Do you really want to breed your bitch?!?

Several years ago, after some emails from people inquiring about the possibility of breeding their female Cavaliers, I responded with those requested details, and offering my opinions on the subject. I edited here and there as I merged a couple of the letters into this one, but for someone truly wanting to know about breeding their dog, they deserve nothing less than the brutal truth: some things should not be sugar-coated!

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Dear "owner";

Thanks for your letter, and especially in asking for my honest answers to your questions. I would be more than happy to talk with you about your possible breeding plans, but I must warn you that I'm awfully blunt! This isn't a situation anyone should undertake without really understanding the whole picture, and all of the details contained therein.

Okay, as to your question of breeding your dog... Having a registered female of the right age, and with perfect markings, isn't really reason enough to breed a dog. There is a LOT more involved in deciding if she's a show dog, and especially if she is worth breeding. And the motivating reason people show their dogs is to prove (to ourselves, and to the breed as a whole) that they are even worth breeding. If you don't have time to show a dog, you might be overwhelmed with breeding - rearing a litter of puppies is a LOT of work!

One important factor to consider is if your girl is a good example of a Cavalier. That is, if she has the correct conformation and attitude, and is healthy. It's truly not enough for us to hold the opinion that our dog is cute, we must look to experienced judges to critique our breeding stock. If your girl is out of champion parents, she's a step ahead, but if she's not from show stock, the chances are that she's probably a wonderful pet - but not one to breed. If we are to protect the breed, we must choose only the highest quality dogs to breed on for the future generations. Breeding dogs shouldn't be done for selfish reasons, and the reasons for wanting to breed a dog should be thoroughly examined.

Puppy buyers are (thankfully) getting very sophisticated these days; they are researching health issues, finding breeders that have the Cavaliers' best interests at heart, and are learning to ask about other imperative information. The breed has a serious heart problem, and the reputable breeders are working hard to - if not eradicate it - raise the age of onset of the MVD. We are following a suggested protocol, and in doing so are only breeding dogs that are at least 2 1/2 years of age and cleared by a veterinary cardiologist (we're lucky that we have one in Oregon that is wonderful), and the sire's and dam's parents are at least 5 years of age and "heart clear". The goal is to raise the age of onset of the MVD by not breeding young dogs that are not heart clear. If your girl's parents aren't 5 and heart clear, you're playing with fire. And the same would be said of any potential stud dog. Choosing the right stud dog is another subject in itself - picking the wrong one can have dire consequences.

A few other health issues to be aware of are that the eyes need to be cleared - preferably yearly - by a veterinary optholmologist (we are fortunate to have a couple in Oregon), and the patellas and hips need to be examined and certified free of luxation and/or dysplasia. Those are the four areas (in my not-so-humble opinion) that need to be checked, in addition to being sure that the dog is of the highest quality. There are breeders that do not do any health testing, but people are wanting to invest their money and emotions in a puppy that is coming from tested and health parents. It's one of my goals, as a breeder, to do everything possible to produce healthy puppies; to do otherwise just wouldn't be right. It's a huge responsibility to hand a puppy to an excited family, and I want to sleep at night knowing I've done all that I can do to increase the chances of those puppies living long and healthy lives, as well as being temperamentally sound, and looking like a Cavalier. It's truly not an easy undertaking, and not one to be done without serious commitment. I would expect no less from anyone else; breeding dogs should not be done because someone thinks that it is fun and profitable.

Certainly breeding can be done without going through the health clearances, it depends on the true motivations for breeding in the first place. There are shortcuts to be sure, but for anyone seeking my opinion on breeding, I usually jump up and down and counsel "Spare yourself: don't do it!" and then I follow up with "It's a LOT more work that you can imagine, and if you do it, you'll vow to never do THAT again!" Yes, it's a labor of love, but it's a lot of work - sometimes heart-breaking, sometimes smelly and disgusting, and those frequent smelly clean-ups are always interupting something important: family dinner, company coming over, children's birthday party, making dinner...! (I did warn you that I was blunt!)

Another important consideration is that breeding your dog is risky. There are myriad things that can go wrong, and in the 30+ years I've been a breeder and mentor to people I can't even begin to count the number of times people have called or emailed in a panic to ask me "now what?" when their bitch dies during whelping or a few days or weeks later. If it's your family pet, and you don't want to risk losing her, spay her now! If you are breeding because you want another puppy, save yourself a lot of time and expense, and just go out and buy one from a breeder who is devoted to the breed long-term, not just for a litter's worth of pocketchange. If you want to let your children see the miracle of birth, rent a video. (Here's the URL for a good website to go to, if you have a strong stomach, and a good sense of ... what? ... humor, I guess! It is: ) While "profit" shouldn't be a nasty word to a dog breeder, it is rarely the motivation for a serious breeder. If you want to breed to make money, first question the long-time, dedicated and reputable breeders to ask how much money they make breeding dogs. After they stop laughing hysterically they'll be happy to tell you how far in the red they are!

My April 2002 litter was one of those that we breeders dread, but happens often enough to not be rare. My expenses (medical emergency and everything else) for that litter were in the thousands, and I ended up with one puppy. In 30+ years of breeding dogs I will say that I am not in a positive profit margin. To do it right (key word here: "right", as in no short-cuts) is, or should be, a long-term and financial commitment. Before any of my girls have been bred I've usually spent thousands of dollars to prove that they ARE worth breeding. Young bitches should never be considered for breeding (I wouldn't consider them to be adults until they are at least 2 years old), and they should be at least 24 months old to have their OFA certification for hips and patellae. The average age of the bitches I have bred has hovered at nearly 3 years old; by that age she would hopefully have earned titles, and would have all of her health certifications.

Up-front expenses to consider would start with the stud fee, and could range anywhere from $500 to thousands of dollars. The stud owners are going to want to assess your bitch (is she a nice bitch, and worth breeding to their boy? does she have a complementary pedigree? does she have the ideal temperament?), and ask for proof of the bitch's health clearances, as well as results of the Canis Brucella test (doggy V.D.) showing that she's disease-free. There are the pre-breeding health check-up costs, the progesterone testing (times three or four - and that can be before she's ready to breed, then there are often more progesterone tests to determine the ideal days to breed), the traveling/shipping, boarding, health certificate costs (if the stud dog isn't local), x-rays or ultra-sound (to know how many puppies, and what their presentation is) before whelping, and if it's decided that there is a puppy presented 'wrong' or over the cervix, you can schedule the Caesarian Section surgery. A whelping box, whelping supplies, and a reliable heating source is important; my own whelping box was a good deal at right around $300. Don't forget that there will be the extra expenses of the food and supplements during the pregnancy. Having a medical kit for the whelping is important (there are useful sites for breeders with the items listed, it add$ up quickly). There are the expenses of the veterinary check up of the mother and babies after whelping, having the dew claws removed (3-5 days of age), possibly docking the tails, and worming and vaccinations.

And this is all if nothing goes wrong! Plan to have several hundred dollars sitting idle in case you run into mastitis, uterine infections, pyometria, fading puppies, diarrhea (mom or babies) or any number of other possibilities. Plan on taking several days to a week off work (unless you're an at-home person) before and after the whelping date, this isn't a breed that you want to allow to whelp alone.

Hope that the noise and blood of the actual whelping, or (as the puppies get older) the poop smells wafting through the house don't nauseate you or your family; and figure out just how you want to explain to your young audiences (people love to come see puppies being born) about the placentas and the lovely green glop that mother discharges for a few days after whelping: kids are always grossed out with that! That discharge can stain the fur, too, but actually, most mothers usually blow their coat after having babies: plan on your girl being bald or nearly bald for several weeks, and those lovely long feathers can take 6 - 12 months to grow back. Oh, and figure that the whelping WILL happen in the middle of the night - the night before you're supposed to go somewhere with your mother-in-law, or have the ladies' tea at your house!!

As the puppies grow they require more and more of your time as they need to be fed, socialized, bathed, toenail trimmed, leash-trained, crate-trained, and their potty box or papers cleaned up again and again and again. You will go through a LOT of weaning formula, esbilac, or goat milk, and a lot of puppy food, and especially a lot of newspapers (and I use a "litter box" for the puppies, so I have the expense of the pine pellet kitty litter). They are noisy and smelly when they are eating 'real food', and at that point, their mum no longer cleans up after them... Poop is such a lovely aroma in the family room!!! Because of their cheerfully messy eating and playing habits, they often need to be carefully bathed and dried.

Yes, they are awfully cute, and, as they grow, they are really fun. There are definitely good sides to having a litter of puppies. If you don't realistically look at or anticipate the expenses, it would be easy to think that you will line your wallet with green paper. It's truly a labor of love; just be sure that you know how expensive it can be, and especially how disruptive a litter can be to your family and the activities you might have.

I will further state that anyone who has a stud dog who is worth using (and I don't mean just any ol' dog that happens to be an intact male Cavalier) will only consider breeding to your bitch if she is health-tested and is a good example of the breed. While most of us love our dogs and think they're gorgeous (and they are to us!), that alone doesn't make them breedable. One consideration is to contact the breeder from whom you acquired your girl and ask for breeding advice. S/he probably had an idea of what she bred for in the litter, and might have certain lines that he/she feels would be compatible to your girl.

Now, forgive me if I've said more than you wanted to hear, or if I'm painting a horribly negative picture! The reality is that breeding shouldn't be a frivolous undertaking, it shouldn't be done without serious regard to a lot of factors, and shouldn't be done purely for financial reasons without regard for the health of the dogs. Having puppies is NOT for the faint of heart, nor is it for people that don't have money for emergencies, because they do happen - and way too often. If you truly want to breed your girl, just be sure that you know what kind of situations you might be getting into! You are welcome to contact me again if you have more questions. (I really do try to be a good and nice person, I just feel very strongly about breeding, and I feel as though I can offer a learned opinion after many years of experience!)



2002-2008 S. L. Reiley-Lince - all rights reserved.

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