with that.
How to Keep Newborn Puppies Warm
I don’t like the heat from above with a heat lamp. I heat from underneath with a whelping nest. The surface temperature should be between 88 and 90 degrees for the first week and then I drop five degrees a week after that so that the puppies should be very warm. The room can be at 70 to 75 degrees, but the surface for the puppies should be about 88 to 90 degrees. A temperature gradient is important, the puppies like to be able to pick their own temperature, so they’re not forced to lay on this plate. They’re allowed to move around.
A Puppywarmer Incubator is an amazing piece of equipment. You will buy one of these and it will last you the rest of your breeding career. It’s very accurate in keeping puppies at the right temperature. You can dial it to any degree settings. You can set your setting and it’s going to be very accurate. The black mat in the bottom reflects the heat back so the puppies stay warm. Associated with that, the Puppywarmer Oxygen Concentrator delivers oxygen from room air, which is 20% oxygen, and makes it 95% oxygen for your newborns, that may be very, very new, wet or cold or have low oxygenation capacity that by keeping them warm in here, whether they’re born by C-section or vaginal birth and then by running oxygen into the environment, you’ll have these beautiful pink warm puppies, and the survival rate is much higher. All you have to do is save one or two puppies and you can easily pay for that piece of equipment and then the rest is all bonus.
Calcium for Dogs in Labor
It’s very important that we have calcium before a female dog is going to labor. The Breeder’s Edge Oral Cal Plus calcium gel is very effective at improving uterine contractions and dog’s love the taste. Calcium improves her labor patterns. It improves the chance she won’t be aggressive toward her puppies. It improves the chance she won’t be aggressive toward other people and it improves the chances she won’t develop eclampsia, which is milk fever, especially in large litters, in small breed females.
You should have oxytocin on hand. You need TB syringes, tuberculin syringes. We use itty bitty tiny little doses like a drop or two in the syringe, not an entire syringeful. Get your oxytocin and get your syringes ordered so that you’ve got that available when she goes into labor. My rules on oxytocin use are we use tiny, tiny little doses, like itsy bitsy. You can hardly see it in the syringe. You never want to use it before the first puppy is born. You never want to use it if she’s already in hard labor and you don’t want to exceed two doses in 20 minutes. If you’re given two doses 20 minutes apart or more apart and she doesn’t produce a puppy, you need to talk to your veterinarian about a C-section. If you overdose oxytocin, you’re going to shrink wrap the puppies, you’re going to run the risk of uterine rupture. I, to this day, have never ruptured a uterus in 40 years of practice, and I would like to keep it that way. Puppies free in the abdomen are dangerous for the female, dangerous for the puppies, dangerous for you. Don’t do it.
Ice cream is helpful to have around for the glucose and the fluids but females in labor don’t get enough calcium from this. You need the Oral Cal Plus calcium gel for calcium. But females in labor do benefit from the glucose, the sugar rush and from the fluid because many of these girls go into labor without having eaten for 24 to 48 hours. They’re weak, they’re tired, they’re dehydrated. A little bit of ice cream will go a long way. I usually give a scoop of ice cream and then a puppy is born and then I get a scoop of ice cream and then a puppy is born. You still need your calcium. You might still need your oxytocin, but I try to whelp with as few drugs as possible and as using ice cream as my glucose and my fluid source.
What Can I Feed My Pregnant Dog to Produce Milk?
Breeder’s Edge Oxy Momma is an herbal product that helps to bring in the milk and helps her lactate better. Reglan is another pharmaceutical agent. You need to have a prescription for Reglan. You don’t need a prescription for Oxy Momma. You can start this three days before she goes into labor so she’s adequately producing milk when she goes into labor.
How Do You Use DeLee Suction on a Newborn Puppy?
I would never whelp a litter without a DeLee mucus trap. Absolutely essential. If you’re ordering one, order two. Order one for your house and kennel and one for your veterinary clinic. Once you take this in to your vet and show them how it works, they will never want to up a litter without them. They are very, very useful tools. You put them in the back of the puppy’s airway, and you suction them. All you do is put one end in your mouth, the other end in the puppy’s mouth. It’s very intuitive how to do it. Bulb syringe doesn’t do as good a job.
What All Do You Need for Whelping Puppies
- A ThunderEase collar will reduce the female dog’s anxiety before and during labor and during lactation.
- A room thermometer with a humidity gauge on it so that you know what the temperature and the humidity in the room is for the puppies.
- Rectal thermometer and lubricant. Very important that you have the ability to take temperatures on the puppies and on the female. The puppies’ rectal temperature should be 96 to 98 degrees F during the first week with a drop increasing one degree a week over the course of their first five weeks and the temperature in the room can drop five degrees a week as they become more mature and able to run their own body temperature.
- Digital scale that measures both in ounces and grams. Grams, you can see smaller incremental changes in puppy weight gain and weight loss. You want to be able to measure that and keep track of it in a simple notebook. If you have the ability to do an Excel spreadsheet, great. If you don’t, a notebook and a piece of paper will do just fine. If you have trouble as the puppies get a little bit bigger in weighing them, you can use a fish scale with a mesh bag. Once the puppies get about two weeks old, they can be pretty tough to keep on a scale. A mesh bag and fish scale work really nicely to weigh your puppies.
- Exam gloves. Please don’t stick your fingers into your female without a glove on.
- A designated way to transport puppies to and from the vet clinic.
- Five Hour Energy. You can get this at truck stops and most grocery stores. I use this if the puppies aren’t breathing well when they’re born, you can put a drop or two of this on the puppy’s tongue and the caffeine and glucose in it will stimulate them to have a breath.
- Chlorhexidine. You want to bathe your females before they go into labor so she’s clean, so she doesn’t have bacteria that are likely to cause her mastitis and metritis.
- The Miracle Nipple and puppy formula such as Breeder’s Edge Foster Care Canine. You want to make sure you’ve got formula at home. Don’t go out and try and make something up on your own. It’s not going to be nutritionally complete and you’re going to end up with problems with diarrhea and other nutritional deficits. The Breeder’s Edge Blend It shaker bottle helps to break up the clumps. Breeder’s Edge Foster Care is different than some of the other puppy formulas on the market. Foster Care contains BioMos, psyllium husk and IgY. BioMos is the prebiotic that feeds the good bacteria in the puppy’s gut so we’re growing the right bacteria. Psyllium husk is basically fancy Metamucil. It adds bulk to the stool, so we see less diarrhea in the females and less diarrhea in the puppies. And then IgY supports their immune system. So the Breeder’s Edge Foster Care formulas are complete and adequate nutrition to 35 days of age. If you need to make up a formula overnight to get you through the night, that’s okay. But if you’re planning on feeding puppies for more than a few hours, you need to have Foster Care. Don’t wait until your female isn’t producing milk. Get this ordered and have it on the shelf in advance.
- Feeding tubes are very important to have in advance. You can’t run to the store and pick these up. Tube feeding, very important that we tube feed safely. The six Ps of tube feeding are pre-measure the tube, pinch before you feed, pass with the chin down, pass to the left side, and have the puppy and the formula pre-warmed. Every now and then you will have an accident tube feeding, well you might, but you’re more likely to have puppies die of starvation than tube feeding accidents. Very important that you adequately follow these instructions.
- Breeder’s Edge Clean Cut Iodine. It’s very important that you treat the umbilical cords at birth after you tie them off. And when I say dip the cord to treat it by dipping the cord, I really mean dip the cord. Take Breeder’s Edge Clean Cut Iodine, and put the cord into the bottle. I completely encase and surround the cord with the iodine to provide a very effective way we can keep those puppies from having an infection in their umbilicus.
- Royal Canin Starter Mousse is really nice winning diet. It’s nice to put it in the female’s water bucket if she’s not drinking adequately. Warm water mixed with a can of the Starter Mousse will get her drinking and eating better.
When planning for a dog C-section you want to make sure you’re seeing a veterinary with experience and staff of experience. We want to make sure that they’re using the right anesthesia, IV fluids and appropriate pain management. Scheduling it and making sure that we know when she ovulated and know when she’s going to have her puppies. A study done by Paula Moon in 2002 shows that puppies that are born by C-section have a 5 to 6 higher percent of survival rate than puppies born by vaginal birth. So don’t be afraid of C-sections. It can be very effective. Many emergency practices are up to their eyeballs right now and can’t fit you in for emergency C-section, so please plan for your veterinarians to take good care of you. When we’re using anesthesia, I use either Propofol or Alfaxan to put them under with, and then I put them on sevoflurane as a gas. And all of my female dog c-section patients go home on either Metacam or Rimadyl for post-op pain management.
Canine Cesarean Section Anesthesia Protocol
We know that isoflurane/sevoflurane and Propofol or FLFAXAN are going to be our best anesthetic agents. If you’re losing puppies, you need to talk to your veterinarian. They should not be using ketamine, dexdomitor, methoxyflurane or local anesthesia as the only anesthetic agents. We put them under with ALFAXAN, which is an injectable, and then we put a tube in the trachea, and we put them on either ISO or sevoflurane gas to maintain the females under anesthesia. Again, when we’re planning them, we do them 61 to 62 days after ovulation. The day before, or within an hour of the time we do the C-section, we like to give the females steroids called solu-medrol. That improves the puppies’ ability to breathe when they’re born. We like to give them calcium to improve maternal skills. The Adaptil collar goes on three days before the C-section if it’s planned, again, improving maternal skills. And Reglan, reducing the risk that she’s going to reflux anything up into her esophagus or that she’s not going to lactate adequately.
During the C-secion surgery for dogs, all of my females get I.V. fluids. Super important. You should expect to have your veterinarian do that. It’s a little bit extra money, but it will be much, much safer for the female and safer for the puppies. All of my females have their bellies shaved before we put them under anesthesia, so they’re under anesthesia for the shortest time possible. My team has a C section team put together, so everyone knows who’s doing what during the C-section. They know who’s running anesthesia, who’s catching puppies, who’s resuscitating puppies. We have a setup on a checklist so that everything is laid out and ready to go before the C-section. We want to make sure that very quickly after the first drop of anesthetic is given that the puppies are out within 7 to 10 minutes. We’ve talked about clearing the airway with the DeLee mucus trap. You want to have staff that knows how they’re doing this. And we never spay a C-section.
Dog After C-Section
For post-op canine C-section care, the Adaptil collar improves maternal skills, placental fluid. I save that at the C-section and put it in a bottle to send home with people. The puppies are more recognizable to the female if they smell like placental fluid and not laundry soap. I give oxytocin after the last puppy is born to help the uterus contract down. I put them all on a non-steroidal pain medication like Metacam or Rimadyl. I try not to use tramadol because that can make the females drowsy and grumpy.
We want to make sure that you know good individual puppy care when you go to leave the hospital. We use an adhesive drape at our C-sections, so we don’t have to scrub the nipples. Puppies can find the nipples much more effectively if the nipples haven’t been scrubbed clean with surgical scrub so we can scrub the middle and have it nice and sterile. But the edges out here are covered by the adhesive drape so the puppies can find the nipples better when females off the surgery table and she’s nursing.
Remember, you should not find the cheapest place to get a C-section done. Beware of bargains in parachutes and C-sections. I would not buy a used parachute on eBay. I would not pick the cheapest C-section for the place to take my female. Your females need IV fluids. You need a good doctor. You need adequate staff to help with proper resuscitation. You want to use the right anesthetic drugs. You want to never spay them. She needs to go home on pain medication. All those things cost a little bit of money. So the best C-section isn’t the cheapest C-section. Super important that we’re doing a good job for our C-section so that we have good outcomes.
Dog Breeding Resources
Canine Reproduction and Neonatology is a book on everything breeding. It goes through everything from the pre-breeding screening all the way through picking your dog, picking a female, getting her pregnant, managing her pregnancy, managing the neonates, managing the male fertility.
The Your Pandemic Puppy book is very helpful for people that are purchasing puppies from you, so you don’t have to explain everything to them about crate training and leash walking and all those other bits and things. About half of it’s on behavior, about half of it’s on puppy medical care, like vaccinations, spaying and neutering, heartworm and flea and tick preventatives. It’s a good way for you to educate people before they buy their puppy to make sure that they really are suited to buy a puppy and also to make sure that when you send them out their door that they have the right education and that they’re getting the information that they need so that they’re doing a great job taking care of the puppy that you’ve so carefully selected, raised and sold to them.
Managing the Valuable Brood Dog
How do you breed a dog for the first time? What tests should be done before breeding dogs? Dr. Marty Greer, learn what to know before breeding dogs and how to improve reproductive capabilities of breeding female dogs.
Dr. Greer’s Dog Breeding, Pregnancy and Whelping Plan
Plan your dog breeding, pregnancy and whelping with help from Dr. Greer's easy-to-follow dog breeding guide.
Vet Minute: Dr. Greer’s 5 Important Dog Breeding Techniques
Whether it's your first time breeding dogs or you're experienced, Dr. Marty Greer shares her 5 tips on how to breed dogs successfully. Learn dog breeding tips on pregnancy, whelping, planning and preparation.
Deworming Pregnant Dogs: Dr. Greer’s Canine Deworming Protocol
Can you deworm a pregnant dog? What do breeders use to deworm puppies? Deworming pregnant dogs is essential to protect newborn pups. Learn which dewormers are safe for pregnancy, and the best dewormers for puppies and stud dogs.
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.