Caring for your Brood Bitch
If you are a serious breeder, you will understand that your brood bitch is one of the most important assets to your breeding program. Having a well bred, successful race bitch to breed on from is every breeder’s aim. Keeping her fit and healthy, and treating her as you would your prize race dog is necessary if you are going to breed potential superstars. Neglect her, or her health, and you find that when it comes to breeding time, you have created a problem that may seriously affect your chances of breeding a successful litter.
Monitoring seasons and cycles
Even if you do not plan to mate your bitch at her next season, you really should be monitoring and recording each ‘heat’ cycle so that you have a good idea of when to expect her to ‘come in’ and how long her normal cycle lasts. Every year we see a number of accidental matings where a breeder or owner has simply left a brood bitch in a run with a dog and not bothered to check her regularly. Next thing she is whelping a litter!! These unplanned pups are simply a result of human neglect – failing to check the bitch regularly, and putting her at risk of pregnancy by having her with an entire dog. A good breeder would never let this happen.
If you are checking regularly, you should notice the first signs of the season, in fact many astute breeders will tell you that they can detect changes in behaviour – both in the bitch and in the dogs around her – weeks before she comes into season. They then know to watch even more closely for the swelling and bleeding that indicates the start of the season. If you are not sure what to look for ask your vet or an experienced breeder to show you what to look for. A bitch is usually ready to mate around Day 10 of her cycle (although this can vary) so a mismating suggests you have failed to check her properly, and not just for a day or two.
‘But my Brood Bitches are at the farm…’
Just because you choose to house your brood bitches off-site, does not mean that you can just forget about them. You may need to regularly visit her to make sure she is up to date with all of the preventative treatments (such as worming and flea control) and is in tip-top shape at all times. Making sure the people who are responsible for caring for her when you are not there have the same goals and level of care that you would provide will mean when it comes time to mate her, you have the best chance of success.
So what does a brood bitch need to stay healthy and fit?
Many owners and breeders have one or more brood bitches that they plan to breed at some time in the future. Often they are not at the front of the person’s mind until such time as they are on season, or a breeding has been planned or semen purchased. Suddenly there is a mad rush to get the bitch back in good condition, to feed her properly, and to get her in pup. Sadly, this does not optimise the bitch’s chances of producing a healthy, strong litter of pups that can grow to be winners in their own right.
Your brood bitch needs to receive as good a level of care as your race dogs – good food, regular parasite control and vaccinations, exercise and activity.
Over time the body needs to be provided with all of the nutrients necessary for healthy bones, muscles, and everyday function. An adult greyhound can cope with some nutritional deficiencies in the short term, but this will quickly deplete vital stores within the body. If your brood bitch’s diet is not good, she will probably be short of some of these nutrients and this may affect her ability to cycle properly, conceive, and gestate a litter of pups to the point of whelping.
A good example of a vital nutrient that can become depleted is calcium. A diet that is mildly deficient in calcium will not lead to any major problems in the short term in an adult greyhound, but over time will lead to a gradual re-sorption of calcium stores from the bones, leaving them brittle and weakened. In the brood bitch, calcium is needed to help grow the skeletons of the puppies and it also is involved in muscle contraction during the birth and milk production once the puppies are born. If the bitch is fed a deficient diet, she could have trouble during the delivery and end up needing a caesarean, or may not be able to feed her pups properly. There is also a condition called ‘eclampsia’ which is an emergency calcium deficiency that can quickly kill a bitch – often when the pups are about 1-2 weeks old. Well fed bitches rarely suffer eclampsia unless they have a very large litter and no calcium supplementation is given. More likely it is a bitch that has been eating a largely meat based diet for quite some time.
Ideally a brood bitch should be fed a complete and balanced diet all the time to keep her body stores fully stocked. She should not be allowed to get too fat or too thin as this also affects her ability to get in whelp and birth pups. If you are not sure that what you are feeding is right, speak to your greyhound vet about a recommended diet to keep your brood bitch in top condition.
Parasite Control –
Control of parasites, both internal and external, needs to continue regularly. External parasites such as fleas can lead to anaemia and tape worm infestation – neither of which are ideal in a broodbitch. Internally, intestinal worms need to be kept under control to ensure optimum health, and to stop a large part of the bitch’s diet being used up feeding these parasites. Worms are passed to the puppies via the milk, so making sure your breeding bitch is regularly wormed means there will be less worms transmitted to the puppies in those first few weeks.
The immunity that is passed onto puppies in the first few days of life is critical for survival. A bitch’s immune system can only pass on immunity if it has been stimulated previously and has had time to build anti-bodies (for example it takes 7-14 days after a vaccination is given to detect any anti-body response). Keeping vaccines up to date ensures pups get plenty of early immunity to diseases that might otherwise lead to illness or death of the pups. Most veterinarians recommend that a bitch is not vaccinated whilst pregnant, so it is too late to think about boosting your bitch’s immunity once she has been mated. These days there are many vaccines out there, some that even last for 3 years – so speak to your vet about which you should be using on your brood bitch.
Brood bitches need to remain fit and active. Regular galloping exercise, or a walk around the block or up the road on the leash can help keep her fitness up, and provide an outlet for any excess energy. It also keeps her mind active, and regularly exposes her to events and happenings she may not see at home or in the kennels. A relaxed and fit bitch is better able to push puppies out, and is less likely to be stressed about trips to the vet, or visitors than a bitch that only sees the one person who cleans out her run each day.
Remember: the bitch can influence the temperament of the puppies, both genetically, and through early experience, so a calm, relaxed bitch is much better than a skittish one. Making sure that she has regular outings and meets a variety of people can help her remain calmer during the stressful time of a litter.