Health Tests – why bother?

Can you guarantee a healthy dog?

I feel such a fraud.  I have been writing huge volumes on this website to promote my ‘Beautiful Border Collies, bred for better temperament and health’.  I have generated a good-sized following and lots of positive feedback.

Sadly though, a week ago, Luna lost a litter of puppies; they were stillborn.  In fact they had died some time before.  She ended up at the vet’s, having a caesarean and being speyed.  It was traumatic for us and very sad.  I was devastated not to be able to provide the longed-for pups for the people waiting so eagerly and excitedly for them.  I was upset for my beautiful girl, feeling guilty for putting her through it.  Why had I bothered?

I wrote a few weeks ago about looking after your pregnant bitch explaining that I take the utmost care of my dogs.  I pride myself on doing all the health tests that I can and making sure that my dogs are the best they can be.  So what went wrong?  The answer is: nothing much went wrong.  Making babies is difficult – everyone knows that.  All sorts of things can go wrong, and often does.  That’s life.

I had had a vague feeling of unease about this litter.  Luna had experienced more difficulties than my other girls in having her other two litters.  The first time, the labour was longer and slower and she nearly had a caesarean.  Happily, she delivered five beautiful princesses, including Aura, the squeakiest dog you are likely to meet.  Two years later she had one stillborn pup, then four beauties, who were three years old yesterday – happy birthday Beatrix Potter litter!

One dead pup from 43 is a pretty good record.  I was therefore relatively confident in my experience of whelping that I could deliver these pups safely.  Luna had a generally normal pregnancy, although she did seem to be drinking a lot for a while, some weeks ago.  She had always been quite a thirsty dog, so I thought that she might have just been getting hotter than normal, carrying around her babies.  She definitely was not ill; no loss of appetite, no lethargy, no ‘staring’ coat, no sickness or diarrhea.  Nothing I could take to a vet.

Possible health complications

I found a good description of some of the things that can cause a bitch to reabsorb the puppies, which is also really common, possibly as often as 12% of pregnancies.  It says that this can occur because of some health complications affecting mother dog or the puppies.  Infectious causes may include bacteria such as Brucella canis, salmonella, e-coli, campylobacter and streptococci, parasites such as toxoplasma gondii and neospora caninum and viruses such as herpesvirus, parvovirus, distemper and mycoplasma.  Other potential causes may include abnormal fetal development, abnormal levels of progesterone, defects of mother dog’s uterine lining, inefficient placentas, side effects of drugs given to mother dog, mother dog’s age, not to mention various nutritional and environmental factors such as presence of metals in water, trauma, exposure to smoke etc.  Often, the exact cause is impossible to pinpoint.


What can we do about it?

I know that the pups didn’t die from any of the viruses against which Luna has been vaccinated.  I know that she was fit and well going into the pregnancy and that she was well cared for and well fed.  She did not suffer any trauma.  In other words, I did the best I could to produce healthy puppies.  That is all we can do – take whatever steps are available to us.

Where does that leave prospective owners?

When I receive an enquiry for a puppy, I tell people where I am with prospective litters.  If I have a litter on the way, I do tell people they might get a puppy.  Often people then become slightly hysterical with excitement – WE’RE GETTING A PUPPY!  I then have to explain that they might be getting a puppy.  There’s many a slip t’wixt cup and lip, as the saying goes.  From the time of the mating, these are the things that have to go right:

  • Conception occurs
  • Puppies are born healthy
  • Right number of puppies for the homes that are waiting
  • Correct sex of puppy for what the person wants
  • Correct colour, if required
  • Correct temperament for that home
  • No-one else chooses that puppy

A few weeks ago I wrote about selecting homes and how difficult this can be.  This time, there were always going to be people disappointed.  Two friends living locally wanted a puppy and they were always going to have the option first, as I am not a commercial breeder and would much rather pups stayed nearby so I can see them occasionally.

A happy ending

Luna is making good progress with recovering from her operation.  She should be fully fit and back to agility within another six weeks or so.  She is not yet eight, so she will have many happy years ahead of her.

I will have more puppies, just not from Luna.  I understand the risks and the challenges and I know that despite my concerns, I do a better job than many other dog breeders.  The dogs I have produced have brought joy to many people.

One of the homes I had lined up for this litter have already found another puppy.  I talked to them at length about the selection process.  This highlighted to me how challenging it is to find a good breeder and to know what to look for.  I will continue to write about this process, in order to help new owners and to support breeders, if possible.


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