The dog breeder's estimation of the brood bitches of his kennels has changed materially in the present generation, swinging back to the opinion held before the era of bench shows and field trials. The first fanciers, who kept their dogs solely as hunting dogs or companions, appreciated nicely the true value of quality in their matrons. In early sporting books such statements as "select always the fairest and the best trailers as dams" are common. Later, the idea became prevalent that "any old bitch with a pedigree is a good brood bitch." To-day, we have returned to the earlier and sounder estimation of the value of the bitch side of a pedigree.
We have already seen that although in the case of the breed at large the stud dog, because of his greater opportunities, is numerically more important, still in the case of the individual mating this is not so. The two parents are equipotent and of like importance. In fact, to the breeder, the brood bitch, being his own property, while he usually sends her away to an outside dog to be bred, is of paramount importance. A kennel's strength or weakness—I speak, of course, of a kennel that is primarily a breeding establishment—can be judged by its matrons. The breeder will, therefore, pay strictest attention to the selection of his brood bitches, and he will always exercise great care of their health and condition.
When a bitch is neither in season, in whelp, nor nursing a litter, she requires no different care from any other inmate of the kennels. To repeat the discussion of all the questions of feeding, kenneling, exercising, and grooming, which have been treated at length in the companion volume of this book, would be out of place here.
Many persons, even many persons who have owned dogs, are, however, peculiarly ignorant of the sexual functions of a bitch. Owners of dogs advertised at public stud often receive bitches to be bred to their dog that evidence no sign of being "in heat," showing that an appreciation of the fact that a bitch is available for breeding purposes only at certain times is not common.
Oestrum, or the period of menstruation of the bitch, usually first appears when she is from seven to ten months old. The medium sized breeds usually have their first heat seven or eight months after birth, larger breeds and the very diminutive varieties often delay the period to the tenth month or even to a full year. Once the periods begin they occur with considerable regularity every six months (there are, of course, some individual exceptions to this rule), till a bitch is about eight years old.
From its first indication till its abatement the season of heat lasts three or four weeks. The first sign is a swelling of the external parts, the vulva. This is followed almost directly by a slight mucus discharge which gradually thickens, and is succeeded, in a week's time, by blood. This condition, which will continue for a week or ten days, is again followed by the mucus discharge which gradually disappears, the parts assuming their normal size again. The proper time to breed a bitch. In fact, the only time when she will stand for a dog, is just after the cessation of the flow of blood. This is the only time that she will receive a dog's services, although her condition from the first of heat sexually excites the male. In sending a bitch away to be bred, since there are but a few days when she is available, it is wise to ship her off at the first signs of heat, thus avoiding disappointment and delay of six months.
During, or just after heat, inflammation of the uterus is sometimes caused by chill, usually the result of giving the bitch a bath. Such attacks may become chronic, appearing at each heat, and the condition is common only in old bitches. The symptoms are dullness and loss of appetite, accompanied by slight fever and followed by loss of flesh and swelling of the abdomen, which is quite hard and painful to the touch. These symptoms increase in severity, ending in a pinkish, offensive discharge. The start of the discharge usually results in a marked improvement in the bitch's condition, but sometimes this discharge fails to come away naturally. In this case the womb is ruptured, and the patient usually dies of acute peritonitis. The bitch should be kept quiet and every effort should be made to make her comfortable by applications of hot linseed poultices, frequently changed, to her abdomen. The vagina should be syringed out with a warm solution of lysol, and her strength should be kept up with milk, beef broth, fish, and such other light, nourishing foods as she can take and retain.
Much less dangerous, but far more common is a white mattery discharge after heat. The proper treatment is a thorough syringing night and morning with a solution of ten grains of burnt alum in an ounce of water.
After a bitch has been bred, she needs no special attention during the first month or six weeks of her pregnancy. She should, of course, have plenty of exercise and an abundance of good food. This does not mean that she should be worked all day in the field nor allowed to run her legs off, nor should she be stuffed. If a bitch is properly kept, no change in her dally routine need be made, but it is advisable to see that her bowels are kept open by a weekly dose of castor oil and syrup of buckthorn. Three weeks after service she should be treated for worms. Some fanciers suppose that this will prevent worms in the puppies. It will not, but it is a valuable precautionary measure, since no bitch that is infested with these parasites can properly assimilate her food.
The determination of whether or not a bitch is in whelp is often important. This can best be accomplished about three weeks after conception. At this time, if she be laid on her back and quieted until she will relax her abdomen, small, roundish bodies can be felt by the fingers manipulating her belly. Often the exact number of the expected family can be foretold. At four weeks the puppies seem to disappear, but any time after the sixth week they can be easily felt moving about, if the hand be gently but firmly pressed against the abdomen. The secretion of milk in the breasts, which occurs even in maiden bitches, six or eight weeks after heat, is no sure sign. Some bitches will exhibit all of the signs, except the motion of the pups, of pregnancy. They increase in size, just as if they were to have a large litter, but at the end of the time of the supposed gestation only a little, watery discharge comes away, and the bitch gradually gets smaller. These cases of false conception are provoking enough, and they are quite common.
Assuming that the service has been effective, the bitch, six weeks after conception, will begin to need a little extra watching and attention. She should be fed three times a day from now on, the best rule being little and often. Her exercise should be kept up, but always within reason. Short walks two or three times a day should be the routine. Do not let her run and romp and keep her from all undue excitement. Do not wash her after the seventh week, and do not take her in a motor or on the train. These things are all apt to induce abortion. It is poor policy to be forever dosing a pregnant bitch. The less medicine and the more common sense she has the better it is for her and for her expected offspring.
The bitch's time of gestation is sixty-three days. This, however, is not a hard and fast rule, though reference can always be made to the table in the appendix with the reasonable expectation that it will give approximately the date a bitch will be due. Live, healthy litters have been born on the fifty-eighth day and, at the other extreme, on the seventy-first, but these are extreme exceptions. It is not difficult to read the signs a bitch gives of her coming confinement, and one can usually know within a few hours of when she will whelp. She becomes restless, seeking a quiet place and refusing food. If a box has been prepared for her, as it should be, she will nervously get in and out of it, turning round and round, and nosing and scratching at the bedding. The vulva swells and there is a thick mucus discharge. When her labor pains come on, she will strain and pant, and turn round and lick herself. This is a sure sign that labor is well progressed, and the birth of a pup can be confidently expected in a very short time. During labor, unless something goes radically wrong, the bitch should be left strictly alone.
A proper whelping box, however, is easily prepared and will be a capital investment. This should be square, or nearly so, each side being just long enough for the bitch to be able to lay out at full length. A bit of old carpet lightly tacked at each corner is the best bedding, for second choice, a scanty supply of good wheat straw. A little shelf fastened round the sides of the whelping box, just high enough for a pup to get under it and broad enough to prevent his being crushed in the corner should his mother inadvertently lie on him, is excellent puppy life insurance. Even the most careful of mothers will sometimes kill her babies in a cramped box, or if they are hidden in deep bedding.
The time required for the birth of a litter varies greatly, both with the age of the bitch and her breed and the number of puppies born. A bitch having her first litter must always be expected to require more time than a matron who has had two or three. A medium sized bitch who has had several litters will often give birth to two or three puppies within an hour, while a bitch of the same breed having her first litter will hardly do so well in two or three hours' time. The bitches of the larger breeds commonly have big litters and often require all day. If after any pup has been born an interval greater than two hours elapses before the arrival of another, something may be wrong. Examine the bitch. If a bladder—the pups are born in a sack, the foetal membrane—is protruding, things are probably going well. Matters should be allowed to take their natural course, for it is always a good rule never to interfere until absolutely necessary.
The normal course is for the bitch to rip the foetal membrane once it is well protruded, and the puppy is then soon delivered. The mother bites the umbilical cord and cleans and dries the puppy. Usually the next pup is by this time nearly born. After three or four youngsters have arrived, there is often an interval of a couple of hours, during which the bitch rests. At this time, some clean, cool water and a little thin oatmeal gruel may be given the bitch.
It is not unusual, especially when the litter is very numerous, for a bitch to become very exhausted. A little milk with a tablespoonful of brandy will often revive her sufficiently, or it may be necessary to use drug to stimulate the action of the womb. Ergotine is the best of these. It should be administered hypodermically in a dose of from one to three grains, according to the size of the dog, in from ten to forty drops of brandy. Injected under the loose skin under the thighs, the action of this drug is evident in fifteen minutes, and the dose can be repeated, if necessary, in two hours.
Those breeds with particularly large skulls, as English and French Bulldogs and Boston Terriers, often have trouble in whelping, the heads of the puppies being too large to pass the dam's pelvic bones. Toy dogs, quite aside from their more delicate constitutions, sometimes have trouble due to an occasional pup throwing back in size to the larger stock from which the variety has been bred. Another somewhat similar case is when a small bitch has been mated to a dog of a larger breed, as a Fox Terrier bred to a Setter.
Another class of parturition troubles arise from an unnatural position of the puppy at the time of delivery. The normal position for the puppy to be born is head foremost with the front legs raised and lying close on each side of the neck. When the hind legs are presented, the pup is usually born easily, but there is some danger of its smothering. Malpresentations of a more serious nature are not common, but they are dangerous. To interfere, which is sometimes necessary, usually means the loss of the pup, which, if not killed, is often maimed. Moreover, unless care be exercised, inflammation may set in, resulting fatally for the dam. Therefore, the discovery of a malpresentation should always be the signal for a hurry call to a reliable veterinarian. If one is not available, prompt action should be taken by the breeder himself, since it is foolish to allow a bitch to waste her energies, which she will probably need to bring forth the other pups.
In all such cases the first object should be to get the puppy into the right position. This failing, to remove it as quickly and easily, and with as little danger and inconvenience to the dam as possible, for her life is then of greatest consequence. If reasonable care be exercised to prevent sudden jerking, and if force is only exerted during the throes, a bitch will stand considerable pulling on the foetus. Inflammation, resulting from direct injuries to the bitch herself are dangerous, and it requires a steady and skilful hand, especially when the knife must be used, to manipulate forced deliveries.
A common malpresentation is when the forelegs are turned down and backwards, throwing the shoulder girdle forward, thus forming an obstruction. A blunt pointed hook,—an ordinary long handled buttonhook will answer admirably,—should be used to catch the forelegs and lift them into better position. This done, the pup can usually be delivered by the bitch unassisted. Sometimes in head presentation the hind legs are bent forwards up against the belly, causing trouble. Without obstetrical forceps there is little the amateur can do in such cases. It is best to tie a string to the pup's forelegs and to pull firmly at each throe, so as to help pass the hind quarters. Another form of presentation that will sometimes cause trouble is when the front and hind foot appear simultaneously. The fore leg should be pushed in and the hind leg tied with a string or tape. The other hind leg should then be felt for and drawn out (the buttonhook may prove useful here). After securing the second hind leg, the puppy should be delivered by traction.
There are two malpresentations of the head. In one case, the head is bent forward, the lower jaw pressing against the chest so that the top of the skull is presented. The foetus should, if possible, be pushed back and efforts made to raise the nose either with the finger or a long handled hook inserted in the mouth of the pup. When, on the other hand, the head is bent backwards, presenting the front of the throat, efforts should be made to push the foetus back and depress the nose. If this fails, the pup can be decapitated, and the body and head delivered separately. In cases where the pup is presented transversely, the back or side appearing, it is seldom possible to turn the pup into a position making delivery possible. The only solution is to cut the body in two and forcibly remove the parts.
Considering the artificiality of their lives, it is remarkable what a small percentage of bitches ever have any trouble whelping. I have gone into parturition troubles at considerable length, for few easily available books treat of them, but the breeder can always console himself by remembering that they are comparatively rare occurrences.
After the litter has been born, if the case has been, as is to be expected, a normal one, the dam needs but little attention. A good bowl of thin oatmeal gruel and a change of bedding will suffice for her immediate needs. A breeder should curb his very natural desire to examine the new arrivals. Nothing is so disturbing to them and their mother. A nervous dam and a disturbed pup are a pretty poor foundation for good health. Sleep, plenty of sleep, is what the new born babies need most the first two weeks of their lives. Remember that "well begun is half done."
Bitches sometimes display strange idiosyncrasies of the maternal instinct. Some are so devoted to their offspring that they refuse food and will not leave the pups for a moment. Such extreme devotion must be forcibly controlled, and the bitch at least required to take some exercise, even if she cannot be forcibly fed. Other bitches are almost indifferent to their family, and a few go to the extreme of refusing to allow them to suckle. Some bitches have been known to eat their new born pups, and this may develop into a regular habit. Fear is the cause of this, and under more quiet conditions bitches have overcome this strange tendency. A diet of raw, lean meat, prior to whelping is advisable in such cases. It is a preventive measure that must, however, be supplemented by overcoming the bitch's nervousness.
While nursing her family, a bitch should be well fed. Four meals a day proves very satisfactory. Breakfast of soup and dog biscuits, and the regular kennel dinner in the evening, with milk or gruel at noon and the last thing at night: this makes a highly satisfactory fare. The fact that the puppies will roughly double their weight while they are nursing and that the recuperative processes carried on by the bitch herself are considerable gives some idea of the strain that she must bear. Adequate food is obviously a necessity.
The number of puppies a bitch can raise to the best advantage is a question only to be settled by a consideration of the individual case, remembering at once the size of the bitch and her individual strength. Four is certainly the outside limit for any of the toys. Five is plenty for a dog of medium size like the Terriers. Six is about all that can be reasonably asked even of the largest varieties. It requires fortitude for a breeder to destroy puppies from a carefully selected mating. However, unless a foster mother can be provided for the surplus, it is wisdom so to do. Four to six strong, well nourished, healthy pups will be worth more at six months than twice that number of sickly, leggy, slab-sided, cow hocked wrecklings. Often it is possible to obtain a foster from the local pound. The dog catchers are very apt to pick up stray bitches when their puppies are born. The points or breeding of the wet nurse have nothing to do with the care she can and will bestow on her adopted family, provided she is sound and healthy. Skin disease is to be particularly guarded against.
The saving of the dam's energies, when she is asked to raise only a reasonable number of puppies, is great, and this should be supplemented by the exercise of the same judgment in the number of times she is bred. Most breeders, since summer puppies are more easily reared, prefer to have their matrons whelp in the early spring. Some go so far as to never breed a bitch in the fall. It is certainly unwise to breed a bitch each time she comes in season. Three litters in two years is enough, and even this should only be asked of a robust bitch.
Whether or not a bitch should be bred at her first season is a debatable question. There is good authority on both sides. Personally, I believe it is a question that cannot always be answered either in the positive affirmative or the absolute negative. If the bitch is strong and well developed there is no reason, provided she does not come in before she is nine months old, why she should not be bred without damage to herself or risk to the puppies. However, it is unreasonable to expect to breed sound, healthy pups from a weak, immature bitch.
Even a healthy bitch nursing a rational number of pups may sometimes have a scanty supply of milk. She must be given raw, lean meat and plenty of oatmeal gruel and fresh milk. The secretion should be stimulated by massaging the breasts. On the other hand, some bitches have an excessive supply of milk, evidenced by swelling of the breast, which becomes hard and painful. The milk should be drawn off night and morning, and a laxative dose of castor oil and syrup of buckthorn administered. The diet should consist of dry food—stale bread and dog biscuits are capital.
The teats of a nursing bitch sometimes become dry and cracked. The soreness is great, and a bitch, because of the pain, will not allow the pups to suckle. The teats should be washed with warm water night and morning and then rubbed with a little boracic acid ointment. In fact, even if there be no soreness. It is well to wash the nipples twice a day with a solution of boracic acid.
Weaning the puppies can be left to nature. At five weeks old they will usually start lapping a little warm, sweetened milk. At six weeks, their mother should only be with them at night. At seven weeks they should be shifting for themselves.
After the puppies are weaned, the bitch should be given a good purge and allowed a week of rest cure with three good meals a day. After this she should be treated for worms, and then put back on the regular kennel fare and routine. It may be advisable to give her a dose of cod liver oil tonic morning and night for a couple of weeks. The more promptly she can be restored to normal conditions the better it will be for her, and a breeder will find that her care will be time and pains well invested.