Dogs on heat and mating
Last week I was asked a couple of pertinent questions about mating. Now I know we’re in the middle of the ‘silly season’ but I can assure you that although this first question may come across as funny to some, it is nevertheless a topic that troubles some pet owners and so deserves explanation. The question I was asked relates to mixed blood in the litter:
Q: My two-year-old pure breed female Labrador was previously mated by a German Pointer and they had a cross-breed litter. If I now have my Labrador mated by a pure breed Labrador, will the puppies be pure or could they have Pointer blood?
A: Firstly, let me state from the outset that there is no way that any male genes from a previous mating can be retained within the female dog and transposed to a subsequent mating. So, to answer this question, there will be no Pointer blood from the mating of the first litter tainting the next litter, and all the puppies of the second litter would be pure if mating was done with another pure Labrador.
However, this very much depends on how careful pet owners are with their female dog when she is on heat. Bitches usually have a number of puppies in their litter, but if a bitch has mated more than once during the same heat and one or more of those matings happened with other breeds, then the resulting litter could very well include a mix of pure breed puppies and cross-breed offspring.
For example, if this client had her bitch mated with another pure Labrador and then, accidentally or intentionally, permitted a mating with a Doberman, half the puppies could be pure Labradors and half could be Labrador Doberman crosses all in the same litter.
This takes us to another common misconception (excuse the pun) where the visible cycle manifested in the bitch is called a ‘period’ instead of a ‘heat’. Of course, this use of terminology originates from the manifest cycle in women; however, the difference between a ‘period’ and a ‘heat’ could not be more contrasting.
The heat in bitches corresponds to the ovulation part of their cycle, that is, when the egg is leaving the ovary, and corresponds to the most fertile part of the female cycle. In contrast, the period in women corresponds to a cleaning out of the uterus and is the least fertile part of the female cycle. So, coming back to the canine species, another very relevant question that I was asked a couple of days ago relates to the timing of dog mating:
Q: I would like to mate my Cocker Spaniel and I was told that the best day for this is the 11th and 12th day of her heat. Is this correct?
A: The quick answer is ‘not quite’. We have established that the heat in bitches corresponds to the fertile part of the cycle; this fertility peaks at approximately 48 hours after the bleeding stops. As the bleeding very often lasts nine days, this means the best time for mating would be the 11th and 12th day.
But it doesn’t always happen like that. Sometimes you encounter a bitch whose bleeding time is shorter than nine days; you may find another whose bleeding time is longer. You might find a female dog where you are not quite sure what is happening as the bleeding starts and stops erratically. So how would you handle such a situation?
It is very important to know that the female bitch will accept the male dog only when she is at the peak of her fertility; this is very important as I have heard many stories of situations where the bitch would not accept the male and the owner tried time and again to force the mating at a particular time that was unsuitable for the bitch.
The best way to go about it is to start counting from when the bleeding stops. You would normally take the female to the male every second day after the bleeding has stopped, and the following day that mating has been successful. Remember to keep a record of the date as this will come in very handy when you take your bitch to your vet for its check-up.
You should do this at about four weeks from mating for a pregnancy diagnosis, which is done by palpation, ultrasound, and/or a specific blood test, and to begin the management of your bitch’s pregnancy in preparation for a successful whelping and litter.
Dr Martin Debattista is a veterinary surgeon.