Thinking of Breeding from your Dog?
Things to consider before making your decision
Column by Alice Clark RVN
Most people think that their dog is the best. Most people also love the idea of puppies. It’s true that raising a litter can be an incredibly rewarding experience, however it is also exhausting, stressful, expensive and risky – and that’s even if it’s done the right way.
Whilst many campaigners, pet owners and veterinary professionals fight to put an end to puppy farms, the unfortunate fact is that puppies sell. It is certain that there are already a huge number of dogs in the UK in rescue centers, however puppy farms are breeding dogs with known health and behavioural problems, without any regard to whom they are selling puppies to. This means that these poor puppies can easily be bought by the wrong person and just easily be discarded when things start to go wrong, rarely destined for a happy or healthy life.
On more than one occasion, I have felt like I’ve been ‘shamed’ by other dog owners because I’ve purchased my dogs as puppies, rather than making a decision to rescue. This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t rescue if the right dog came along, it’s just that a rescue dog hasn’t been ‘right’ for me yet.
I fully support people who carefully research the type of dog they want, find a responsible breeder who really cares about their dogs and are just as careful about who they sell their puppies to. If more people were this cautious, they would probably be less likely to purchase a puppy from an unscrupulous breeder, hopefully reducing the amount of dogs that eventually end up in rescue centres.
Before making the decision to breed, try to look at your dog objectively, easier said than done, right..? What makes your dog special enough? Are they an exceptional example of the breed? Do they have a fantastic natural ability to do a certain job? Are they mentally and physically mature enough? Most dogs should be at least two years old before considering breeding; even then, do you think they could mentally cope with raising a litter of puppies? Do they have a placid and friendly temperament? Research has shown that bitches that become stressed during pregnancy can actually affect the temperaments of unborn puppies. The whole process of mating, pregnancy, birth and raising puppies can cause a huge amount of stress to dogs, so those prone to anxiety or fear would not be suitable.
Then there’s the massive consideration of health. Most breeds are prone to certain health problems and diseases, many of which can be inherited. I would strongly recommend that before considering breeding you talk to your vet, then research and carry out any recommended health tests for your breed or breeds (yes, this is even relevant if you’re breeding crossbreed or ‘designer’ dogs). Providing your dog passes these health tests, you’re on the right track to ensuring any puppies have the best shot at growing up healthily. It’s an old wives tale that having a litter is good for a bitch before neutering them. Raising a litter of puppies, especially large litters, can take a massive physical toll on your dog and it could take a while for their body to recover from the extra demand of puppies.
Next you’ll have to find a mate. This is easier if you have a Kennel Club registered dog, as you can use their website to look at the suitability of the mating and be able to trace back pedigrees to ensure your dogs aren’t closely related. The chosen stud dog should also have had all necessary health tests (and passed with flying colours) and have a fantastic temperament. Consider the costs for using a stud dog, as most top stud dog owners will charge a considerable fee for matings. If you want to know more details about the mating process, it is best to talk to experienced breeders beforehand, as the experience can prove stressful if it’s something you’re not clued up on.
If you think that breeding could turn out to be a profitable sideline, think again. If the whole process is done properly, there’s a long list of outgoings to consider and profit is never guaranteed. Before any puppies arrive, there are health tests and stud fees to pay for, general vet checks, ultrasound scans and parasite treatment. You’ll need a whelping box, a large amount of bedding, high quality puppy food and supplements or puppy feeding equipment incase you need to help feed the puppies.
Many dogs get on with giving birth with little interference from people, however there’s still a chance of complications, which can be increased by age, breed and lineage. Be prepared for an emergency trip to your vets in the middle of the night, potentially leading to a caesarian section, which could set you back around £3,000, which you will be required to pay for when you pick up your dog and her puppies – no ‘IOUs’ for this type of emergency, so make sure you have the money to spare.
It doesn’t end there either, under the new microchipping law, all puppies should be microchipped and registered to the breeder before being sold at eight weeks old and responsible breeders will have had each puppy checked over by their vet and may even pay for the first vaccination. As puppies will be used to a specific type of food by the time they go to new homes, it is sensible to send each puppy home with a bag of food, as well as a piece of bedding that smells familiar.
If the litter will be registered with the Kennel Club, you can expect to pay for registration per puppy and depending on how and where you advertise puppies, there may be fees to pay. As of 1st October 2018, licensing thresholds for dog breeding have also been amended, meaning that even if you breed one litter and sell puppies you could be deemed to be “breeding dogs and advertising a business of selling dogs”, which could require a council license.
It’s important to note that most insurance policies do not cover any emergencies, illnesses or conditions related to breeding your dog, however some insurance companies do offer extra cover for breeding, so this is worth looking into well before you plan a mating.
Even if all goes to plan with the pregnancy and birth, puppies are time consuming and hard work. To keep everything as clean as possible, bedding will need to be changed multiple times a day, especially when the puppies aren’t very mobile, which means a big demand for your washing machine. As the puppies start to grow and move around, so does their mess! Fancy a greeting every morning of multiple poop covered puppy paws? Then, once mum decides it is time to stop feeding, it will be your job to start offering solid food – which is usually a chaotic affair, with puppies wearing more food than they have consumed.
Then there are the times when things can go really, badly wrong. Not every dog has maternal instincts. Although I’ve never experienced it firsthand, I’ve heard some horrible stories of bitches hurting or killing their puppies, bitches becoming scarily unwell or even dying, or whole litters being rejected which means those newborns need careful hand rearing – feeding and toileting around the clock for the first few weeks of life. Puppies born dead or so deformed they die quickly after birth, multiple puppies in litters that seem to be doing well until they ‘fade away’ one by one. Nothing is ever guaranteed.
Despite all of the mess, hard work and potential heartache, I can bet that you’ll find the most difficult part is saying goodbye. Many experienced breeders sleep next to the whelping box for the first few weeks at least, so getting attached to those little personalities is inevitable. However you advertise your puppies, make sure you grill prospective new owners to make sure they have the best homes to offer. I would always expect breeders to ask plenty of questions and for buyers to do the same. I also expect good breeders to keep in contact and be able to offer advice and back up, for the life of that puppy. Never be afraid to turn people away if they don’t seem suitable.
As ever, do your research before making any concrete decisions. If possible find an experienced breeder, preferably of the same or a similar breed to be your mentor and speak to your veterinary practice about the process and costs involved.
If you’ve managed to read all of this information and are still willing to put in the research, time, patience, money, hard work, exhaustion, apprehension, excitement, laughs, love and sheer joy, I wish you the best of luck.