False Pregnancies


Many of us are planning litters in our near future with the hopes of having a healthy bundle of puppies. However, you can optimize your chance of conception and prevent unnecessary breeding failures by simply doing a pre-breeding exam of both the bitch and stud dog. According to Dr. Mary Wakeman, DVM (Canine Fertility Center, Ashford, Connecticut) the most common factor in missed litters is the condition of the uterus. Dr. Wakeman recommends the following tests to screen a bitch for potential problems that may prevent a successful breeding:

 LYME WESTERN BLOT OR IDEXX SNAP-3D LYME TEST (differentiates between vaccinal and natural Lyme exposure)
 CULTURE (Mycoplasma)
 THYROID TEST (T4)  If the bitch is over 4 or has had a ‘miss’ on a prior breeding

There is some connection with bitches that have been on antibiotic medications for Lyme disease that can trigger a Herxheimer reaction in the pregnant bitch with subclinical Lyme disease, which can cause resorption of fetuses. It is recommended that a Lyme Western Blot blood test should be performed on bitches 4 to 6 weeks before they are due in heat.

Brucella is a venereal disease and highly contagious. It can cause sterility in both the dog and bitch. Even if the breeding is done by artificial insemination, a brucella titer should be done within the month prior to breeding. Owners with stud dogs should always require that a brucella test of the bitch be done prior to breeding.

A bitch is constantly exposed to a constant supply of bacteria to the genitalia every time she sits. Especially during heat cycles when the cervix opens, bacteria can easily move into the uterus causing development of scar tissue, inflammation and continual stimulation of the uterine lining. Although it may not be apparent to the owner that a low grade bacterial infection may be present, any infection even a mild one can result in an unsuitable uterine environment for the developing puppy.

CULTURE (Mycoplasma):
Mycoplasma, according to Dr. Wakeman, can be responsible for kennel-wide sterility. Cultures should be done a month before the bitch is expected to coming into heat.
White Blood Count: An elevated white blood count can indicate a uterine infection. Even in bitches that have never been bred before, it is possible for them to have significant levels of bacteria. Bitches should be checked a month before they come into heat.

Thyroid levels should be optimal in order for other reproductive hormones to function normally. Thyroid levels often vary with age of the animal and bitches over the age of 4 should be evaluated prior to an anticipated breeding. Many endocrinologists indicate that bitches should be in the upper third of the normal range during breeding and pregnancy. Thyroid normal bitches may need supplementation during pregnancy and may be able to go off of supplementation after whelping. Discuss this with your veterinarian if this may be an option for your bitch.

Herpes is not necessarily a venereal disease. It can be transmitted through the respiratory system by contact with other infected dogs. Litter loss can occur at any point of the pregnancy. Puppies may be resorbed or born dead, or they may acquire Herpes virus as they pass through the vaginal canal at birth (along with E.coli bacteria), in utero prior to birth, or by contact with infective secretions (respiratory aerosols or vaginal discharges) after birth. Puppies contracting herpes during birth will die within the first two weeks of life. Both the bitch and stud dog should be tested prior to breeding.

A reproductive exam should be done on the stud dog, as well, even if he has been successful at producing litters in the past. Dr. Wakeman recommends the following tests for the stud dog:


Semen evaluation: Evaluation of a semen sample includes assessment of color, sperm motility, concentration, morphology and other cells or bacteria. If the semen evaluation is poor, the dog should be rechecked in 60 days.

Semen culture and sensitivity: As in the bitch, bacterial infections can be present in the stud dog. A culture should be taken 2-3 weeks prior to breeding.

Mycoplasma culture: A culture should be taken 3-4 weeks prior to breeding. Refer to the bitch exam above for additional information.

Brucella titer: As in the bitch, an active stud dog can transmit brucella to a bitch or visa versa. Therefore, it is important that both the bitch and dog be tested prior to breeding.

Reproductive exam: A veterinarian should palpate the dog’s testes for size and consistency. A prostate exam should also be considered.

For additional information on health testing and reproductive questions, visit Dr. Wakeman’s website at: http://www.showdogsupersite.com/aach.html

By Michelle J. Raisor, PhD, Health and Genetics Co-Chairman
Phone: 979.695.8095 Email: raisor@tamu.edu