According to conventional wisdom, bitches need a “rest” cycle between litters. However, in the past few decades researchers, most notably Dr. Robert Hutchinson, have discovered that the hormones that lead to ovulation (progesterone) cause deterioration of the bitch’s uterus. (Source: DPCA Transcript.) The deterioration of the uterus leads to reduced litter sizes and higher risk of infection. As a result of this research, it has become “common knowledge” to breed back-to-back. However, I’m going to discuss whether breeding back-to-back is inherently better.
Health of the Bitch
From the research presented, the bitch’s uterus is clearly healthier when bred back-to-back without a pause. However, the reproductive system is not the only system to consider in the bitch’s health.
Breeding seriously depletes a bitch’s fat reserves. Her body will naturally turn any fat reserves she has into milk for her puppies, especially if she is not taking in enough quality food to maintain milk production. If she stops eating shortly after birth, either as a reaction to a c-section or from illness, she will use up her reserves as well instead of eating.
On a subsequent pregnancy–one started without adequate fat reserves–she may end up in a situation where she needs those reserves. As a result, she will either get sicker, or she will stop producing milk. If she stops producing milk, handfeeding her puppies falls to the breeder. Handrearing puppies is exhausting and expensive.
So while breeding back-to-back is certainly healthier for the uterus and will result in more puppies from her over her lifetime, doing so if she hasn’t bounced back from the first pregnancy can be expensive, heartbreaking, and exhausting. Breeding back-to-back should only be considered with a bitch that has bounced back from the first pregnancy and is back in shape.
Are the puppies from the first breeding healthy?
If the first litter was healthy, there’s no reason to question breeding again, right? Wrong. Without completing health testing, you don’t know what she has produced health-wise.
Now that we have DNA testing, (I recommend the Wisdom Panel 4.0), we can test for quite a few diseases in almost any breed. But some diseases aren’t testable with DNA, including many orthopedic issues, cancers, and some forms of epilepsy.
You may wish to wait until the first litter is older–a year to 18 months–to make sure that your bitch is producing puppies that will be as healthy as possible for the reasonable duration of their lives. This is especially important if you don’t have a good mentor in your breed who can give you solid information about the pedigrees you are working with.
Is the First Litter Stable?
By that I mean, do they all have good homes, and are you ready to do it all again?
Sometimes, it isn’t simple to place a litter. It can be a bad time of year (January, anyone?) or you can have issues with people backing out. Maybe the litter was significantly larger than you expected, or perhaps you had a disease run through the kennel and several pups became infected.
You shouldn’t breed a litter unless you can provide quality homes for that litter. If the first litter was difficult to home, don’t breed the second until you are certain that they will all find great places to live.
Can You Afford It?
There’s zero point in breeding a litter you can’t afford. If you can’t afford to pay for emergencies, things like the following, do not breed that second litter:
- Emergency C-Section
- Treating giardia, coccidia, parvo, or other diseases
- Caring for them as long as it takes to sell them (four to six months, if necessary)
- Paying your regular bills and expenses, including family emergencies
If you choose to breed two litters back to back, don’t throw away the opportunity by risking your own financial security.
Does a Litter Fit The Plan?
You’ve got everything covered. Your bitch is in fine health, you’ve placed the first litter in great homes, money’s not a problem, and you know your pedigrees well enough to be confident in the long-term health of the litters.
But…you’d really like to get some titles on this bitch. You bred her to give her time to mature a bit, you’ve gotten some training on her, and she’s ready to start looking for majors (or her CDX), and you really don’t want to put that on hold for another six to eight months.
It’s OK! Every person has different priorities. You are, of course, trading a bit of fertility for that title. But certainly, for most bitches, this isn’t going to mean the second or third pregnancy are impossible or even smaller.
All the Factors
So consider all the factors, not just your bitch’s uterus, when deciding whether to breed on consecutive heats. Don’t produce puppies you can’t care for adequately, and don’t stress your bitch (or yourself) simply for the sake of her uterus.
Have you considered breeding litters on consecutive heat cycles? How did it turn out, and are there any factors you wish you’d considered first?