To breed or not to breed, that is the question…

by Dr Zarina Motala  /  

There are pros and cons to breeding, and the question to ask ourselves is – what is the right thing to do?

Responsible, well-educated dog breeders are invaluable, and I absolutely love working with them. They treat their animals as family members, know exactly what to expect and prepare accordingly, allowing us to benefit from excellent quality specimens of the various breeds that we know well and have preferences for. 

They ensure that the animals being bred are specifically selected through the process of x-ray grading of their hips and elbows, and that their characteristics such as physical shape or conformation, as well as temperament, are all favourable. This allows for genetic selection to promote good quality puppies at decreased risk for breed-specific hereditary problems we encounter such as:

  • hip and elbow dysplasia, which if present can cause severe lameness and pain for the entire life of the patient;
  • poor nose, airway and face shape which result in breathing difficulties and susceptibility to heat stroke and;
  • personality traits such as aggression or fear that make training and socialisation more challenging.

By careful and considered selection of the correct parents, puppies can therefore be bred that are better suited to their purpose, whether that is a working dog or a family pet. The offspring are also less likely to be euthanised due to physical impairments or severe aggression problems.

If this approach to breeding cannot be guaranteed, the more responsible thing to do is to sterilise your pet. Sterilisation of a female dog is called spaying, and in the male, it is referred to as neutering.

There is no biological or emotional reason (from the dog’s point of view) to breed and there is a misconception that dogs must have one litter before being sterilised – this is not true, and there is absolutely no need for a litter prior to sterilisation. The worst-case scenario in a pregnancy is one in which both the mother and all puppies die due to complications such as an inability to give birth naturally. This can happen more easily if the owner is an inexperienced breeder who allows a high-risk mating (where the female is much smaller than the male, for example) or does not recognize the signs of distress during the birthing process in time for early surgical intervention. There is absolutely no need to put a beloved furry family member at risk by unnecessary breeding.

Sterilisation will prevent any additions to the millions of homeless dogs being euthanised by welfare organisations on a daily basis around the world. In South Africa in particular, due to our socio-economic circumstances, there is a limit to the number of appropriate homes available for puppies. Keeping a dog is costly, and not everyone can afford good quality food and private veterinary care for their pets. Many families are downsizing or emigrating, and breed-specific rescue organisations are being overwhelmed with ‘purebred’ dogs looking for new homes.  The last thing you would want, is to either be unable to sell your litter of pups due to low demand or to have to sell them to homes you are not convinced will be able to provide for their long-term needs.

Responsible sterilisation will also prevent the production of poorly bred animals exhibiting a myriad of health and temperament problems. There are health benefits too – Spayed bitches have a decreased risk of pyometra (infection of the uterus, whereby it fills with pus and can burst causing the dog to become extremely ill or die) and tumours (cancer) of the mammary glands. The risk of prostate problems and testicular cancer in male dogs are also reduced by sterilisation. Sterilised dogs are less likely to show aggression or wander. Sterilised males are also less likely to mark their ‘territory’ by lifting their leg against your furniture.

Spaying of a female dog includes a hysterectomy and removal of the ovaries. Your pet will no longer come on heat after the procedure. Although the operation can be done when your pet is on heat or already pregnant, this carries a slightly higher risk of complications. It is therefore best done at six months of age before your dog has her first heat (which normally occurs between 6-9 months of age).

Neutering of the male dog normally involves removal of both testicles through a single incision. By the age of six months, both testicles should have descended from the abdomen and be easily felt in the scrotal sac. In rare cases, one or both testicles may be ‘retained’ and not be in their correct position in the scrotum. In such cases, the dog is referred to as a ‘cryptorchid’. It is even more important that these ‘aberrant’ testicles be removed as they carry a high cancer risk. Cryptorchid dogs should also never be used for breeding, as the condition can be passed to puppies.

You will need to make an appointment to have your pet sterilised. We perform sterilisation at all our branches on weekdays. Your pet will need to be starved for the procedure – no food after 10 p.m. the previous evening! They can be brought to the hospital on the morning of the operation and can generally go home the same afternoon with prescribed painkillers to assist their recovery. Stitches are removed after 14 days.

Please contact one of our branches if you have any further questions about your dog’s sterilisation. Your vet will be happy to discuss the appropriate age of sterilisation for your dog, as well as explain the procedure itself.


Photo by Nathalie SPEHNER on Unsplash

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