Preparing and Conditioning the Bitch for Breeding
This article appeared in Our Dogs on 31st May 2019
‘Well begun is half done’
Producing the healthiest possible litter, is no small undertaking. It needs careful planning, which begins well before mating, with thorough research and preparations.
A sire is best selected on multiple, desirable characteristics which not only include conformation and other physical attributes, but also temperament and medical history. The absence of any significant health problems in the past is important, given that genetic inheritance plays a major role in the development of many common conditions in dogs, including those that affect the skin, bowels, musculoskeletal system and immune function. Given that this is the case, both bitch and sire should also be screened for hereditary disorders known to affect the breed in question. Radiography of the hips is mandatory in this respect, along with DNA testing for specific inherited diseases where these exist.
Body condition influences every stage of breeding, from conception to weaning. And even minor deficiencies in vitamins, minerals or trace elements for example, can adversely affect conception rate, the development of puppies in the womb, post-partum strength and survival, and how well neonates thrive.
It is important therefore, to ensure that a bitch is in the best possible state of health from the outset, if everything is to proceed as well as hoped for, because giving birth and nurturing puppies places great demands on the body, especially if the litter is large. The demand for milk by offspring, typically reaches its peak when they are around 3 to 4 weeks of age, and this inevitably causes loss of condition, as food intake by the dam is generally inadequate for sustaining peak lactation.
Supplementation of the diet with concentrated, natural sources of easy to assimilate essential nutrients, helps to ensure an rich supply of these throughout the whole breeding process. Carefully selected blends of whole foods provide these in abundance, in a biologically active form which the body has learnt to recognize over the course of millions of years of evolution. In addition to supplying the fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and trace elements necessary for fertilization and healthy embryological development, they can be an extremely valuable source of much needed calories and good quality protein once the puppies are born. Highly nutritious supplements can make all the difference to the bitch at this stage, when appetite often declines, and every mouthful of food needs to deliver as much nourishment as possible.
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Prior to mating, it is wise to have immunity to the core infectious diseases checked, to make sure the puppies receive protective levels of antibodies in the colostrum, when they first begin to suckle. There is a simple and inexpensive test available now for this, which many vets stock.
Safe, Nurturing Environment
Stress, can be detrimental to both bitch and offspring. Elevated blood levels of cortisol and adrenaline (the fight or flight hormones) for example, can weaken the immune system, increase vulnerability to infections, affect the course of pregnancy and cause puppies to be more anxious and reactive to the world around them, than they might otherwise have been.
For these and other reasons, ensuring the dam has a safe, secure and loving environment throughout pregnancy, which respects her own individual needs (not every bitch wants lots of direct contact, either for herself or the newborns), can help a great deal. A well-positioned birthing crate or den sited so that any difficulties can be spotted early, but privacy is also provided, is ideal.
Intestinal worms and lungworm can have a serious effect on body condition, and for this reason it is best to screen for these parasites before a bitch becomes pregnant. This is easily done using a stool sample kit which can then be put in the post for analysis. If the results are clear, it helps to avoid the unnecessary use of chemical wormers with the associated risks.
Bitches should also be checked for fleas, lice, ticks and mites.
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