Having your very own litter of puppies is certainly an experience, and you may be tempted to do so before having your bitch neutered. Whilst this can be very rewarding if all goes well, a few things need careful consideration if you have never bred pups before. In some cases, it might not be a good idea at all.
To make sure you’re breeding to the highest standard, ensuring the health and wellbeing of your bitch and her pups, we ask that you please think about the following before making your decision.
Time and effort
The decision to have a litter of pups is not one to make lightly. Before taking the idea further, carefully consider the amount of time, effort and expense it will take to breed from your bitch. Do you have the space for a pregnant bitch and her babies? Do you have the free time to provide for them? For roughly 2-3 months you will need to be available around the clock to look after them! Are you able to cover the cost of essential vaccinations and healthcare treatments? Remember that bitches can sometimes have up to ten or more pups in one litter!
It is important to be sure that your bitch’s temperament is compatible with being a good mum, bearing in mind that she is likely to need at least a few visits to the vet for things like check-ups or ultrasound scans. If she has a nervous or flighty disposition, she will not find this easy. There is also a risk that an anxious bitch may reject or even attack her pups – leaving you to hold the babies!
Pre-breeding health tests
Healthy dogs are more likely to have healthy pups. It’s very important to consider serious hereditary diseases that can be passed on to pups if their parents carry the affected genes. If you’re keen to breed from your bitch, we advise that you don’t go ahead without first checking with your vet. Do your own research too. Find out if your breed is prone to any particular health issue for which your bitch should be tested - the Kennel Club and breed society websites are a good starting point. Be especially aware of the multiple health issues that can affect short-faced breeds like French Bulldogs and Pugs.
Your vet can perform a general health check and will advise which pre-breeding health tests are available at your practice. Commonly performed tests include hip and elbow dysplasia testing, eye testing and heart testing. Gene tests for many breed-related problems are available and often may need just a simple cheek swab or blood sample. These can be very cost-effective. Some results can take several weeks to come back, so allow lots of time to complete health testing before your bitch comes into heat. When choosing a stud dog, it’s vital to ensure that he has been tested for any breed-related conditions.
Remember, many popular crossbreeds can suffer conditions inherited from the primary breed. For example, labradoodles may be at risk of hip and elbow problems, or cavachons may suffer from heart murmurs. Health testing is for ALL dogs, not just pedigree and KC registered dogs!
Once you’ve thought about health testing, consider also the need for veterinary care during the pregnancy and whelping. How will your bitch cope with this? What if she has difficulty whelping and needs an emergency caesarean? What if she suffers from complications after the pups are born? You should consider the potential costs, both financial and emotional, if things don’t go according to plan.
Finding suitable homes
Pups should never be passed on to a new owner until they’re at least 8 weeks old and, by law, you need to have them microchipped before this. Sending off the right puppy to the right family is very important if all are to be happy in their ‘forever home’. This is a big responsibility - and could be quite a big job for you. Think about all of the advertising involved, as well as the potential struggle to find the right family for each pup. There is always the chance you might not be able to sell all of the pups, so could end up with more dogs at home than you’re able to care for.
The benefits of neutering
Early neutering greatly reduces the chances of some common, potentially life-threatening diseases.
Entire dogs and bitches are at much higher risk of certain cancers (ovarian, uterine and mammary in females, testicular in males), pyometra (infection of the uterus), prostate disease, unplanned litters, birthing problems, straying and related injuries, and sex-linked aggression.
If you’re ‘umming and ahhing’ about having that one litter, and your bitch is first and foremost a family pet, consider how the health benefits of early neutering weigh up against the potential risks of having a litter.
Overall, breeding a litter of pups can be a rewarding experience - after all, what kind of place would the world be if nobody brought new puppies into it? However, breeding a litter brings with it significant risks and responsibilities in terms of health and welfare for your bitch and her pups, and commitment from you. If you have decided to have a litter, have done your research and are prepared for all of the risks, costs and work involved, that’s great! If you’re yet to think it through, we advise that you do so carefully before making any spontaneous decisions.
If you’re unsure, come and have a chat with us! We’re always very happy to advise further.