The foundation of a healthy dog comes from healthy parents. While vitality can be enhanced at any age or stage of life, when planning a litter we want our breeding dogs to be in optimal health. In this post, I’m going to talk a little about how I prepared Kes for pregnancy.
As just a quick aside, I’d like to highlight that Kes has already proven herself to be an exceptionally useful and talented farm dog. She’s had her hips x-rayed and her eyes certified clear. She’s also a lot of fun in agility, although we’ve never really explored her career in that sport. She’s trialed in both herding and agility, but mostly Kes excels at farm work. We’ve decided to breed her primarily for this reason, in addition to her bombproof temperament and lovely structure.
Kes is 7.5 years old, which is a bit older than ideal for a first litter. I recognize that there are some potential concerns and made sure to consult with a vet experienced with breeding. This vet told me that the primary concern would be whether or not Kes could conceive in the first place, followed by an increased likelihood of needing a cesarian section to deliver. She also noted that Kes is in extraordinary shape for a dog of her age (of any age) and that, in her professional opinion, the concerns were minimal.
Bottom line: if Kes can get pregnant, she should be able to carry to term and deliver without any trouble.
Knowing I was planning to breed this winter, I kept an eye like a hawk on Kes’s health all year. I will admit that I wasn’t thrilled with the condition of her coat and found her also to be a bit too thin, despite her voracious appetite.
Three years ago Kes figured out how to get into the chicken feed and became quite ill as a result. She is grain sensitive and developed extremely itchy skin, digestive upset, and neurotic behaviour. When I figured out what was going on and moved the feed, her symptoms clear up but her health never fully bounced back.
Another aside: As a Natural Rearing breeder, my definition of a healthy dog is held to a standard well above what many observe. The vet who examined Kes, for example, did so when I considered her to be not at her optimal. Yet this vet pronounced Kes to be in perfect health.
As her impending heat cycle approached, I worked to get Kes into a condition I felt suitable for breeding. I wormed her herbally at 6 months prior, and again 3 months ago. I don’t normally worm without evidence of infestations, but given that she was having trouble gaining weight I wanted to rule out the possibility of parasites. Even though I use herbs, worming can still be stressful to the body and so I did so well before breeding.
I also upped Kes’s food intake and ensured she always had the best nutrition possible. She was always fed first (ok, after Ross the Boss) and I explored various sources of raw food until I found one I was really happy with.
I have never found a commercially prepared raw food that I have been satisfied with, and so I mix my own. My challenge has been to find good sources and variety of meat, organs, tripe and bones. I then put these together in various combinations, and tweak as my dogs show their need.
Slowly Kes gained weight and coat condition, however I still felt that she could be more vibrant. I tried treating her homoeopathically, and again saw small improvements, but still felt she was only at about 80% of where she could be. She was chronically about two pounds underweight, and her coat always felt just slightly dry yet oily.
I then decided to put her on a probiotic supplement. Well duh! Why didn’t I think of that sooner? The chicken feed had likely damaged her gut lining and I should have considered that she needed some support for her gut ecology in the aftermath.
Within a couple of weeks of starting the probiotics (a commercial product from my local pet store), she bloomed. She has since grown a whole new coat – soft, fluffy, and clean feeling – and put on those last couple of pounds that have been eluding us all these months.
Finally, on top of all the physical, I focused on Kes’s mental and emotional state. From what I’ve learned through Puppy Culture, keeping a bitch happy, calm, and feeling spoiled and special actually contributes to happier, calmer, and more confident puppies!
And so in the past few months I’ve let Kes take over as lead chore dog (much to Hannah’s discontent – but she’ll get to do all the work while Kes raises her brood). I also gave her a special bed of her own, upstairs in the bedrooms, instead of in a crate in the kitchen with the youngsters.
Every day I fuss over her and stroke her belly. I tell her what a wonderful dog she is, what a great mummy she’s going to be, and how much we’d love to have little Kessies running around.
It’s fun to fuss over my hardworking girl, who has spent most of her years quietly on the edges of my pack. She’s loving it too.
Going into her breeding last week, I feel that Kes is in the best condition she’d been in for several years, and certainly is her happiest. Under ideal conditions, I’d keep her on this regime for another 6 months (until her next heat cycle) before breeding. But given how much work it is to raise a litter, summer puppies don’t work for me or the farm. And if I wait until next winter she’ll be 8.5.
So now is the hour! I’m going to carry on with the probiotics throughout her pregnancy (I checked with two vets, both of whom approved), and of course will maintain her on a high quality, plentiful diet. I believe that if I continue to support her heart, mind, and body, she will do the rest to produce a happy, healthy litter.