Establish a good working relationship with a veterinarian

A pile of sleeping puppies

Dog Breeding 101: Establish a Good Working Relationship with a Veterinarian

A basic lesson of dog breeding 101 is to get a veterinarian on your team. Breeders who partner with veterinarians have the assurance of knowing their questions will be addressed by an expert who shares their best interests and wants to help them optimize the health of their breeding animals and puppies

Purina veterinarian Callie Harris, DVM, knows firsthand from working at an emergency veterinary hospital the desperation breeders may experience when their pregnant dog needs an emergency cesarean section. Besides the challenges of finding an emergency veterinary hospital equipped to provide immediate care for a pregnant animal, the cost could be exorbitant.

“It’s so important to be prepared so you don’t end up at an emergency clinic in the middle of the night,” Dr. Harris says. “Before planning a breeding, you should consult with a veterinarian to ask questions and get recommendations. It’s a good idea to connect with a veterinary reproduction specialist or a veterinarian with a special interest in reproduction.

Kathy and Eric Kelley of Timber Rock Doodles in Bigfork, Minnesota, fell into breeding Goldendoodles about six years ago. “Before we started breeding, we ended up with three male Doodles within eight months,” says Kathy Kelley. “The first one had horrible anxiety, so we got a second dog thinking it would help the first one. The second had a neurologic condition affecting the way he walks. We adopted the third one, a lost­ dog, and he has seizures.

“At the time, I was taking a business course and needed a project. I came up with the idea of starting a breeding program so other families wouldn’t go through what we did with our dogs,” she continues. “Our family veterinarian referred us to Dr. Fran Smith. We consulted her to learn what goes into a good breeding program.”

Frances O. “Fran” Smith, DVM, PhD, DACT, is a board-certified veterinary theriogenologist — a veterinary reproduction specialist. She also is a breeder of Labrador Retrievers. “The great majority of clients don’t know what a theriogenologist is,” Dr. Smith says. “It is a specialty in veterinary medicine that basically combines OB-GYN and urology in human medicine. There are less than 300 of us in the country.”

At that get-acquainted appointment with Dr. Smith at her Smith Veterinary Hospital in Burnsville, Minnesota, the Kelleys learned about brucellosis and health and genetic testing prior to breeding. Dr. Smith explained the importance of a carefully timed breeding using progesterone testing, the gold standard for determining when a bitch is ovulating. They discussed neonatal puppy care and bringing the puppies in at 7 weeks of age to be examined and receive vaccines and fecal testing.

“We wanted to learn what she wanted us to do in order to give us the best care possible,” says Kathy Kelley. “We started planning before our first breeding.”

As president of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, Dr. Smith takes health and genetic testing to heart. OFA is probably best known for its Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) program in which parent clubs select testing for breed health clearances. Dr. Smith guided the Kelleys to test their breeding stock for healthy hips, elbows, eyes, and hearts, in addition to screening for genetic diseases that affect the foundation breeds behind Goldendoodles, Golden Retrievers and Poodles. Examples include testing for the bleeding disorder von Willebrand’s disease and the progressive neurologic disease degenerative myelopathy. 

“Dr. Smith has helped us manage our breedings since our first one in 2016, an artificial insemination breeding,” Kathy Kelley says. “We have an ultrasound done 30 days after breeding to confirm the pregnancy, and radiographs are taken at 55 days to estimate the number of puppies. When we are close to the due date, we start monitoring the mother’s temperature for signs the puppies are coming. We call Dr. Smith with this information so she can look out for potential problems.”     

“Really, it is a partnership between a breeder and veterinarian,” reflects Megan Proctor of Cute Critter Kennel in Farmington, Missouri. “We want our veterinarians to work with us and support us, yet it’s important that they have confidence and trust us as well.”

After 20 years working with Missouri Foxtrotters and Tennessee Walking Horses, Proctor started breeding toy and small dog breeds, including designer breeds, seven years ago. Her sleek, modern kennel is clean and well-maintained, and providing constant care to breeding animals and puppies is her top priority.

Proctor established a good working relationship with a local veterinarian when she began breeding dogs. However, after five years he sold the practice, and she started over with a new veterinarian. “It wasn’t easy in the beginning,” she says. “We had to get to know each other. I had to show the veterinarian my commitment to doing things the right way, and she had to show me she was receptive to working with me.”

Dr. Harris of Purina agrees. “Building a good breeder-veterinarian relationship starts with the initial communication,” she says. “It’s important for breeders to trust their veterinarian and their expertise related to the overall health care management and nutrition of dogs.”

As Kathy Kelley says, “Breeders may not realize how important a good reproduction veterinarian can be for their program. Dr. Smith mentors us, and we value and listen to what she says. Her care and dedication to our program doesn’t stop at the end of the veterinary visit. We learn something with every litter from working with her.”

Partnering with a veterinarian from the beginning helps to reduce the likelihood of needing emergency veterinary care for a pregnancy in the middle of the night. If you are in the business of breeding dogs, a best practice is to find a veterinarian who’s in the business of animal reproduction and who wants to help you raise a healthy litter of puppies. 

Tips for a Successful Breeder-Veterinarian Partnership

• Before planning a breeding, consult a veterinarian to learn his or her recommendations to provide the best care possible for females and her puppies

• Consider working with a veterinarian with a special interest in reproduction or a theriogenologist, a board-certified veterinarian who specializes in reproduction

• Successful breeder-veterinarian partnerships are built on mutual trust and respect

• Open communication with your veterinarian throughout breeding, pregnancy, and labor and delivery provides the best results