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The Female Dogs' Reproduction Cycle: Bleeding, Stages, Behaviour, Mating and Pregnancy

Some female dogs will allow a male to mount as early as day 1 of bleeding. I have observed female dogs being receptive at day 1 and males being so interested that they will mate naturally with the female on day 1. Any experienced breeder would understand that day 1 is very often way too early for a pregnancy to occur. Most females will let a male mount in the lead up to and once they have ovulated; for around 7-9 days during the Estrus stage.

The best way to calculate and navigate a dog’s heat cycle is with progesterone testing. This is a simple blood test that some vets will send away to a pathologist and have the result back in 12 hours or so. Reproduction specialists vets offer in-house progesterone testing with the result ready in 1.5-2 hours, this can be invaluable if she is nearing the end of her fertile window. Sometimes you don’t have 12 – 24 hours spare to wait for the result to come back from a pathologist.

Finding a reproduction specialist vet that does in-house progesterone testing is key. 

What are the 4 stages of a dog in heat?

When female dogs get their period, they go through four stages in their cycle. These are called proestrus, estrus, diestrus, and anestrus. They are most fertile during the 3 days of the estrus phase, approximately 2 days post ovulation.

Breeders that don’t do progesterone testing or those that don’t start progesterone testing early enough in their dog’s cycle, risk mating or inseminating their dog during the diestrus stage.

During diestrus the bitch might still be receptive to the male but she will have a dwindling number of ageing eggs, if any at all. Breeding during diestrus is not recommended because you risk having a small litter; potentially one puppy which is not ideal and can cause problems during birth.

How long do stages of dog heat last?

The proestrus phase usually lasts around 9 days. The estrus phase, another 9 days and diestrus around 4 days. Anestrus is the longest phase of the heat cycle and is the time between estrus and the next proestrus, which is usually around 5 months. Bitches in anestrus are usually not receptive to males mounting them; their ovaries are inactive and their uterus is small.

If the quality and motility of the stud’s semen is acceptable and the mating is performed at correct time: the number of eggs a bitch releases determines the litter size.

Larger dogs are able to carry more puppies, they tend to have larger litters. By utilising AI, our poodle studs have produced litters consisting of as many as 12 to 15 puppies with breeds like labradors, labradoodles, groodles, spaniels and standard poodles.

Does AI produce smaller litters than natural matings?

It is a myth that artificial insemination produces less puppies than a natural mating. Our biggest litters have been with larger dogs, that we have inseminated on-site or at our local reproduction specialist vet. An artificial insemination done by an experienced vet or breeder emulates the natural mating process and offers the added advantage of examining the semen for any abnormalities or poor quality before inseminating.

What is the best way to mate a dog?

Size

The best way to mate a dog will depend on the features and traits of the female and male you are intending to breed. Compatibility in terms of size is perhaps the most important predictor of whether or not you will be able to attempt a natural mating.

You should never breed a female to a male that is significantly larger than her; doing so might result in birthing difficulties, ultimately requiring an emergency caesarean.

Temperament

Secondly, consider the temperament of the female. Some females become aggressive during their cycle (due to raised progesterone levels). About 5% of females will not allow a male near them, let alone to mount them. These females find artificial insemination less stressful but for a small proportion of females, they need to be sedated by a vet to perform the insemination.

Safety

When mating dogs, it is important to supervise them and to hold them during the tie, to prevent injury to either dog.

Dogs can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours to mate. Sometimes maiden bitches take time to feel comfortable and to relax enough to stand for the male to mount. We have a large outdoor area, where the dogs can play and get to know each other, before mating.

When a dog falls pregnant after a mating, depends on when the dog is mated in her cycle and what stage she is at. Sperm has been found alive in the female dog’s reproductive tract for up to 10 days post mating. Therefore, she could fall pregnant as late as 10 days after the mating.

Progesterone testing allows us to determine when ovulation occurs. We can then ensure we are delivering the maximum amount of fresh, quality sperm to the cervix, when the eggs are mature, approximately 48 hours after ovulation occurs.

Putting sperm in too early, means the sperm is waiting around for the eggs to ripen and some will be tired and dead as time passes. Putting semen in too late, means the sperm might not have enough time to swim to the ripe and ageing eggs before they decline in number and quality.

Not all stud dogs are made equal and some have a very low libido. Other studs have a great libido and a poor sperm count. Female dogs can be uninterested and even aggressive toward the stud dog. Studs with low libido and bitches that aren’t interested in mating, could be considered asexual.

What to do when your dog is pregnant for the first time?

When your dog is pregnant for the first time, make sure they are being fed a premium quality diet. Some breeders also give a folic acid supplement to prevent birth defects – 400 mcg for large dogs, 200 mcg for medium dogs and 50 mcg for smaller breeds.

If the bitch is fed a premium diet prior to mating, no major changes to the dog’s diet need to happen before 4 weeks of pregnancy. From week 5, it’s important to ensure your dog is getting sufficient calcium for the developing skeletal system of the puppies. If feeding adult kibble, change her to a puppy kibble; for extra calcium.

How many puppies do Cavoodles have?

From my experience, determinants of cavoodle litter size tend to be associated with the genetics of the bitch. If her mother carried 7 puppies, her daughters will likely carry around the same. I have found this to be true in most cases, however if the females in the litter are particularly small, they are unlikely to carry as many puppies as their mum did.

Cavoodles normally have anywhere from 3 to 8 puppies on average. Toy cavoodles tend to have 2-4 puppies while the larger of the two varieties; miniature cavoodles can have up to 10 puppies. Teacup toy cavoodles are tiny, tend to have problems birthing their puppies and only have 1-3 pups in a litter.

Feeding a pregnant dog

Good nutrition is also vital to a bitch being able to carry a large litter. Large litters are draining on the mother during pregnancy and when breast-feeding. If her body thinks she’s not up to nourishing lots of puppies, she won’t carry them full term and might reabsorb some of the pups while she is pregnant.

The Raw Fed Pregnant and Lactating Dog

If you’re feeding a raw food diet, include a variety of human-grade animal proteins, raw meaty bones (brisket bones, chicken necks etc), offal (heart, liver, eggs), vegetables, sardines etc.

Dr Ian Billinghurst, creator of the BARF diet, has some great suggestions and insight on feeding the pregnant and lactating bitch.

How to tell if a dog is pregnant?

A reproduction specialist vet can do an ultrasound at 28 days post mating or insemination to ascertain if the bitch is pregnant. At 8 weeks, an X ray can be done to count the number of puppies. It’s handy to know how many puppies you’re expecting for the birth, in case of retained puppies that need help to be removed.

Dog pregnancy symptoms week 1

Pregnant and non-pregnant dogs have the same hormone profile during the fourth stage of their cycle (anestrus). Post ovulation, progesterone levels remain elevated for 9 weeks regardless of whether the bitch is pregnant or not. Therefore, dogs rarely show signs of pregnancy at 1-3 weeks post mating.

Some bitches will vomit occasionally and others will go off their food, becoming quite fussy. Some breeders can tell if a dog is pregnant by their nipples, which become very pink and swollen at around 3-4 weeks and by around 5 weeks pregnancy, a small belly can be noticeable. Bitches that are having a phantom pregnancy can also show these symptoms including the belly!

Ultrasound (4 weeks) and X ray (8 weeks) are the best determinants of pregnancy.

How long is a Cavoodle pregnant for?

Dogs including cavoodles are pregnant for 63 days or 9 weeks.

In NSW the minimum age a female dog can legally get pregnant is 12 months. Before breeding with your dog. consult a reproduction specialist vet; they will be able to advise if your bitch is sufficiently physically and mentally mature to carry and raise a litter of puppies.

Dogs can be bred at home and house raised puppies are some of the most well adjusted, mentally sound puppies that are produced. You will need a quiet space for the whelping box to go. This location should be quiet and cosy and if you have small children, a secure pen should surround the whelping box, to keep children and other pets at a safe distance.

New mums can be very protective of their young and rightfully so, newborn puppies are extremely vulnerable; it is not uncommon for the mother to growl and potentially bite someone invading their space.

Final thoughts

Dogs’ heat cycles vary between females and from cycle to cycle. Having an understanding of the stages of a dog’s season can help to time when breeding should occur; whether you are doing a natural mating, AI, TCI or surgical implant. The timing of the insemination or mating will vary according to how rapidly a bitch moves through the various stages.

For some females, their progesterone level will spike quickly and they can ovulate as early as day 5. Conversely, some bitches will rise slowly, have a split heat and not ovulate until day 17 of their cycle.

Therefore, it’s important to be flexible in your approach; our clients’ success including the large litters they tend to have is largely due to the progesterone testing that they do.

Timing is a major predictor of success in dog breeding!

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