Most veterinarians would agree that only the highest quality show animals should be bred and all other pets should be spayed or neutered. Breeders should have the best interest of the puppies and kittens in mind when deciding when and how often to produce a litter. The first concern in any decision to have a litter should be temperament of the offspring. The second consideration has to be health of the genetic line of the breeding animals. Only after being assured of a good temperament and good health should a professional breeder attempt to breed for a "good-looking" offspring.
Professional breeders have a responsibility to provide new owners with the information they need to successfully raise a healthy puppy. They should provide medical information and veterinary advice founded in science. Many times breeders will ignore the recommendation of even their own veterinarians and insist on an inappropriate vaccine or feeding protocol. Putting new owners in a situation in which their new veterinarians contradicts the opinions of the breeder puts everyone involved in a difficult situation.
Breeders must work with and not against veterinarians in providing appropriate information. I have had excellent clients denied a new puppy from a show breeder because we questioned the "contract" we as the new veterinarians were required to sign. The contract would have obligated us to contact the breeder for approval on every decision we made with the new owner. Additionally, we were required to delay discussing a neutering and spaying surgical time frame with the new owner. I advised my client to get a dog elsewhere.
Responsible people who breed their pets must also be aware of the risks involved in breeding. Female animals who are not spayed before the first heat are at increased risk for mammary cancer, and unspayed pets can get uterine infections known as pyometra. Dogs can become infected shortly after a heat cycle. The owner may notice a discharge under the tail or signs of toxicity such as excessive water drinking. Blood tests can reveal a very high white blood cell count.
The number of white cells in the blood of a dog or cat with pyometra can be double or triple that of a normal pet. A dog's uterus, which usually ranges in size from that of a pencil to a small finger, can become the size of a full-term pregnancy. If left untreated, an infection can quickly become life-threatening. Dogs can become very ill, especially if the cervix is closed and the uterus cannot drain. Cats do not appear as ill but a uterine infection is still a severe condition.
Surgery for pyometra is much more difficult than a normal spay procedure. Removal of the infected uterus requires a large incision and carries significant risk. The cost is many times that of a routine spay and can have additional complications. The uterus can rupture when handled, and the infection can be toxic to the pet. There are medications that open and flush the uterus for the purpose of future breeding, but this is a difficult treatment.
Breeding dogs and cats require a responsible person who is aware of the risks. The job of breeding animals is difficult and carries with it responsibilities many are not fully willing to assume.
Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email email@example.com. Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.