There’s no question about it – there are very few things that are as cute as newborn puppies and kittens, and many people want to experience this miracle first hand. What most people don’t realize that along with this miracle of life comes with huge commitments in both time and money, as well as some inheritent risk to our beloved pets. The decision to breed should be one that includes some serious thinking, planning and self reflection.
Female dogs of any age can die giving birth, with increased risk associated with young or old animals. Dystocia, or difficult or abnormal birth, can be a medical emergency that puts the lives of the mother and puppies at severe risk. In the event of a difficult birthing, medical hospitalization and potentially an emergency C-section may be likely realities. This inevitably is associated with potentially significant costs, and therefore an emergency contingency fund should be in place for veterinary care. In some cases, it can be normal for 1/3 of puppies to become ill and require medical and extensive nursing care. Even with a perfectly routine whelping, and a medically sound litter, medical and veterinary costs are significant. Responsible breeding includes physical examinations, vaccination, and deworming of each puppy. The females calorie requirement is increased both before and after birthing, and therefore requires additional quality dog food. This is of course in addition to feeding the hungry mouths of the puppies once they are weaned off their mothers milk.
In the majority of cases, most breeds should not be bred prior to a minimum of 2 years of age, at which point basic testing can be done for important genetic conformation issues such as hip dysplasia, a condition which is shockingly high particularly in large breed dogs. This condition contributes to the development of arthritis and early mobility issues in our canine companions. Of course, there are many other organs that can be negatively affected by genetics, including occular (eye) and heart conditions. Responsible breeding involves the screening of both the dam and sire to ensure their genetics are optimum for the propagation of the breed.
There are also some medical and behavioural considerations with having pets that are not spayed or neutered. Housetraining can be much more difficult in intact male dogs, and urine marking both in and out of the house can be a regular occurence. This is often something that cannot be corrected, and can continue even after neutering if it becomes a learned behaviour. Unneutered male dogs are predisposed to prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate) and prostate infection. Dogs who reach middle age and are not neutered are predisponsed to benign prostatic hypertrophy (benign elargement of the prostate), with 80% developing this condition by 5 years of age. While beningn, suggesting not cancerous, a significant number of them will have chronic bacterial prostate infection and urinary tract infections. Unneutered male dogs may be more predisposed to aggression, particularly territorial aggession, and can be more difficult to train. Females who are unspayed are prone to ovarian cancer, 50% of which are malignant. There is also a significant risk of pyometra – a life-threatening uterine infection that requires immediate veterinary attention.
There are thousands of dogs in shelters without homes, so the decision to breed should be one that is taken extremely seriously. A responsible breeder invests in a quality dam or sire that fits perfectly the ideal representation of their respective breed. After this, they should be carefully selected based on a detailed examination by a veterinarian, which may involve a physical exam, radiographs, blood testing, and more. Equally important, breeding dogs should be carefully selected for a temperment that fits todays society where dogs are considered a family member and closely integrated into our culture. In the case of a small breed dogs, proven ability as an excellent companion dog may be acceptable, provided the health clearances are done. There is not a need, though, for dogs who bite, dogs who can’t be housetrained, or dogs who will have painful and expensive medical problems that are then passed on to further generations.