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An Introduction To Ethical Breeding Practices. PART 1.

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Remaining Ethical

Whether you are new to breeding or have been involved in the industry for some time, it’s important to continually learn and question if practices are ethical. We all know that for some breeds, pregnancy and birth can be extremely difficult and require medical intervention. Generally speaking, breeding is not something that should be undertaken without serious consideration of the risks involved for your animals and the health of their offspring. Every breeder and industry professional should be equipped with knowledge of the appropriate course of action for their dogs, so we’re here with Part 1 of our Ethical Breeding Practices series to get you thinking.

Breeds Prone To Health Risks

Dog breeds can be split up into 3 skull shape categories: Brachycephalic, Dolichocephalic, and Mesocephalic. Here is a quick overview of their skull shapes:

Dolichocephalic, Mesocephalic and Brachycephalic dog skull shapes.

As you can see, a Brachycephalic breed (far right) has a skull as wide as it is short, Mesocephalic a pyramid shaped skull and a Dolichocephalic has an elongated skull. These skull shapes have undergone dramatic transformations over the last 100 years, all due to how dogs have been bred. It has become clear that Brachycephalic dog breeds’ health have been severely impacted, often meaning life threatening and expensive interventions during pregnancy and birth, followed by a lifetime of potential issues if mating partners are not screened very carefully. When looking at an overall picture we know that Brachycephalic breeds (and more specifically French bulldogs, English bulldogs, pugs and even shih tzus amongst many others) often suffer with BOAS (Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome). Therefore it’s important to observe their respiratory tract and consider them for the Respiratory Function Grading Scheme. 

Pre-Breeding Health Check Examples

A KC (Kennel Club) assured French Bulldog breeder must complete the Respiratory Function Grading Scheme. It is also recommended that they receive these checks:

  • BVA/KC/ISDS Eye Screening Scheme
  • DNA test – HC-HSF4 (Hereditary cataracts)
  • HUU (Hyperuricosuria) for monitoring purposes only
  • DNA profile (SNP ISAG 2020)

Of course, all breeds are predisposed to medical conditions, each having their own breed standard and inherent issues. While Brachycephalics are notoriously problematic for breeding, many Dolichocephalic and Mesocephalic breeds also come with their own set of genetic concerns. So, before breeding any bitch of any breed, we should first consider her health and ask ourselves:

  • Is she a good weight and of correct age? Breeding a bitch before she reaches adult maturity/healthy adult weight is not recommended as she may not be developed enough to support pregnancy.
  • Is she up to date on worming treatments? This is essential to prevent the transmission of parasitic infection to embryos.
  • Is she up to date on vaccinations? This aids prevention of transmission of disease through pregnancy or immediately after giving birth..
  • If she has had previous litters, has she ever had an umbilical hernia repaired? Were there any cryptorchid males amongst the litter? These genetic predispositions may pass into her future litters.

The stud dog to be placed with her should also have basic health checks completed, in addition to other genetic checks specific to their breed. This is to ensure a healthy litter and

long-term health of all animals concerned. The main thing to remember is that all dogs are individuals, and should be investigated with due diligence before proceeding onto each new stage of the breeding process.

While the Kennel Club has come under a certain amount of justifiable scrutiny, its standards are still generally considered the industry benchmark and is a useful source of information. You can visit the Kennel Club website for further reading and advice.

Umbilical Hernias & Cryptorchidism

As mentioned above, umbilical hernias and cryptorchidism can genetically run within families. Umbilical hernias can be defined into two categories:

  • •Reducible- tend to be smaller and can be pushed back into the abdomen, although may still need surgical repair these hernias typically tend to contain abdominal fat and feel quite soft. 
  • •Irreducible- these tend to be much larger in size and may contain portions of abdominal organs. When trapped, the organs within could become strangulated, causing the tissue to die due to oxygen loss.

Cryptorchidism is a highly associated DNA marker for inguinal cryptorchidism, a mutation in the HMAG2 gene. Inguinal cryptorchidism is where one or both testes do not descend from the inguinal canal by the age of 6 months. It is thought that the odds of obtaining puppies with inguinal cryptorchidism was 27% higher for dogs with two copies of the mutation. Dogs within breeding lines that have cases of umbilical hernias or cryptorchidism should not be considered for breeding. 

Fertility Analysis

After completing all of the necessary and desirable checks of both animals you want to breed, it’s wise to do further testing to observe the bitch’s progesterone levels and analyse the quality of the dog’s sperm.

Progesterone Testing/Cytology

For progesterone testing a blood sample is required. Only a veterinary surgeon or registered veterinary nurse can draw blood samples. According to the RCVS code of conduct, obtaining blood samples is classed as an act of veterinary science and exact protocols should be used to ensure the animals safety and protecting sample quality. Bloods taken by anyone other than a veterinary surgeon and veterinary nurse is illegal. A single test will help identify where the bitch is within that given cycle, and multiple blood tests may be necessary on different days to create a predicted chart. Progesterone testing can also be completed close to birth to help determine when it may start and may be particularly desirable for bitches who have been elected for a caesarean section.

Cytology is a safer alternative to progesterone testing that does not legally require a veterinary surgeon or registered veterinary nurse. This involves using a clean swab to scrape cells from the vaginal wall of the bitch, transferring these onto a slide and then analysing them under a microscope such as the ScopeX. Of course, this is still an invasive procedure that has the potential to be very uncomfortable for the bitch or possibly dangerous if done by someone inexperienced. Therefore it is still best to have a registered veterinary professional do this or at the very least an extremely capable and knowledgeable paraprofessional.

Semen Analysis

Technically, this can be done by anyone who is able to test manually by visualising spermatozoa via a microscope or with a mobile CASA machine such as iSperm. However, initially taking the sample from the dog can be very tricky and it’s possible to injure the animal if you are not confident in your knowledge of the procedure.Seeking advice from a veterinary professional is always preferable, but it may be possible to find a paraprofessional that can assist you. When choosing a mentor it would be advisable to ask questions such as previous handling experience along with standard operating procedures for infection control. If this information is not supplied, please continue searching until you find someone you are confident has enough experience to safely guide you.

Artificial Insemination

If AI is to be undertaken, it is vitally important that the paraprofessional performing the procedure is thoroughly questioned about their experience and the conditions they will be conducting the insemination in. Inexperienced or poor technique has the potential to cause serious physiological trauma, while a non-sterile environment could introduce bacteria to the bitch’s reproductive tract, leading to infection. Therefore the need for AI should be weighed against possible risk vs the implied benefits.

Why AI?

A few arguments for AI are:

  • Perhaps there are anatomical reasons such as with Brachycephalic breeds where the pelvic area maybe too wide externally and too narrow internally meaning they are unable to naturally mate.
  • Maybe there are behavioural issues with a dog or bitch which makes natural mating unlikely or even dangerous.
  • AI allows for fresh, chilled or frozen sperm to be used, thus limiting travel for dogs and could help widen the gene pool.

A few reasons to think twice about AI:

  • Success rates will vary depending on how the semen has been stored; frozen samples have broadly shown a lower success rate than fresh or fresh chilled semen.
  • A practitioner’s level of skill may also have some impact on the success rate.
  • AI is a physically invasive procedure that can cause discomfort, injury or infection.
  • Breeding is generally expensive, and AI even more so.
  • It’s recommended that two rounds of artificial insemination are completed to maximise chances of conception.
  • More than two rounds may increase litter size greatly, which could be too large for the bitch.
  • Breeding dogs using AI for anatomical reasons could mean a successful conception, but a high chance of genetic deformities being passed onto the developing embryos. Simply put; if you cannot naturally breed a dog because its internal structure is too narrow to make this possible, clearly this is not something that you want its pups to inherit.
  • Without careful monitoring, one stud dog could sire too many puppies, shrinking the size of the genetic pool available for future breeding.

These are only a few reasons to carefully think about using AI, but it should give you pause for thought before making any decisions.

Pregnancy Health Checks 

  • It is vital that the bitch receives regular health checks and her nutrition is adjusted so she is able to support pregnancy. 
  • A vet check 2-3 weeks into pregnancy is advised to check worming and vaccination status. Your vet may even be able to complete a pregnancy scan to confirm pregnancy or the number of pups visible. A well trained paraprofessional scanner is also an excellent option for pregnancy confirmation if your bitch has no obvious health concerns.
  • Another veterinary check later in pregnancy is a good idea to make sure the bitch is well, and is a good time to discuss what to do should you have any concerns and where to go if the birth happens out of normal  daytime  surgery hours. Your vet will also be able to discuss post parturition worming for the bitch and her puppies. 
  • You should observe your dog as pregnancy progresses to look out for signs of mammary development and possible lactation in case mastitis occurs.
  • Exercise during pregnancy should be carefully considered. Some bitches still need exercise, but owners must ensure the length of time is correct for her length of gestation. There are no solid guidelines and needs will vary greatly for every dog, but in later pregnancy shorter walks multiple times a day would be preferred over one or two long walks. 
  • If your bitch is fed commercial dry kibble or wet food you may want to consider switching her to a high energy and protein diet. A general rule of thumb is to increase her food allowance by 10%, and as stomach capacity decreases as the pregnancy progresses it is beneficial for the bitch to be fed smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Under no circumstances should medication be administered to a bitch without veterinary approval. Advice can be sought from paraprofessionals, but should not be actioned on without the assent of a veterinary professional. 

Common Breeding Complications 


Loss of part or all of the litter.

  • Early miscarriage results in embryo reabsorption. Often not detected unless an early pregnancy scan confirms pregnancy then later pregnancy scan confirms no viable pregnancy. 
  • Later miscarriage can occur due to bacterial, viral or parasitic infection. Could be asymptomatic or be accompanied by symptoms such as abdominal pain, high temperature, abnormal vaginal discharge (black, brown or pus-coloured). 
  • Some bitches experiencing a miscarriage will begin labour to pass still born puppies.  These miscarriages will need treatment by a veterinary surgeon. It may also be advised to carry out some examinations on both bitch and puppies to determine the reasons why the miscarriage occurred in order to prevent future issues.

– Dystocia

The inability to birth naturally. Reasons for this can be:

  • A singleton pup who cannot produce enough oxytocin to induce labour.
  • A larger than average litter where the bitch is able to deliver some puppies naturally but later develops dystocia. 
  • Anatomical issues where the puppies cannot pass through the birthing canal. 
  • Foetal factors such as size and position. 
  • Uterine inertia can be primary or secondary; primary inertia is where the body fails to commence synchronous uterine contractions, secondary inertia occurs when uterine contractions cease to continue. This happens when the uterine muscles are unable to continue meeting the needs of the uterus. 

There are some factors which may predispose dogs to dystocia including age, obesity,  previous history or breed. For example, we already know that brachycephalic and toy breeds are much more prone to dystocia.

Signs of dystocia may include:

  • Bloody discharge prior to delivery of first pup. 
  • Failure of labour to commence 24 hours after temperature first drops. 
  • Over 30 minutes of contractions without a pup delivery. 
  • More than 2 hours between puppies. 
  • More than 4 hours between onset and signs of first puppy delivery. 

It is important that you seek veterinary attention as soon as you experience any symptoms of dystocia or inertia. Failure to seek prompt advise could affect the bitches or the health of the pups.



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