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GENETIC DEFECTS AND BREEDING PRACTICES IN THE LABRADOR RETRIEVER
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Labrador Statistics from 1870 to 2004
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.Further reading:
THE MATING (with photos)
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Medical Checks before Breeding

You must make sure the bitch and the stud both are free from brucellosis before breeding them. Brucellosis causes eventual sterility in both sexes (sometimes non-obviously) and can cause a litter of puppies to be aborted or die shortly after birth. In addition, brucellosis is on occasion transmissible to humans via the urine or feces of an affected dog. Between dogs, it is most commonly passed in sexual intercourse, although an entire kennel can be infected through contact with secretions.

The sire should be in excellent general health. The dam must be in good health, to withstand the stresses and rigors of a pregnancy. They must both be up to date on their vaccinations.
 

Frequency of Breeding

Ideally, a bitch should only be bred every other year and she should not be bred much before two years of age. The season closest to the second birthday is a good one to start with; certainly no earlier than this. In some breeds, you may need to wait one more season before beginning. By this time, she is better prepared mentally for having puppies than she would have been with her first few seasons. Her physical growth is complete and pregnancy at this point won't endanger her health, provided that she is healthy to begin with.
In breeds with Hip Dysplasia, many people wait until after two years of age so that the parents can be certified; however if you have sent in xrays to OFA for preliminary evaluation and they came back as fine, many breeders consider it safe enough to then breed on the season closest to the second year, which can wind up being before the bitch is actually old enough to be certified. (And when the bitch is old enough, she is, of course, duly certified.) But the preliminary xrays must be examined by OFA, not by a local veterinarian. There are many dysplastic dogs out there that had vets look at their xrays and pronounce them "wonderful."
It's important, however, to keep the frequency of breeding low. Even at maximum, you want to allow at least one unbred season between breedings. This allows your bitch to rest and regain her strength. A bitch that whelps too often will produce weaker puppies more likely to die, and the repeated pregnancies are pretty rough on her, too.
For dogs, they should definitely have all their certifications necessary. For many breeds this means that they should be over two years old. Since a dog can be bred at any time, unlike bitches, waiting for two years is not a problem, whereas a bitch often has a season just before two years of age and then has to wait until 2.5 or three which sometimes presents problems in trying to time her litters. But this does not apply to a stud dog, so he should definitely have all of his checks and certifications before being bred. Frequency is not generally a problem although some dogs have problems with sperm production if they breed once a day for several days. They need top-quality feeding and care if they are going to be bred often

Considerations for Stud Dogs

First, remember that it is extremely difficult to come up with a top quality stud dog that people want to use. After all, they will look around and pick out the best male they can find. So your dog has to be pretty impressive to be noticed in the competition.
Your male should be in top condition. He should be certified clear of joint problems (and in many cases that means he has to be at least two years old). His eyes should be checked annually. He should be clear of any abnormalities common to his breed. No heart problems, no seizures, no thyroid problems, etc. He should be clear of brucellosis. His temperament should be good, and appropriate for his breed. If you have such a dog, you will need to get your dog well known. This generally involves showing your dog (in show, field, or obedience) and doing other work with him. An unproven dog (that has no previous puppies or only puppies too young to evaluate) will command a much lower stud dog fee than a proven dog (with a record of puppies to examine).
You must be prepared to board the bitch. The common procedure is for the bitch to be shipped out to stud, so you will need facilities to board bitches in heat. These facilities should be adequate for up to a week of boarding and to prevent any mismating. You might wind up with more than one bitch at a time -- can you board them all safely?
You must monitor the mating and be ready to intervene if necessary. Not all dogs or bitches understand what to do, especially if it is the first time for one or the other. It can be disastrous if two dogs are left alone to mate. Additionally, if the mating doesn't take, are you prepared to go through the whole thing again the next time the bitch comes into season? Typical contracts call for free repeat breeding in the case two or less puppies occur or the breeding doesn't take.
You need to be able to evalate the bitch's pedigree for compatibility with your dog's. Any good points or bad points of the litter are (rightly or not) attributed to the sire, so your dog's reputation is at stake with each litter he sires. You should be reasonably confident that the proposed breeding will result in good puppies.
If the owner of the bitch is a novice, are you prepared to assist with advice on whelping and puppy care? These people will expect you to have the answers. Sometimes entire litters of puppies are dumped on the stud dog owner when the bitch's owners can no longer cope with them because they didn't realize what a responsibility caring for a litter involved. Are you ready to take care of and place your dog's offspring if this should happen to you?
Are you prepared to deal with cases where you are certain your dog is not the sire of the puppies but the bitch's owner insists that he is? Or if the owner of the bitch insists that you must have allowed a mismating to occur when she was boarded with you? Disputes of this sort can become very ugly very quickly.
 

Prewhelping preparations

You should have a sturdy, clean, proper sized whelping box for the litter. It MUST include a "pig rail" around the edge to prevent the bitch from laying on or smashing her pups. It should be big enought to allow the bitch to turn around but small enough to prevent the pups from being "lost" in the unused portions. About six inches longer than she is, fore and aft, when laying prone (as in suckling her puppies) and about a foot on either side length wise.
To get the whelping box ready for your bitch, get a sheet of plastic, such as you would use for painting a ceiling to protect the floor. Cut it up into several pieces the size of the whelping box. Put one piece of plastic down, several layers of newspaper, another piece of plastic, more layers of newspaper and so on for four or five layers. Then when your bitch is whelping puppies, you can roll off a layer when it gets messy -- and it will! -- and throw it away to instantly clean the whelping box.

Care of the Pregnant or Nursing Bitch

You should make sure the bitch is up-to-date on all her vaccinations, medications, and shots before she is bred.
She should be under the care of a vet for any related problems. Dogs can have miscarriages. Illnesses, diseases, or infestations that the bitch picks up during her pregnancy can affect the puppies. Difficulties during whelping are entirely possible, and the rule for some breeds. You must be prepared to get her to the vet quickly in an emergency.
There are instances of "mummy puppies" where you have a puppy whose development went awry, but it was not aborted. Instead, it dries and shrivels up, and when born, looks like a mummified puppy, blackened and ready to rot. Overbreeding and inadequate care are usually the causes. It is quite likely that the dam will come down with an infected uterus after such a puppy. "Water puppies" are another type of problem in which the dead puppy appears to have never properly developed a skeleton and appears to be full of gelatin. This seems to be linked to a viral exposure.
Other congenital (but not genetic) defects can include: no anus, cleft palates and hare lips. These conditions require corrective surgery or the puppy will die.

Feeding the Pregnant Bitch

It is not necessarily required to change the food a Lab is eating should she become pregnant. However, 4-5 weeks into the pregnancy the puppies will begin to undergo the most rapid development and will begin drawing required nutrients from the dam if the demands of their nutritional requirements exceed the level of nutrients in her diet. One way to increase the dam's nutrient intake is to increase the amount of food she is being fed. One drawback to this is that the growing pups will be taking up more abdominal space, therefore, excess food in her stomach may cause her discomfort and she may refuse to eat. To prevent this, the total amount of food is increased but divided into small portions and fed more frequently. Since many bitches also have problems with upset stomach during the pregnancy due to increased stomach acidity, the more frequent feedings will help to reduce this upset, as well. We will increase by 1 to 2 cups per day between the 5th and 9th week of the pregnancy (that's a total of 5 to 6 cups per day since our adults get a total of 4 cups per day for a normal feeding). By the last two weeks of the pregnancy, our bitches are usually eating about 8 times per day (about 3/4 of a cup at a time). No vitamin supplementation or calcium supplementation during pregnancy is required. Alternatively, some breeders will feed puppy-food (which is higher in vitamins, protein, and calories) to the dam during the pregnancy. In this way, the food content need not be increased.
Occassionally, as whelping draws near, the dam may refuse solid food. This may be one indication that whelping is imminent within the next 24-48 hours. However, if the dam begins to refuse solid food prior to the last week of her pregnancy, one can attempt to entice her to eat by grinding the solid food in a blender and then mixing it with warm water to make a gruel. Though other foods such as canned food, cat food, or table scraps may present a more palatable temptation, gastrointestinal upset may occur as a result of substituting these other foods and may only encourage her loss of appetite.
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Delivery

The gestation period (pregnancy) for dogs is approximately 63 days, plus or minus about 5 days. Because there is such a wide margin for delivery and because most of the deliveries here have begun during the early hours of the morning, during the final week of the pregnancy we place a baby monitor beside the whelping box at night so that we can hear any activity. Usually, our girls whelp around day 60 but we look for other signs that whelping may be imminent, as well. Such signs usually appear within twenty-four hours of delivery. The mother-to-be will be restless and dig at the blankets in her whelping box, or dig holes in the garden (nesting). She may refuse to eat or she will vomit and have diarrhea. Additionally, her body temperature will drop to about 99 degrees just prior to giving birth (normal temperature is about 101.8 degrees). Once labor begins, "mom" will pant and sometimes moan. Eventually, moans will be replaced by grunts which coincide with uterine contractions. These can be felt if one places his hands on the abdomen of the bitch.

Puppies are born enclosed in an amniotic sac. An umbilical cord is attached to the placenta which in turn is attached to the uterine wall of the bitch. Usually, each puppy will be associated with one placenta. Normally, puppies are born head-first and each delivery will be followed by a placenta. Though many bitches are perfectly capable of delivering without any assistance, we like to be standing by just in case there may be complications. Even when present, however, we will not usually assist until we think the bitch requires assistance. For example, if she shows no interest in tearing open the sac or if we feel it is taking too long then we will tear it open ourself. We do not usually tie off cords, but we do "cut" cords. We will supervise the bitch as she crushes and tears the cord to ensure that she does not accidently injure the pup. Usually we will hold the puppy and grasp the cord providing a counter pull to prevent potential hernia. If the bitch is unable to crush and tear the cord, then we will cut it ourself. If the cord is accidently severed too close to the pup then we will tie it off with a little bit of suture material or embroidery thread to prevent bleeding. Additionally, we do stimulate my bitches to eat the placentas, at least two or three of them. It is, however, important to keep count of all the placentas to ensure that none have been retained. Once the puppy is born, we will assess its condition. If it is screeching and indignant, then we will allow the bitch to clean it herself. If, however, it appears sluggish, weak, or lifeless then we will attempt to resuscitate the puppy. First, we will rub it vigorously with a towel. If there appears to be mucus or fluid in its nose and mouth, we will hold the puppy, belly up, in a towel above our head and then swing it in a downward arc so that centrifugal force causes the fluid to be expelled. If the puppy is still not breathing, then we will lightly blow air into its nostrils.

The duration of the whelping is dependent on many factors including the number and size of puppies. In a normal delivery without complications, puppies can be delivered anywhere from 10 minutes or as much as 2 hours apart. The uterus of the canine is Y-shaped, with the tail of the "Y" forming the cervix and the V-shaped portion of the "Y" forming the two horns of the uterus extending along either side of the abdomen. Usually, the puppies occupying one horn of the uterus will be delivered first then puppies occupying the other horn will follow. As a result of this, there may be an interlude where the bitch will not deliver any puppies for up to 2 hours. This actually allows the new "mom" a brief reprieve where she can have a drink of water and be allowed outside to relieve herself. Walking the bitch may also help in speeding up contractions of the second uterine horn, as well. When walking our girls during labor, we will bring a towel and a flashlight (if it's dark outside) in case a pup happens to be born outside.

In between deliveries, newborns are allowed to nurse. This is important for two reasons: first, it is essential that each puppy ingest "colostrum" which is secreted from the mammary glands immediately after birth and which is rich in maternal antibodies and will protect the pups from infection until they develop their own immunity, and second, nursing increases uterine contractions and helps to speed up delivery. Once contractions start to come closer together indicating that another puppy is on its way into the world, we remove the newborns from the whelping box, put them in a laundry basket lined with towels, and place the laundry basket close to the whelping box. This prevents the newborns from getting stepped on when "mom" stretches out or moves around while having the contractions.

Puppies cannot hear or see at birth, however, they are born with a strong "rooting" instinct to latch-on and nurse. Time of eye opening is usually 10 to 14 days following birth but can be as late as 16 days, particularly in litters born prematurely. Birth weight is also dependent on many factors and varies widely from litter to litter with weights ranging from 5 ounces to greater than 16 ounces in some cases.

Unlike the black puppies which are born with black skin pigment, the yellow puppies in a litter are born without any skin pigment and as a result have pink noses, pads, and bellies. Black pigment gradually begins to appear within 3-7 days following birth. Some yellows take up to 14 weeks to acquire complete pigmentation.
 

Postwhelping

After the puppies are born, there are many strategies for lining the whelping box. Some people continue to use newspapers, but puppies get pretty dirty from both newspaper print and feces. Other people have had success with synthetic materials on top of absorbent materials: the synthetic material provides secure footing, but the urine and other liquids pass through it to leave it dry. Other people use pine shavings (about six inches deep). You will do a lot of laundering to keep things clean no matter what you use. You will also have to clean the feces out of the whelping box after your bitch decides that's no longer her job.
Newborn puppies MUST be kept warm. The temperature in the whelping box at birth should be 90 F. The temperature can then be decreased 2 degrees every other day. NEVER FEED A CHILLED PUPPY!!! If a puppy becomes chilled it will cry continually and it will tuck its tail between its little legs. A healthy, happy, litter will "purr" like a swarm of bees and when feeding their tails will be straight out from their bodies. Warm any chilled puppy by putting the puppy under your shirt and under your armpit. The best method of warming a puppy is to use a special whelping box heating pad with a towel over it to prevent soiling the pad. Make sure the temerature does not go too high. Heating lamps are ok but puppies can become dehydrated. If the litter clumps together and cries, they are too cold; if they separate and try to hide under shade, they are too hot.
Large litters will require supplemental feedings if you want all the puppies to survive. Your bitch may not be able to care for a very large litter. You will need to get the pups rotating on shifts. For the first two weeks you may have to supplement as much as every four hours. Use a good prepared milk-supplement especially formulated for puppies. If you get in a bind you can use a goat-milk recipe available in most books about breeding and whelping pups. Never tube feed pups that will not suckle from a bottle!
If you have a purebred litter, you must record the date of birth and all of the pups in your record book. Then you will need to fill out and send in your litter registration form. You want to do this as soon as possible, since many registries can take up to 6 weeks to return the forms for individual registration to you (which you will want to give to your puppy buyers later).
You will have to keep the whelping box clean. For the first two weeks the bitch will keep the pups pretty clean, but the bedding should be changed twice a day at minimum. Starting week three, the pups start to eliminate some on their own, then you will need to clean much more often!
At four weeks, the pups usually become very active and it this time may require a larger area then the welping box...you will need a large ex-pen or some way of confining them safely. You do have a place to keep them that they are safe in and can't destroy? Puppies at this stage can devastate a room or garage in hours.
At week four or five you will probably want to introduce the pups to weaning food. Usually you will have to mush up the dry puppy food for the pups to be able to eat it. Use warm water and let the food stand in a bowl for about 2 hours.
At week six you should vaccination and worm the pups, and have them checked for heartmurmers, hernias, males for testicles (yes you should be able to feel them at 6 weeks!), deafness, and eye problems.
You should be socializing now too... And are you going to do any puppy testing for temperaments? At seven weeks you should be calling up those people with deposits on your pups and getting your paper work all sorted out. How about pictures of the pups for your clients?
And this is just if everything goes perfectly! What happens if one of the pups has a heart murmer, or a hernia? What about a deaf puppy? What if your whole litter gets parvo or distemper? What happens if one of the pups is affected with "swimmer-puppy" syndrome? What about fading-puppy syndrome? What happens if your bitch gets an infection or mastitis? What if she dies?

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