Excerpt from an Interview with Dr. Hutch, DVM from Good Dog
JS [42:53] Can we talk a little bit about the recommended number of lifetime litters and breeding age onset and when we want to retire? That is something that all the breeders are really concerned about, making sure that they do the best thing that they can by their dogs. There’s a lot of controversy, as you know, about starting and stopping.
RH [43:18] Let me emphasize: all of us are 100% in agreement that we want to do our best for our individuals. Hopefully I can honestly say, in doing this for as long as I have, I have never done anything that was detrimental to a bitch to get her pregnant. That said, we have to go back and look. Remember, dogs go back a long, long time before we domesticated them and things like that. Just like a mare is made to have one foal a year, things like that, a bitch is made biologically in a reproductive cycle to have two litters a year. They come in season every six months. Uterus is totally healed 12 weeks after the puppies are born. I think there’s two answers to the question. One is appreciating reproductive biology. The bitch is made that way. We didn’t make her. We tend to humanize our dogs. I’m as bad as anybody else! I hope I didn’t tell y’all this story before, but it’s one of my favorites: I was talking about this at a seminar I was giving somewhere. I said, “In the bitch, there’s not a reason—no biological benefit—to a bitch to skip a cycle.” A lady in the front row threw her hand up and said, “Dr. Hutchison, I would not want to have a baby every year!” Female dog terms are running through my mind. Anyway, I said, “What about this: bitches don’t live with their puppies for the whole life. What would happen if that baby you had every year—at 8 weeks, they gave it to somebody else to raise for the rest of its life?” And she said, “My god! What a great idea!” That’s when I knew she had teenagers at home. Anyways, we can’t make a bitch a little person, as much as we do. My dogs know secrets that I’ve never told anybody else. But biologically, a bitch is made to have two litters a year. If you’re skipping a cycle that benefits your bitch, that’s great. If she’s coming in season, that uterus is wearing out, because the progesterone in the bitch lasts as long if she ovulates and is not pregnant as if she ovulates and is pregnant. There’s no difference. That’s why we use ultrasound to diagnose pregnancy; this is why we don't use progesterone. Uterus is damaged by progesterone. Progesterone causes inflammation, so much so that after the progesterone drops, it takes 2 to 2.5 months for the uterus to heal before it can come back in season and consider pregnancy. That’s why these bitches that cycle every 3-4 months never quiet down, and these bitches seldom have successful breedings. Now that mibolerone is not available in North America anymore, that’s a real hindrance to those of us who want to have bitches that we want to get titles on and all that before we breed them. The first cycle—usually I don’t recommend breeding them, even though if a bitch is 18 months or 2 years on their first cycle, I’d maybe consider it. But it almost seems like the uterus needs that first cycle to get itself primed by hormones. People that try to breed bitches on that first cycle, many of these bitches just aren’t successful and pregnant. I think it’s just the uterus was immature and needed to be primed. After that, how often a bitch cycles is almost genetic. The average of all bitches around the world is actually 7 months. If it’s 6 months and 1 day, they call me: “What’s wrong with my bitch?” Also, I think we mentioned this before but just to reiterate: when should a bitch have her first heat cycle? It’s up to her! Any time up until 2 years of age, I don’t worry about it for the first cycle. But then how long can you breed them? I don’t know that there is a limit. It’s up to the bitch’s health. Of course, you wouldn’t breed a bitch you see is unhealthy. But as you get around 6, that is when conception rates drop by about a third. Litter sizes start to drop off at that time. In many instances, this is telling you, as a breeder or a person who wants to breed their bitch: boy, if I’m getting to the point now where I went through all this and she’s 7, and she just had 2 puppies, it just isn’t worthwhile. The bitch usually limits herself. There are smaller bitches who can maybe breed later. There’s actually mathematical formulas about how big a litter a bitch has based on her body weight and this kind of stuff. Usually, the prime reproductive cycles in a bitch is (if you aren’t worried about health clearances, you aren’t a hip breed, for example) probably 18 months to 5 years is the prime time. Should you breed them every time? That’s really up to you. The bitch, if she were on her own, would be being bred twice a year and having two litters. But there is no advantage to skipping. So if you bring me a bitch, and you say, “Wow, Dr. Hutchison. She’s six years of age, and we’ve kept her in a locked room all this time, so she can have her first litter.” Well, she’s no better off than the bitch who’s had ten litters.
Taking the puppies for their shots and microchip!
This beautiful portrait was taken by my husband
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