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Breeding a Female Dog Back-to-Back: What the Experts Say

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Breeding a female dog back-to-back is something that dog breeders may be interested about, but there may be several concerns pertaining whether or not this is a good practice. Such concerns are not unfounded: it is a known fact that a dog's pregnancy has a certain toll on the dog's body and mind, and it may sound counterproductive not allowing a period of rest in between two estrus seasons. However, one may wonder: "how risky is it really breeding a female dog back-to-back?" This is an important question and worthy of researching and finding out what the experts in the field have to say about this.

 After a dog goes into heat, her body produces the same hormones whether she is pregnant or not.

After a dog goes into heat, her body produces the same hormones whether she is pregnant or not.

An Insight into Canine Reproduction

In order to better understand whether breeding a female dog back-to-back is worthy of considering or not, it helps learning a bit more about canine reproduction and how the dog's body responds to the state of being pregnant or non-pregnant.

After a dog goes into heat, her body produces the same hormones whether she is pregnant or not. If the dog is pregnant, these hormones help prepare the womb for the developing puppies and will continue to be produced until shortly before whelping.

If, on the other hand, the dog is not pregnant, these hormones are still produced nevertheless and may cause the dog to develop signs of a false pregnancy, also known as a phantom pregnancy or more technically "pseudopregnancy."

Affected dogs typically start showing swelling of their nipples, weight gain, behavior changes, and even go on to produce milk and engage in nesting and mothering behaviors such as catering to inanimate objects as if they were truly puppies. These signs tend to generally cease after roughly 2 to 4 weeks.

In those cases of dogs showing the above described overly conspicuous signs of a false pregnancy, the condition can be termed "overt pseudopregnancy" so to differentiate it from the condition of a non-pregnant dogs undergoing more subtle signs, which is termed "covert pseudopregnancy." There is belief that all non-pregnant dogs undergo physiological changes resembling pregnancy (mammary development), only that the extent of such changes may vary.

It can be concluded therefore, that, in a non-spayed female dog, her body has a tendency to behave as if pregnant whether she is truly pregnant or not. The extent in which the dog's body believes to be pregnant may vary, with cases of overly conspicuous changes being termed as"overt pseudopregnancy," while cases with subtle changes are termed "covert pseudopregnancy."

" Diestrus ends when a pregnant (dog) whelps or when a pseudopregnant (dog's) progesterone concentration drops below 1 ng/ml."~ Dr. Walter Threlfall

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"Side Effects" of False Pregnancy in Dogs 

On top of a non-spayed female dog's body and mind behaving as if pregnant regardless of whether she is truly pregnant or not, it has been found that false pregnancies may have some potentially harmful effects on dogs.

Studies have found that false pregnancies in dogs may act as a predisposing factor for mammary tumors. It is possible that this predisposition is agevolated by the production and retention of milk occurring during false pregnancies.

It also appears that allowing the dog to whelp frequently plays a protective role in preventing the onset of uterine diseases. If pregnancy fails to occur for several consecutive heat cycles, the dog's uterine lining continues to thicken, and this predisposes to the formation of cysts, a condition called Cystic Endometrial Hyperplasia, explains veterinarian Dr. Ernest Ward.

The combination of this thickened lining (which attracts pesky bacteria that thrive in such an environment), along with high progesterone levels (which inhibit contractions of the uterine walls), causes dogs to become predisposed to a life-threatening infection of the uterus known as pyometra.

Canine reproduction specialist Dr. S. Romagnoli confirms this by stating his observation that dogs who whelped regularly throughout their reproductive life rarely developed pyometra, whereas those who whelped rarely had a higher chance for developing it. In his article on Veterinary Information Network he claims: "For unknown reasons gestation has a protective action on the canine endometrium, causing pyometra not to develop in areas of the endometrium where placental attachment has occurred (although pyometra can occur in one horn with pregnancy in the opposite horn)."

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"The thickened, cystic lining secretes fluids that create an ideal environment for bacteria to grow in. Additionally, high progesterone levels inhibit the ability of the muscles in the wall of the uterus to contract and expel accumulated fluids or bacteria. The combination of these factors often leads to infection."Dr. Ernest Ward, veterinarian

Breeding a Female Dog Back-to-Back

 This dog is certainly not a good candidate for back-to-back breeding!

This dog is certainly not a good candidate for back-to-back breeding!

Breeding a female dog back-to-back simply means breeding the dog two seasons in a row. This would therefore mean mother dog would have two consecutive litters with no break in between.

This practice has been subjected to controversy, and therefore, has been frowned upon in the past by breed clubs and breeders (and surely still presently continues to be frowned about) due to the belief that a dog's body requires some time to recover from a pregnancy.

However, whether breeding a female dog back-to-back is OK to do or not, ultimately boils down to several variables. So the answer to the query: "Can I breed my dog two seasons in a row?"is that ultimately it depends. You would have to therefore carefully evaluate each circumstance on an individual basis.

For example, a case where a back-to-back breeding may not be a good idea is a case in which the dam is not in top condition after pregnancy. If in the previous whelping the dam had a large litter of puppies and was very thin by the time the puppies were weaned, she would likely not have enough time to regain normal condition once her next heat was around the corner, explains Dr. Margaret V. Root Kustritz, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in small animal reproduction in the book "The Dog Breeder's Guide to Successful Breeding and Health Management."

If, on the other hand, the dam has had a smaller litter and has remained in optimal condition and health, despite the whole pregnancy, whelping, and the nursing and weaning period, then, in this case, there are no reasons why she should not be bred on her next season.

 " There is no evidence that having two litters in a row creates abnormal or lower-quality pups in the second litter or that it harms the (dog)."Dr. Margaret V. Root Kustritz

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Some Final Considerations

As seen, back-to-back breeding isn't as bad as thought although we must admit it has obtained bad stigma due to it being associated with with some money hungry backyard breeders or puppy mills. And this is perfectly understandable: breeding dogs constantly for profit is downright wrong and unethical- but it's always important to hear both sides of the story such as when things are done right with the dog's health and wellbeing in mind. There is no big reason to condemn this practice especially in the case of healthy, younger dogs that are suitable candidates for back-to -back breeding.

However, there are also some negatives to consider. For instance, with two consecutive litters, there is often insufficient time to gain important feedback from buyers in regards to potential health issues encountered in the pups. This information is vital for the ethical, responsible breeders as it helps prevent the dam potentially passing down defective genes to future generations. Bettering the breed not worsening it, is the ultimate goal of the reputable breeder.

Also, it must be emphasized that the research provided should not be intended as an excuse to breed more. The best approach is to take the research provided with a grain of salt. It's important to clarify that breeding back to back in healthy dogs in good condition doesn't mean breeding year-after-year with no breaks until the dog is older and exhausted. It should mean simply allowing two, maybe three consecutive litters and then possibly, spaying the dog depending on the specific, individual situation.

In any case, should you decide to breed your female dog again on her next heat, the best thing to do is to play it safe and have your vet give her a complete examination. This way, your vet can assess her health and overall condition and discuss whether she is a good candidate for repeat breeding. Many dog breeders go this route, allowing their dogs to whelp two or even three times in a row with no particular worries.

"It's suggested not to skip a season, because we have been preserving the uterus from the effects of progesterone; what would be the benefit of exposing her uterus to two months of progesterone? Progesterone's effect on the uterine lining is the reason why (dogs) six and over have a 33.3 percent less chance of conceiving than (dogs) under 6 years of age."~ Dr. Hutchison

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References:

  • The Dog Breeder's Guide to Successful Breeding and Health Management by Root Kustritz DVM PhD DACT
  • Back to Back Breeding: The Australian Journal of Professional Dog Breeders by Dr Kate Schoeffel
  • Veterinary Partner: Transcript: Canine Reproduction Seminar
  • Recent Advances in Small Animal Reproduction, P. W. Concannon, G. England and J. Verstegen (Eds.)
    Publisher: International Veterinary Information Service (www.ivis.org), Ithaca, New York, USA.
    Canine Pseudopregnancy: A Review
  • Donnay I, Rauis J, Verstegen J. Influence des antÈcÈdents hormonaux sur l'apparition cliniques des tumeurs mammaires chez la chienne. Etude ÈpidÈmiologique. Ann Med Vet 1994; 138:109-117.
  •  Verstegen J. IntÈrÍt et applications des antiprolactiques en la cancÈrologie chez la chienne. In: Proceedings of the 24th World Small Animal Veterinary Congress Paris, France, 1999.
  • VCA Animal Hospital, Pyometra in Dogs By Ernest Ward, DVM
  • Canine Pyometra: Pathogenesis, Therapy and Clinical Cases, WSAVA 2002 Congress Prof. Stefano Romagnoli, DVM, MS, PhD, Dipl ECAR

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