Testing BEFORE Breeding Take this exam and see if your bitch makes the grade.

By: D. Caroline Coile, Ph.D.

Do you suffer from test anxiety? If so, dog breeding isn’t to you. Before boy meets girl there’s a whole lot of testing going on, Can you pass the pre-breeding Final Exam?

Bitches 101: The Final Exam


My bitch has had a veterinary exam to ensure she is healthy enough to carry a litter.

Carrying a litter can he stressful on joints, heart, and any diseased organs. A pre-breeding examination should include a heart check, intestinal parasite and heartworm check (in most areas), a chemistry panel, and thyroid screen. Tests for diseases endemic to certain areas may also be advisable.

A breeder’s first obligation is to the health of the dam. If you can’ accept bad news and make the responsible decision, you shouldn’t he breeding dogs. “I remember a client who was incensed when she presented he young German Shepherd Dog for a pre-breeding exam, and I found a murmur in her heart,” recalls veterinarian and breeder Jo-Ann Van Arsdale, DVM, of Royal Oaks, Calif. “When I told her the hitch should never be bred and might not live much longer, she rode out of my office in a 1975 Snit. I never saw her again.”


My bitch has been tested for hereditary health problems in her breed.

Although not every hereditary health problem has a specific test, if one is available and suggested for your breed, your hitch should he tested. The results of some tests, such as DNA tests, last a lifetime. Others, such as heart – and many eye tests, must he repeated – as the dog ages.

But which tests? Testing can be expensive, and it’s unreasonable to test for diseases that don’t occur in your breed. Your veterinarian may be able to advise you, but can’t be expected to know every breed’s problems. Many breed parent clubs have health committees that make testing recommendations. A good information source for many breeds is the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) at www.caninehealthinfo.org


My bitch’s reproductive system is healthy and normal.

Your bitch should he examined for abnormalities that might interfere with breeding or whelping naturally, such as bands of fibrous tissue that sometimes extend across the vaginal canal. A digital examination by an experienced veterinarian is most easily done when the bitch is in proestrus or estrus. Any abnormal vaginal discharges must also be investigated.

Breeder Chris Walkowicz, of Sherrard, Ill., coauthored the popular textSuccessful Dog Breeding: Time Complete Handbook of Canine Midwifery. She points out that every contemplated breeding must consider past breedings. “It’s important to know the background – the reproductive history of the bitch, including numbers of pups, Caesarean sections and so on.” Past problems suggest that more extensive examinations are needed.


My bitch does not have any potentially sexually transmitted diseases.

Because brucellosis can destroy a dog’s breeding future, many stud owners insist on a brucellosis test before accepting a bitch for natural breeding. Just because your bitch is a virgin doesn’t mean she can’t have brucellosis; it transmitted not only through sexual contact, but also through ingestion of bacteria. The good news is that brucellosis is not a major problem in dogs, and testing requires only a quick blond test. A negative test result confirms the dog is brucellosis free, but a positive result requires additional testing confirming an infection.

Some stud owners also insist on vaginal cultures. Most bitches naturally harbor a variety of vaginal micro-organisms, however, so cultures are seldom helpful. “I don’t do them unless there is a suspicion of a problem,” says Van Arsdale. “If they are deemed necessary they must be done with a specialized tool kit. The sample must be taken from the anterior vagina and not contaminated by the posterior vagina, hence the need for the special kit.”

Transmissible venereal tumors are most common in tropical populations of free-roaming dogs, but they can occur anywhere. They are spread by sexual contact or by licking affected genitals. They appear as masses around the vulva and vagina, or less commonly on the mucus membranes of the nose or eyes.


My bitch has what it takes to produce offspring that can do the job planned for them.

It’s easy to assume your bitch could excel at various endeavors if you’ve never tested her in them. But could she really? Not every Labrador Retriever is guide-dog material, not every Siberian Husky is mushing material, and not every dog is even companion material.

Other dogs must meet more stringent requirements. For example, Van Arsdale’s own dogs are coursing Salukis that hunt live game, requiring them to gallop for great distances. Such athletic endeavors require healthy hearts, so she regularly tests her dogs’ cardiac function with Doppler cardiac ultrasounds administered by a board-certified cardiologist. “I’ve been following them for years and for multiple generations. The ultimate test they must pass is the test of high-level competition, hunting live traditional game on traditional terrain.”

Bonus Question:


My bitch is ready to be bred.

Poorly timed breedings are the main cause of missed litters. Vaginal smears are better than calendar dates for determining breeding dates, but they are far from perfect. “I don’t use vaginal swabs unless the owner really wants one,” says Van Arsdale. “I prefer the digital exam of the vaginal vault, which can give a lot of information to a veterinarian that does a lot of reproductive work. First you can test for ring strictures and other problems, and after examining about 2,000 hitches you can feel when the vagina is ready for the dog. The vaginal vault will feel slightly calloused with very tiny ridges on the mucosa. It will be easy to initiate vaginal contractions with proper stimulation. This is due to the cornification of the squamous cells, so I depend on my hands rather than the vaginal smear.” Of course, sometimes science takes a back seat to nature. Van Arsdale admits: “When an experienced stud dog tells me a bitch is ready, I believe him.”

Progesterone tests have made determining ovulation easy. Van Arsdale especially recommends them for breeds that have difficulty mating or whelping naturally. “In my opinion, the most difficult dog to reproduce is the Bulldog,” she says. “Since they can’t breed naturally in 90 percent of the cases and require C-sections, all my Bulldog clients use progesterone timing to determine the date of ovulation, then artificial insemination in one form or another, and a scheduled Caesarean section 63 days from the date of ovulation. We get a lot more live, healthy Bulldog pups that way.”

Progesterone tests aren’t just important for Bulldogs. Walkowicz, a breeder of Bearded Collies and German Shepherd Dogs, is adamant about their value. “I would not accept a bitch in to breed to my stud without the progesterone test. Nor would I breed one of my own without them. That’s how important I think they are.”

Put down your pencil. Time is up. Did you pass?

Give yourself 20 points for each “True” answer. Bonus question adds 10 points.

0-20: Fail: Are you sure you’re really in this class? 
21-40: Fail: You haven’t done your homework. 
41-60: Fail: Go back and read the assignments. 
61-80: Fail: Getting warmer; try again on the make-up exam. 
81-100: Pass! Best of luck with your new puppies! 
101-110: You graduate with honors!

D. Caroline Coile, Ph.D., is a lecturer in neuroscience and behavioral genetics, and serves on the AKC CHF President’s Council. Her champion Salukis compete in conformation, obedience, and lure coursing, and she’s authored 29 books.

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