The ABC's of Breeding Dogs and Canine Pregnancy
My First LitterYou've researched what it takes to raise a litter and now you are ready to give it a try. Following these ABC's will help you ensure a successful first breeding experience.
A: Age- How old should dogs be when they can be bred for the first time?Our goal is to grow them physically and mentally to be ready to raise a litter successfully. This generally happens when they are over 1.5 years of age but it is the female maturity, not a certain age, that is important. It takes three heat cycles for a female to develop mammary glands. You must ensure that the female has grown well before breeding. To do that you must have a quality diet and vitamins to be sure they mature normally. You can't marginalize this step or your females will struggle to reach physical and mental maturity.
It's recommended not to house males and females together. This ensures mating happens when the female is mature and ready. When they are more than 1.5 years of age and have reached a level of maturity, they can have testing done to be sure they are "fit to breed". Testing depends on the breed and you can go to the breed club's website and see what things are being tested for. Generally hips are X-rayed to check for dysplasia and eyes are tested for retinal dysplasia.
B: Be Aware- How can I recognize when a dog is in heat and standing heat?When a female is first coming into heat she releases pheromones, also known as the "I'm so pretty hormones" into the air. This attracts the male's attention. At the same time, swelling of the vulva starts in response to estrogen. The swelling allows breeding to easily take place and protects the female during breeding. Spotting blood is common and caused by the uterine lining regenerating itself and getting ready to accept the embryo. How much blood depends on how much lining needs to be regrown and has nothing to do with fertility. When the uterus is ready and hormones are ready, dogs move into standing heat or estrus. On average, standing heat in dogs starts at seven days and when spotting blood becomes minimal. A range of three to 21 days is normal and females will average the same number of days every heat so it is important to keep records of her cycle. For example, if they took seven days spotting before they stood to be bred this heat cycle, she will do the same next time. Track how her cycle goes so we know what to expect next time.
C: Cycle- When and how many times can I breed per cycle?We breed females every other day during standing heat. For most females that is three times. No need to breed more often as it just introduces more foreign material and increases the chances of uterine infection. The last breeding is most important in fertilizing the released eggs. When the female goes from "you're so cute" to "get out of my face," she is ovulating and does not want to be bred again.
Embryos are tiny and have to be viewed under a microscope to about 30 days' gestation. Most want to increase calories immediately, but there is no need until the fast growth phase. There is a big need for vitamins, especially day 18 to term. You want babies born fighting to live; we don't want to fight to keep them alive. Prenatal vitamins will help a pregnant mom get that done!
At about 35 days they are growing fast and mom starts to belly down. At this point you know she is pregnant. An ultrasound can be done as early as 28 days to identify the embryos in uterus. Blood testing for pregnancy is not very reliable and not often done.
First time pregnant moms have a big job ahead of them but are equipped to do that with your help. Growing your female well before breeding and supporting her pregnancy with adequate nutrients and vitamins she needs to incubate healthy embryos will ensure mom whelps healthy, strong puppies.
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival's Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.
This is the second article in our My First Litter Series. Other articles in the series talk about dog pregnancy stages, whelping and what to know before raising a litter of puppies. Be sure to check out all the articles in the My First Litter Series.
The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of your personal veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.