Astounding Ways of Knowing Your Bull Terriers (Fast)
BREEDING, PREGNANCY AND WHELPING
Owners of a pedigree Staffordshire Bull Terrier bitch will need to decide whether or not to breed a litter of puppies from her. It is a major decision, and not one that should be taken lightly. There are specific Kennel Club rules regarding the registration of pedigree puppies, and there are certain circumstances in which registration is not permitted.
Assuming the Kennel Club requirements are met, another item to be taken into account is the maturity of the bitch. Is she mature enough to whelp and raise a litter of puppies successfully? No bitch should ever be mated during her first season as she would not have had time to mature sufficiently to cope with the demands of producing puppies. She must be allowed to develop – both mentally and physically – well into adulthood before having a first litter.
A young bitch will come into season every six months or so, but as she ages, so her seasons will become less frequent. Do understand that as a bitch advances in age, her heats can tend to become less frequent. If you decide to breed from an older bitch for the first time, it is advisable to seek advice from a veterinary surgeon before beginning.
Happy with mum.
Remember that the offspring from an unregistered Kennel Club Staffordshire Bull Terrier (sire or dam) cannot themselves be registered as pedigree dogs. For the puppies to be registered, both sire and dam must both themselves be Kennel Club registered.
(a) The General Committee may reject any application made under these regulations and may cancel or suspend any registrations or grant of a Kennel name already made and may instruct any registration to be made.
(b) Specifically the General Committee may suspend the registration of any dog which is banned from participation in any Kennel Club licensed events as a result of a biting incident. The same provision shall apply to any registered dog which is the subject of a successful criminal or civil action in the courts as a result of a biting incident.
(c) The General Committee will not accept an application to register a litter when:
(1) The dam has already whelped four litters, save in exceptional circumstances and only provided the application is made prior to the mating and veterinary evidence as to the suitability of the bitch involved in the proposed whelping has been received, or
(2) The dam has already reached the age of 8 years at the date of whelping save in exceptional circumstances and only provided the application is made prior to the mating, and the proposed dam has previously whelped at least one other registered litter and permission has been received. Any such application must be supported by veterinary evidence as to the suitability of the bitch in the proposed whelping, or
(3) The dam was under one year old at the time of mating, or
(4) The offspring are the result of any mating between father and daughter, mother and son or brother and sister, save in exceptional circumstances or for scientifically proven welfare reasons and permission has been received, or
(5) The dam has already had two litters delivered by caesarean section, save for scientifically proven welfare reasons, and this only provided the application is made prior to the mating.
MATTERS FOR CONSIDERATION
It is well worth considering the following questions before deciding to breed from your Stafford:
Will you keep one of the puppies, and if so, what impact will that have on the home environment?
Have you thought about how to go about finding and vetting suitable homes for the puppies?
Have you a suitable and secure area in the home that can be used to accommodate a bitch and her puppies?
Do you have sufficient time available to devote to the mother during pregnancy and to the puppies from birth until they go to their new homes?
Have you taken into account the veterinary costs involved? For example, if a caesarean section operation becomes necessary, it will not be cheap.
If you are happy that you have thought it all through and you still want to breed, then welcome to the happy adventure of bringing new life into the world! When all goes well, it is an exciting and pleasurable experience, particularly so when breeding a litter of puppies for the first time. This chapter will deal with the whole process from start to finish, but it is always recommended that you seek veterinary advice.
Three generations together.
TYPES OF BREEDING
Clearly it is in the best interests of a responsible breeder to choose a sound and healthy stud dog, but much careful thought and planning should go into making the final selection. A clear appreciation of the most common forms of breeding may be helpful:
In-breeding. This is the mating of a closely related dog and bitch in order to perpetuate desirable characteristics in their progeny. Such a mating might be father to daughter, mother to son, or brother to sister. Do take into account the Kennel Club registration requirements for puppies resulting from such a mating.
There are many risks involved with this form of breeding. Certainly desired characteristics may well be perpetuated, but so too may be any faults, some of which may not be apparent in the first generation and are unrecognized by the breeder in either parents or ancestors. Such close breeding can result in infertility and some serious problems, particularly monorchid or cryptorchid conditions in males (i.e., failure respectively of one or two testicles to fully descend into the scrotum). Inbreeding is never recommended and anyone who is not a very experienced breeder should avoid it.
Line-breeding. This is a more ‘distant’ form of breeding than in-breeding and, if carefully and responsibly controlled, is the best way of ensuring the continuance of a successful line. The aim is to mate dogs with the same blood lines to achieve the desired results of temperament and conformation. Dogs of excellent quality are mated with related dogs of similar quality in order to improve upon and cement desired characteristics in the offspring. Father/granddaughter, mother/grandson, aunt/nephew, uncle/niece, half-brother/ sister and cousin/cousin are all examples of selected line-breeding.
Great care must be taken to ensure both dog and bitch are sound and healthy, and they must possess an unmistakable likeness to each other. Only dogs and bitches of the highest quality, and free from any serious constructional faults, should be considered for this type of breeding. For sound and healthy offspring, line-breeding must not go too far, in particular avoiding mating between dogs that are very closely related on both sides of their respective pedigrees in recent generations. Carefully selected out-crosses to new quality blood lines must be included in any line-breeding programme. This enables the production of high-quality puppies free from any deterioration in health and conformation. Without this periodic input of fresh blood lines, line-breeding will eventually degenerate. It is all too easy for breeders to overlook this vital aspect of line-breeding.
Outcrossing. This is the mating between an unrelated dog and bitch who do not possess a common ancestry. This type of breeding may be intended to introduce certain desirable characteristics into a litter of puppies. When successful, such breeding may produce occasional outstanding puppies – but remember that it is just as likely to result in faults inherited from either one or both parents. The drawback with this type of mating is that, because of the inconsistent fusion of unrelated genes, it becomes difficult to form a line that is clearly identifiable by type, uniformity and virtues.
This lack of uniformity can result in litters with puppies of different sizes and colours. It is something of a lottery, as desirable qualities – and faults – may not appear in first generation offspring, but only in the second generation. Such an outcrossing may be required to bring in new blood to a line. It also appears that outcrossing may well be advantageous to the health of the puppies because of the broad spread of genes.
Mother and daughter.
CHOOSING A STUD DOG
It is important that you make the right choice. Do not cut corners and simply use the dog next door for the sake of convenience. Armed with a knowledge of the breeding alternatives described above, a prospective breeder will care- fully consider many factors before making a final decision in the selection of the right stud dog.
TRACKING DOWN A SUITABLE STUD DOG
A thorough study of the bitch’s pedigree will reveal a pattern of breeding between certain dogs and bitches over the last four generations. (Anything beyond those four generations is irrelevant to this type of evaluation.) The purpose of the study is to identify those dogs and bitches whose positive and relatively fault-free attributes have been passed on to the bitch in question.
A study of the pedigrees of potential stud dogs may enable the identification of a particular dog with a significantly similar ancestry (though avoiding in-breeding). If that dog is sound in both health and conformation, then he may be selected to mate with the bitch, and the likelihood is that they will produce an even litter possessing the attributes and characteristics of the parents.
A male Staffordshire Bull Terrier’s sexual potency will gradually decline after the age of seven years, and this should be taken into account. It does not mean an older dog cannot father puppies, but the chances of success are lower, unless he has been regularly sexually active and proven to sire healthy puppies. Success in the show ring is no guarantee that he will be the right dog for the bitch. He may be a top champion of the breed, but ‘one-off’ top-quality dogs can emerge from a litter of otherwise poor-quality puppies from less well bred parents. Thus a careful check of his pedigree is required to establish which dogs are influential in his blood lines, and to work out their compatibility with your bitch. There are of course great champions of the breed that are very dominant in their ability to influence the quality of the puppies they sire. Such dogs will have proven their valuable contribution to the breed by their considerable success in passing on their unmistakable qualities to the numerous puppies they have sired. But a pedigree loaded with champions of the breed does not necessarily imply the dog’s prowess as a good stud dog.
Using a recognized stud dog, particularly if he is a popular champion, will have the benefit of helping you to sell the puppies, although there is no guarantee that they will have inherited his qualities. In fact, it could well be that an unheralded litter brother of a champion is as good if not better as a stud dog than his famous brother! The temperament of a prospective stud dog should never be anything less than perfect. Always remember the ‘bold, fearless and totally reliable’ comment in the Breed Standard, and never settle for less.
A fully health tested and well bred stud dog: Champion Kyraloebis Italian Gigalo JwShCM, bred and owned by Rosaline Ann Plant.
Never select a dog for stud that is too closely bred to the bitch as such a mating would be risky. No reasonable person would care to breed puppies with the likelihood of any of them possessing serious defects in health or conformation.
It is important to know whether the prospective stud dog is Kennel Club registered. Using an unregistered parent is likely to lead to disappointment, as any puppies, no matter how perfect, will never have pedigree status, and nor will any of their progeny. Unregistered Staffords cannot be shown at Kennel Club dog shows.
Agreements for a mating usually require the bitch to be taken to the dog. Remember to take into account the distance you will need to travel, and be sure to provide facilities for the comfort and welfare of the bitch on long journeys. It is most important for the owner of the bitch to let the owner of the dog know when the bitch is expected to come into season, and then notify them when it happens. This ensures that the mating can take place on the correct date.
Terms for a mating must be clearly agreed in advance. The stud fee must be agreed, along with any restrictions imposed by the stud dog owner on the showing or subsequent transfer of puppies should this become necessary. Conditions such as the pick of the litter in lieu of a stud fee must be made absolutely clear at the outset, as should the arrangements if the bitch fails to produce any puppies from the mating. In this case, it is usual for the stud dog owner to allow a free second mating during the bitch’s next season, if desired. If possible, it is best to have a written agreement between the respective owners regarding all aspects of the breeding arrangement. Most owners of prominent stud dogs will have this already arranged.
Ensure that the chosen stud dog has been health tested for HC and L2HGA and has passed as clear. Alternatively, it may be shown on his Kennel Club documentation that he is hereditarily clear of both diseases. Most Kennel Club registered dogs and bitches are clear. A stud dog or a bitch that has or carries either of these problems will be declared to be a carrier, and will be capable of passing on the problem to any progeny. The puppies can be tested, and may be classed as either clear or unaffected, affected, or carriers. It is best always to ensure that both parents are completely clear, as this will give all the puppies hereditary clearness of the diseases.
Using a stud dog with a clear fault and the bitch possessing that same fault is asking for trouble and will only cement the problem in future generations. Often such a problem will then prove difficult to eliminate. Thus, the guide should be ‘never put a fault to a fault’.
Should the bitch not be tall enough, putting her to a stud dog that is too tall will not solve the problem in the resulting puppies. Likewise, if a bitch is taller than the desirable height requirement, mating her with a dog that is too short will not produce puppies of the correct height. In both cases the litters will generally consist of some dogs that will become too tall and some that will become too short. The answer, as with any fault, is to mate the bitch to a standard size stud dog in an attempt to eliminate the problem. A larger proportion of the resulting litter should meet the height requirements of the Breed Standard.
If it will be your bitch’s first litter, try to select an experienced stud dog. Such a dog will know exactly what he has to do, and the mating should be that much less stressful for the bitch.
It is worth having a plan for an alternative stud dog as a back-up should your primary choice become unavailable at the critical time. Otherwise, it may be best to wait for the bitch’s next season to complete the original arrangements.
A bitch will normally come into season – ‘oestrous’ or ‘heat’ – for the first time when she is about eight to nine months of age, although the timing can vary considerably. Thereafter the normal cycle for a bitch occurs about every six months. No bitch should be considered for mating during her first season.
The heat normally lasts for twenty-one days and goes through the following stages:
Initially the bitch has a heavy discharge of bright-coloured blood. This lasts for eight to nine days, and usually during this time she will show no interest in male dogs.
Between the ninth and fifteenth days the discharge diminishes and becomes watery pink in colour. The vulva becomes larger and more swollen. During this critical seven-day period a bitch will be ready and willing to receive a dog, and this is the best time for her to be mated, ideally between the twelfth and fourteenth days.
The season starts to finish on the fifteenth day and stops on the twenty-first. During this period the bitch’s interest in male dogs will diminish and she may even become aggressive if approached by a dog.
PREPARING FOR THE MATING
You should know roughly when your bitch is about to commence her season, and you need to observe her closely so you don’t miss the start of it. The timing is important, as this will enable the mating to take place at the optimum time. Her season can be said to start on the first day on which she begins to show ‘colour’. The first sign is usually a plentiful discharge of brightly coloured blood, which can be anticipated by gently taking regular swabs of the vaginal area until the first sign of blood is clearly present. The swabbing process can be helpful as bitches tend to keep themselves clean and you may miss the start of the discharge.
In most cases, the optimum time for mating a bitch with a stud dog is during the twelfth to the fourteenth day after the commencement of her season. This is the time of her maximum ovulation, and a successful mating at this time should produce a full litter of puppies. This is not always the case, but it is a good yardstick.
As soon as you have a definite date, contact the owner of the stud dog to finalize the arrangements. If there is any uncertainty about the start date, a second mating a few days after the first may well overcome any miscalculation. Remember also that the dog’s sperm can be effectively retained for several days after a mating and can successfully fertilize ova released later. There will, however, be a gradual decline in the chances of successful reproduction.
The bitch determines the number of puppies in a litter according to the number of ova she produces.
Although rare, some bitches display variations from the normal season. A ‘silent’ heat occurs when a bitch shows no sign of the normal coloured discharge, although she is in full heat. It is difficult in such circumstances to judge accurately the optimum time for a mating. The bitch may show that she is ready to be mated if she ‘stands’ as if ready to accept a dog, curling her tail round to her side when stimulated by a hand stroking the fur around the base of her tail. At such a time the introduction of a dog may certainly have the desired results of a successful mating and subsequent pregnancy. Silent heats may be due to a hormone deficiency. Veterinary advice should be sought regarding hormonal injections in order to rectify the problem for subsequent heats.
Another unusual problem with some bitches is the ‘false’ heat. In such cases a bitch will show every indication that she is coming into full heat. Her vaginal area will swell up and a discharge of brightly coloured blood will begin. This will not last, however, and she will quickly revert back to normal. During that phase, however, she may well stand for a dog and show all the signs of a natural season. A dog may actually mate with her but conception will not take place. After the bitch has herself returned to normal, a full complete season may quickly follow.
When to mate your bitch
As discussed earlier, the most successful time for your bitch to be mated is at the precise time of maximum ovulation, and guidance has been given on how best to obtain a valid estimate of that time. What, then, if your bitch, despite the most careful preparations, does not produce any puppies? This is disappointing, but she will come back into season in another six months and you can try again. In the meantime, you can consider what may have gone wrong. The bitch may be carrying an infection, which will require veterinary attention. There is, of course, a possibility that it was the fault of the stud dog, but this is unlikely with a proven stud dog. Owners of stud dogs are only too aware that it is the opinion of some owners of bitches that it is the dog who is always at fault. However, it is far more likely that an error was made in the timing of the mating.
The problem may be due to over-reliance on the recommended twelve to fourteen day window. If a bitch has missed – and certainly if she continues to miss – then it may be that the timing of her ovulation differs from the norm. In the case of such a bitch, no definite time can be given for her mating. There have been instances of some bitches standing for a dog ready for mating well before the tenth day and even many days after the twenty-first day of her season. Sadly, such bitches are often mistakenly considered barren. In fact, if mated at their individual peak of ovulation they will produce lovely litters of puppies. Similarly, some bitches have just a very short period in their window of ovulation, sometimes as short as just a few hours. Just how with any certainty can a satisfactory mating be accurately performed in such cases?
Don’t despair! There are ways. For example, good results are claimed from examining the microscopic patterns of swabs from the bitch’s vagina for the changes that indicate when she is ovulating. Special probes are available for insertion into the vagina, which will also indicate the correct time for mating. Blood tests can also determine the optimum time of ovulation. Personal experience has shown that the results from such blood tests are not always satisfactory and the bitch concerned has proved to be not ready for mating at the time indicated.
There are companies that specialize in this type of testing. Upon application, you will be supplied with all that is required to carry out the tests, including collection tubes for blood samples. A veterinary surgeon will take a small quantity of blood from the bitch, and this is despatched for next day delivery to be tested. The results of the test will be telephoned on the same day directly to the breeder, saying that either further tests are necessary or the bitch is ready for mating. At some point you will be told that the optimum ovulation time is present and you should mate the bitch immediately. These tests can take place at any time from the commencement of the bitch’s season and can extend beyond the normal twenty-one days if necessary. The advantage of this procedure is that even the most irregular season can be accommodated. It is relatively expensive, but the results can make it well worth considering.
Another way to get the timing for a mating right is to introduce a healthy male dog. He must not, of course, be allowed to run free with the bitch but needs to be close to her. His natural instincts will let you know when the magic hour arrives. You may have to put up with a few nights of groaning and howling in frustration, but when the noise reaches crescendo proportions that is when to take your bitch to the stud dog. This procedure often works well, but do bear in mind that some bitches are sexually attractive to a male dog throughout the whole season, not necessarily just at the point of ovulation.
Look out for the presence of a slight milky discharge, accompanied by a swelling of the vulva. At this time the bitch will probably be paying more attention than usual to cleaning herself up. This is the time to take her to the stud dog. Make sure that all is in place regarding pedigree and health certificates.
Do not feed the bitch for twelve hours or so before mating. Do in particular make sure the bitch is equipped with a large, substantial collar. There must be enough room for a firm grip to be taken of both sides of the collar and still allow the bitch to breathe properly.
The general procedure is to take your bitch to the stud dog. This can sometimes involve a considerable journey. Your bitch, particularly if this is her first time, may well suffer some anxiety and stress in unfamiliar surroundings, so it can help if members of her family are there to comfort her and give her confidence. She will settle down much more quickly if she has her owners with her. Always insist there is at least one person present who has experience of the procedures involved in the mating of dogs.
A bitch showing she is ready, presenting herself to the dog/stud.
Should the bitch become difficult, resist any attempt to have her muzzled. This is cruel. Most bitches will be ready to accept a dog if the timing is right. If it is not, they can be very difficult to handle. It may be best to wait a day and try again. An inexperienced dog can also unsettle a bitch, causing her to behave aggressively or entirely refuse to co-operate. This is where someone experienced in mating of dogs is required to help. As long as the stud dog is experienced, all will probably go well even when mating with an inexperienced maiden bitch.
Some stud dog owners believe that natural mating is the best way and will want the dogs to manage the mating on their own and without interference. My advice is that you insist the mating be controlled. You are dealing with two powerful Staffordshire Bull Terriers who don’t know each other, and things could turn extremely nasty if the bitch does not accept the dog’s advances.
Sit on a chair in front of the bitch and hold her collar on both sides so that she cannot turn her head and snap at the dog as he attempts to mate her. The dog can then be allowed to follow his natural instincts to mount her. Particularly with a young inexperienced bitch, she may become alarmed when the dog attempts to penetrate her, which may cause her to thrash about, This can cause injury to the dog. To prevent this happening, she should be soothed and encouraged. If the dog experiences difficulties in achieving penetration, an experienced person will be needed to guide the dog’s penis into the bitch’s vulva. After penetration, he should be held firmly there for a short while until a tie is achieved. Should a tie not happen, the dog should be held in place for some time longer. The tie will confirm that seminal fluid has been ejaculated into the bitch.
DIFFICULTIES WITH MATING
Occasionally it happens that a bitch takes an instant dislike to the dog chosen for her, and becomes frighteningly aggressive towards him. Others may resist any attempt by the dog to mate with her. Our family has over forty years’ experience in breeding Staffords, and over that time we developed a method that makes the whole event go as smoothly as possible, even with nervous bitches.
The owners may have travelled a long way to bring their bitch for this important mating and the first thing is to make them welcome in a relaxed and friendly manner. The stud dog will not be present when the bitch is brought in, and she should be allowed free rein to find her way around. When she is relaxed, she can be checked to make sure she’s ready, and then the owner will be asked to take her outside, on her lead, to the entrance to the premises. The stud dog, also on a lead, will be gently introduced to her there. When he gets her scent he will know what to do, and her response to him will be noted. She may show great interest, or she may growl and warn him to keep his distance. Either way, allow them time to become accustomed to each other. Go for a gentle five minute walk together, with the dogs side by side. The stud dog will certainly be showing her a lot of attention, and will try to move round to sniff her. Again she may succumb to this quite happily or she may show resentment. Gradually allow him to get closer. All this takes only a few minutes and even an aggressive bitch will gradually calm down as she realizes that the stud dog is not a threat. This approach has worked admirably for many years.
When the dogs are ready, take them back to the house for a controlled hands-on mating. A non-slip mat should be ready, with a chair at one end for the handler. The bitch is placed on the mat, and the handler sits on the chair and takes hold of her collar. Only then is the dog brought in and the mating can proceed in a calm, controlled way. This method generally helps to keep even a nervous bitch calm, so that the experience is not unpleasant for her.
Not every stud dog owner follows this method, but it works well for an inexperienced bitch and is worth discussing.
After a satisfactory mating.
The tie occurs at the conclusion of a successful coupling when the dog turns around so that the pair are tail to tail while his penis is still inside her vulva. For the most reasonable explanation for this phenomenon, one has to turn to nature. In the wild it may have enabled the mating pair to defend themselves while still linked together, and prevented any other mating taking place immediately.
When the dog ejaculates, he pumps millions of sperm into the bitch. At this stage his penis will have swollen up to three or four times its normal size and changed its shape. The resulting ‘golfball’ shape half way up the penis holds the two dogs firmly together until deflation takes place and allows for the release.
It is always reassuring when a ties takes place, but it is not always necessary. A ‘slip’ mating can achieve the same result, but without the tie taking place. Our family had the privilege of owning the top stud dog in the breed for many years, and that prolific and highly successful dog tied only twice during his lifetime.
During the tie the bitch will usually relax and the dog will start to fidget and want to turn. He may need help to lift one of his hind legs over the bitch’s back so he can turn around. The end result is that the dog and bitch end up tail to tail facing opposite directions. They will normally be quite comfortable. They should be gently held in that position by their collars to prevent any damage if one of them tries to pull away from the other. The tie can last from a few minutes up to an hour, and sometimes even longer, but usually it can be expected to last for between fifteen minutes and half an hour. After the dog is released from the tie, he should be removed from the scene and given a drink of water and allowed to rest. The bitch should be made a great fuss of, given water to drink and where possible allowed to run around. She will normally be quite happy, wagging her tail and showing she is pleased with herself.
Thirty-one days pregnant and her ‘tuck up’ is beginning to disappear.
The normal gestation period is sixty-three days, although this can vary, especially if the bitch was mated more than once. For the first few days there will be no evidence of pregnancy but from the outset you must concentrate all your attention on ensuring your bitch’s welfare. Assuming you are already feeding her a satisfactory and beneficial diet, then don’t change it, and don’t increase her intake of food in the mistaken belief that this will be of benefit to the puppies. It won’t – it will just make her fat. Worse, it may make the puppies fat, and this may cause trouble for your bitch during the birthing process. During the final weeks you can change to one of the special diets formulated to support lactating bitches. These are designed to be fed to the mother up to completion of the weaning stage, and from then onwards can be given to the puppies as their first solid food.
Your bitch should be given her regular exercise right up to the time of whelping as long as she is comfortable and keen to go for walks. Obviously great care must be taken with a heavily pregnant bitch, and it is advisable not to go too far from home. If she shows signs of discomfort let her rest.
An observant owner may notice subtle change in the bitch’s behaviour and personality as she prepares for motherhood. Even in the early stages of pregnancy, for example, she may avoid the rough play of other dogs. These are encouraging signs but are not necessarily in themselves evidence of pregnancy. In the first four weeks or so there will be little evidence of the developing puppies, and you may begin to wonder whether your bitch actually is pregnant. Your veterinary surgeon may be able to determine the presence of puppies by feeling her abdomen, or there is a blood test that can be done, but the surest way is via an ultrasound scan at around twenty-eight days after mating. The scanning process is simple and absolutely painless, and will confirm whether your bitch is pregnant, and roughly how many puppies she is carrying. (It isn’t 100 per cent accurate as the puppies are very small at this stage, and one or two may be hidden from the scanner.)
Scanning does not always produce good news. On one occasion one of my bitches was shown to have a deadly enclosed pyometra (a uterine infection). I took her straight to the vet and insisted that he carry out an emergency operation. A massive pyometra was removed. This almost certainly saved the bitch’s life.
Some owners like to have another scan done towards the end of pregnancy. By this stage the puppies will be fully visible, and an assessment can be made of their presentation. This can be of considerable benefit as it will give a very good idea of what can be expected during whelping.
The opinions of an expert sonographer are valuable to anyone interested in understanding the procedures and complexities of scanning. Barbara Wiseman (Wisescan), the distinguished pioneer and researcher into the practice of scanning dogs, was approached and asked if she would write a short contribution. She kindly agreed, and with her permission her response is given below. It contains much very sound advice and deserves to be read by anyone wishing to breed a litter of Staffordshire Bull Terriers.
SCANNING BY BARBARA WISEMAN (WISESCAN)
This should be carried out at around 28 days from the first mating to achieve maximum accuracy on numbers and prediction of whelping date (see the following for an explanation of possible whelping anomalies).
Because ova take a few days to mature, the duration of the pregnancy can vary from between 56 days to 66 days in terms of the timing of ovulation and also, as the sperm can remain viable within the vagina for some time, this period can be extended to up to 70 days from mating.
The further on in the pregnancy the bitch is, the harder it is to count numbers as one foetus may obscure another, and therefore counting is more accurate in the early stages. Unfortunately not all the foeti may be visible and some may be lost during the pregnancy so that the scanning can only give an estimate of numbers. This, however, is better than having no idea at all, as the diet can be restricted in the case of small litters. If upon scanning no pregnancy is seen, the pregnancy may not yet be of 28th day duration and it will be necessary to repeat the scan a few days later.
Early scanning will also pick up potential pyometra risk (your sonographer [scanner]must be competent to identify this accurately as it can very quickly become life-threatening if left untreated). Early pregnancy and pyometra can resemble each other to the untrained eye.
If you miss this scanning window (between 28 and 35 days) entirely, it is difficult to get information from the scan beyond the fact that the bitch is pregnant. However, as this is the only certain determination of pregnancy, the information will still have some use.
Having scanned early and having a projected date of whelping and an estimate of numbers, a second scan should be completed at 56 days. This should give a good idea of the ease of whelping as both foetal size and presentation are evident.
Having studied bitch pregnancies over 30 years there are a few thoughts I would like to share:
Although there are several aids on the market to assist with the determination of ovulation, it seems to me too much dependence is being placed on these aids as I am now seeing a far higher rate of failure and I believe this is because we are forgetting to look at all the signs that the bitch is ready and willing to be mated. Any test can only suggest the probability of the onset of oestrus when the bitch should be mated.
The luteinizing hormone peak which occurs during the ‘season’ is regarded as being the central event of the bitch’s cycle and events after this peak take place as follows:
Oocyte (eggs) maturation
4–5 days (2–3 days post ovulation)
It is generally accepted that sperm can remain viable for up to seven days (I myself have scanned a bitch who showed no signs of pregnancy until 38 days after a single mating and went on to produce six healthy puppies on day 72 post mating). It is therefore not possible to be certain that there is no pregnancy until 35 days post mating.
Although most bitches ovulate between 10 and 14 days from the start of their season, this requires the owner to know when the season started. Most of the signs we look for are a human interpretation of the start of the season and therefore can be seriously inaccurate. It seems that allowing your bitch to have access to a male (without allowing mating, of course) can be a most accurate way of determining when a bitch is ready.
Assuming your bitch is successfully pregnant, there are major changes to be taken into account: firstly the immune system is compromised to allow the introduction of the sperm and the growth of the foetus without the body rejecting same. Care should be taken regarding exposure to possible infective sites outside the bitch’s usual environment in the first two weeks.
Secondly the bitch’s metabolic rate alters, enabling her to better utilize her food. The same is true in humans, hence the advice to every pregnant woman that she should not eat for two. Over the past 30 years I have tried very hard to dissuade overfeeding of pregnant bitches but I am currently seeing a return to an unnecessary increase in the number of caesarean deliveries. Exercise is also very important during pregnancy, as being fit and lean enables the bitch in an uncomplicated pregnancy to whelp with ease.
The Roslin Institute in Penicuik, Scotland, forms part of the research unit of the Scottish Agricultural College. A project was developed at the Institute in 1982/3 to ascertain whether it was possible to use ultrasonic scanning to determine foetal numbers in sheep to avoid metabolic disorders common to sheep carrying multiple lambs.
I attended a training course at Roslin in 1983 and in 1984 started scanning sheep. I already had an interest in working dogs and wondered whether the technique would be of use in pregnancy in bitches. At the time looking at a pregnancy was only possible during operations to open up the bitch, and therefore there were many myths surrounding pregnancy. For two years I invited anyone with a pregnant bitch to let me scan her to see what information could be derived. I charted every scan and recorded every outcome and built up my knowledge year after year. Despite this, 30 years later, I still see things I have never seen before, making me realize how complex life actually is.
In terms of ovulation, I had advertised in the dog papers that I had an infallible method of determining pregnancy (i.e. scanning) and was approached by Dr D. Anderson of the company, who subsequently went on to develop Premate as they were trying to develop a blood test to determine pregnancy. This had proved unsatisfactory and I was invited up to Cambridge to discuss it. My charts mentioned above showed anomalies in the apparent growth of the pregnancy and it soon became apparent that this and their blood test failure rate were down to not knowing when ovulation took place.
Premate was about to be launched and I brought home a few of the original kits, which were actually pig tests, and dispensed them to local vets who had shown an interest in my scanning. We had 100 per cent success in getting bitches pregnant using it, mainly on previous failures, and from that, my interest in all aspects of canine pregnancy have grown.
PREPARING FOR WHELPING
You will need a whelping box, with arrangements for heating, and some form of emergency container for transporting the newly born puppies to the vet should the need arise. The whelping box must be substantially built as it will be the home of both the bitch and her puppies for several weeks after the birth. Certainly it must be large enough to comfortably contain the mother and her new young family and should be designed for ease of access. A box that is not too deep will be helpful for cleaning. There are various excellent whelping boxes that can be purchased commercially – just make certain you buy one of the right size for your Stafford – or, for a handyman, it is not so difficult to design and build one at home. The access point needs a partition to contain the puppies, while allowing the bitch to jump in and out. A ‘pig rail’ will be required around the walls. This strip of wood, approximately 8 cm wide and set about the same measurement above the base, enables puppies to crawl to safety should the mother accidentally lie on them. The environment of the newly born puppies must be kept at a fairly high temperature, starting at about 25 °Celsius (75 °Fahrenheit) and gradually decreasing during the first few weeks. A temperature-controlled heat lamp securely suspended at a safe height above the whelping box is ideal for the purpose; such lamps are widely available.
The emergency container can consist of a cardboard box or even a washing-up bowl. It should be of a sensible size and comfortably lined so the newborn puppies can be kept warm. A hot water bottle well wrapped up in a towel is useful.
A whelping pen.
Place the whelping box in an easily accessible place in the home. There should be ample light, and it must be warm. A heat lamp set above the whelping box is the ideal solution. Put the whelping box in place well before the puppies are due and encourage the bitch into it by feeding her in it. You can put her bed in there and try to get her to sleep in the box. This way it will become hers and she will happily have her puppies in it.
As the whelping date approaches, you will need to prepare the box by adding bedding material. This must be something that the young puppies cannot squirm beneath or suffocate under. A good supply of newspapers is also a good idea. Lay them in the whelping box and let your bitch tear them up in response to her instinctive need to dig out a den for her puppies. Notify your vet of the expected date of birth so that help is available in an emergency. Keep the vet’s contact numbers available, and make sure you have transport available should you need to get to the vet quickly.
It is useful to have a small bottle of brandy to hand – a few drops mixed into some milk can be a useful stimulant. Just to be on the safe side, a milk substitute (available from your vet) and a baby’s bottle to feed it with will be essential if your bitch fails to produce enough milk initially.
A ready supply of cleaning materials and rough towels must be on hand at the time of birth, and surgical gloves, a reliable thermometer and sharp scissors may be useful.
There will be times when the mother will need to get away from the vigorous attentions of her puppies for a little peace and quiet. Place a comfortable bed for her beside the whelping box.
About six weeks into her pregnancy the bitch’s abdomen will start to increase in size and her mammary glands and teats will start to enlarge. Her appetite will most likely remain good, but remember not to overfeed her at this stage in the false belief it will be of advantage to the unborn puppies. About a week before she is due to give birth, milk may start to ooze from her teats.
There is no reason to expect whelping difficulties for Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Staffords are physically strong dogs, but they still need reassurance and support at this time, even when things are progressing normally. Should things go wrong, you will need to contact with your veterinary surgeon immediately. If you are concerned, do not hesitate – it could be fatal, either to the bitch or to her puppies.
Normally, a gestation period of around 63 days is to be expected, but it is not uncommon, especially with a first-timer, for a bitch to produce her litter up to five days early. This is nothing to worry about. The puppies may appear at first to be a little backward and immature but they will very quickly catch up. With such puppies, it may take a little more time for their eyes to open than the normal ten or so days.
Day 63: ready to whelp.
The first puppy is arriving: the water bag appears first.
A drop in the bitch’s temperature to below 100° Fahrenheit is likely to herald labour. It is not always the case, but usually she will not want any food or drink and will become agitated in her attempts to dig out a nest (preferably in her whelping box) by tearing up any bedding or newspapers laid down for the purpose. After this period of scratching and fidgeting, she may sleep for a while – this seems to be Nature’s way of preparing her for the ordeal ahead.
A slight rippling of the muscles along her back will indicate that the bitch is about to go into labour. After a while the straining and rippling of her contractions will become more regular until they can be observed several times a minute. At about this time a fluid-filled ‘balloon’ about the size of a golf ball will appear outside the bitch’s vulva. The purpose of this water bag is to act as a cushion to protect the emerging puppy against pressure. When the water bag ruptures and releases its contents, the puppy should follow within a few minutes. If this does not happen, and the puppy still hasn’t arrived within an hour, contact your vet. You may need to take the bitch to the surgery. There is no need for undue concern should this happen. The puppy will no doubt eventually arrive, and sometimes with the motion of the car it will arrive during the journey! This has happened to the author more than once.
The first puppy is born and the mother is very attentive, cleaning her newborn.
The newborn puppy suckling.
Puppies normally arrive head first. Some arrive feet first, which is a nuisance but should not cause complications, especially in a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Each puppy is born inside an amniotic sac, which normally ruptures during birth. If it doesn’t, it must be torn open to allow the puppy to breathe. An experienced bitch will immediately turn and get the puppy out of the sac by licking and biting at it. Her instinct tells her to clean the puppy and her vigorous licking stimulates the puppy to breathe.
An inexperienced bitch may be bewildered by the whole birth process and not know what to do with this first puppy. If this happens, tear the bag and use a towel to gently clear any mucus away from the puppy’s mouth so it can fill its lungs and start breathing. Then, wrap a rough towel around the puppy and massage his chest firmly and rhythmically. This promotes the commencement of normal respiration by the initial intake of breath. If the puppy does not respond to this, you must act quickly. You may need to give the ‘kiss of life’ by breathing gently into his mouth.
At this stage the newborn puppy will still be attached by the umbilical cord to the placenta, which will still be inside the mother. If she does not expel the placenta naturally, the owner should help by gently taking hold of the umbilical cord between finger and thumb and carefully pulling it free. Some bitches will eat the placenta. This is normal. In the wild, a bitch will instinctively eat the placenta as this provides nourishment at a time when she is temporarily incapacitated. The umbilical cord must never be pulled away from the puppy’s tummy as this can cause an umbilical hernia, which may require corrective surgery later. Normally the bitch will instinctively turn, nip and sever the umbilical cord herself. If she doesn’t, take hold of the cord well above the puppy’s navel and, using strong cotton or surgical thread, tie it off in two places an inch or so apart. The cord can then be cut between the ties, using sterilized scissors. The mother will then nudge her newborn towards her teats, where the puppy will instinctively start to suckle.
‘I have my new babies, now I can rest.’
After the first puppy, even the most inexperienced bitch will be able to whelp the remaining puppies. Between deliveries she may have a short sleep, Normally a puppy will be born within about twenty minutes or so of the onset of regular contractions, but sometimes it can take much longer. The time between puppies can vary between about ten minutes and an hour. If at any the bitch becomes exhausted, and her straining noticeably weaker, contact your veterinary surgeon urgently. It may be due to a condition known as uterine inertia, resulting in a puppy not being delivered. A caesarean operation will be necessary to save that puppy, and any other puppies following behind him.
If all goes well, then at the end of it you will be privileged to witness the wonderful sight of a relaxed and sleeping mother with a lovely litter of healthy newly born puppies murmuring and contentedly suckling away.
Once she has safely delivered all her puppies, the bitch will probably become calm and spend a lot of time cleaning and washing herself. She will need to go outside to perform her natural toilet functions but will be keen to get back to her puppies. Whilst she is out, change the bedding in the whelping box and clean up the whole area. Quickly examine each puppy to make sure they are healthy and there are no obvious abnormalities. As you clear up, if you have not already done so, check that there is an expelled placenta for each puppy. If not, a visit to the vet for an injection will be required in order to prevent any infection resulting from a retained placenta.
When she comes back to the puppies, offer the bitch a warm drink of half milk and half water. Some people add a dessertspoonful of honey. She should then be left in peace with her puppies. Strangers and noisy children should be kept well away, and the whelping box must be strictly off limits for all family pets. When agitated and confused by unwanted disruptions, bitches have been known to pick up their puppies and try to hide them away somewhere. This sometimes happens anyway, with some bitches inexplicably showing signs of restless nervousness and wanting to hide their puppies away. Calm and sympathetic attention and reassurance will be required from their owners.
A bitch who has just produced a litter of puppies will be exhausted from her ordeal and needs peace and quiet for a day or so. Immediately after recovering from the whelping her diet should consist of light meals such as scrambled eggs and filleted white fish. Offer her as much of the warm milk and water mixture as she wants. Bitches often suffer from diarrhoea after whelping, and it may be necessary to cut down on anything in her food that is likely to exacerbate this problem. You might consider changing her diet to one of the good quality complete diets formulated for lactating bitches. Certainly she will need a very nutritious diet to help her cope with the demands of her new puppies.
The bitch should be able to provide ample milk for her puppies, but sometimes this proves inadequate, especially in the first few days after birth. The puppies will not thrive and will be constantly crying. If this happens, it is essential to supplement the feeding until a regular milk supply is produced by the bitch. Use a baby feeding bottle and special synthetic milk available from your vet.
Satisfying the demands of a litter of growing puppies can result in the mother’s blood calcium level falling too low. This results in a condition called eclampsia, and it can be fatal to the bitch. If affected, she will begin to show symptoms of nervousness and unsteadiness. This will rapidly progress to staggering and convulsions. An immediate injection of calcium by a vet is essential in order to save her life. This condition is most likely to set in when the puppies are about three weeks old. It is important to start weaning a large litter on to their first solid foods as soon as reasonably possible in order to give the mother some relief from their demands.
Feeding from mum.
We love porridge!
Over-suckling can lead to a condition known as mastitis. The teats and mammary glands will become very hard, hot and sore. The bitch should be checked regularly for symptoms, and taken straight to the vet if necessary for treatment.
The puppies can start to be weaned at about three weeks of age. A big bowl of warm porridge mixed with honey is a good way to start. Plop each puppy down into the food and sit back and enjoy their reaction! They will be covered in the food, and gradually they will start to lick at it. Most quickly catch on and get stuck in! When they have had enough, don’t worry about cleaning them up. The bitch will happily help out here. By about four weeks of age the puppies should be having several small meals a day, including a variety of meat and cereal foods, as well as milk.
From porridge to puppy food.
Once their eyes are open and they are truly up on their feet, the puppies will start to clamber out of the whelping box. This is when you should begin the socializing process. By the time the puppies are twenty-eight days old they should all have been properly wormed and their nails trimmed. They should have been gently handled by all members of the family and given lots of opportunities to run around and play with plenty of challenging toys.
A newborn puppy, just a few hours old.
By the time the puppies are eight weeks old, they will have been weaned from their mother and will be ready to move on to their new homes. Your bitch will once again be fit and well, having done all she can to give her puppies a good, healthy start.