DaDane of DaWeek

 Created: 05/17/04


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– I'm One Month Old! –

May 17, 2004 – For the past few weeks we've been watching the growth and development of three Great Dane puppies and looking into what constitutes a responsible breeding program.

Most owners of pet Danes have no concept of the preparation and expense that's required to produce a healthy – and structurally sound – litter. Great Dane puppies can be obtained from a variety of questionable sources such as pet stores and puppy millers, newspaper ads and backyard breeders. These unfortunate creatures are almost certainly NOT the product of a well-considered breeding program. By the time this series is complete, I hope we'll all have a better understanding of what goes into producing a QUALITY litter.

Responsible Breeding
Last week I reviewed some of the health checks that are recommended prior to breeding. This week we'll talk about the breeding process itself. Let's pretend you are a would-be breeder and your female has passed all the recommended health checks. (And it only cost you $900!) We'll assume that your Dane is of sufficient "quality" that she deserves to be bred – meaning she is backed by a solid pedigree with many champions, she exhibits superior conformation, and she has an excellent temperament. We'll also assume you've found a suitable male of similar qualifications to breed her to – one whose pedigree, temperament and physical characteristics compliment those of the mother. (Your stud fee was $1000.) You are hoping that this union will produce a litter with at least one truly exceptional puppy, a puppy that will be better, even, than its parents.

Did you know?
Most breeders who own a stud dog will have at least one sperm collection and evaluation performed by a qualified veterinarian. They often decide to store their dog's frozen sperm for the future, or for use in long-distance breedings. A seasoned breeder writes:

"I had three males collected last December. My clinic's fees are based on the number of vials (breeding units) that are collected for storage. For the December visit I had 10 vials on one male, 8 on another, and 25 on the third. My total bill for the day was $3600.00!! Yearly storage fees are an additional $150 per dog after the first year."

She went on to say, "Prices vary depending on the collection organization – CLONE, ICG, Camelot, or a private vet – but you can expect to pay at least $250 for an initial sperm evaluation (that's one dog), plus additional fees for the collection and storage.

Artificial Insemination
Finding a qualified sire for your litter may not have been easy. Often, the best possible match involves a dog that doesn't live anywhere near you and your dam. When a natural breeding isn't possible due to distance or other factors, many breeders rely on artificial insemination. There are several types of AI procedures. Today we'll take a look at the most invasive (and expensive) method, something called "frozen surgical implant."

Frozen Surgical Implant
Hallie, the mother of the three adorable fawn puppies we've been following, conceived her litter via this method. Hallie's breeder, Cindy Niske, tells us about her experience:

A frozen surgical implant requires careful coordination between the stud dog owner, the bitch owner, the cryobank (semen storage facility) and the reproductive veterinarian. It is a nerve wracking experience, to say the least.

Canines are different than all other mammals, in that once the female's eggs are released from the ovary, it takes two to three days for them to mature. A frozen surgical implant is performed when the eggs have matured and are ready for fertilization within the uterine horns. The repro vet injects the carefully thawed semen directly into the uterine horns. Conception usually occurs within a day.

Progesterone Testing
In order to determine when the time is right for the surgical implant, your dam's progesterone level must be monitored. Progesterone testing is generally done every other day starting from day five of the estrous cycle, and then daily once the hormone levels start to rise. On average, you might have to do four to seven tests. In Hallie's case, we learned she was ovulating after the third test. This meant the surgical implant had to be performed in three days. (At $100 a pop, we spent $300 on Hallie's progesterone tests.) The stud dog's owner had already authorized the release of the frozen semen from the cryobank, and it was shipped directly to the reproductive veterinarian. Three days later, I loaded Hallie into the car and we headed to the clinic, which was located about 200 miles to the west of us in Atlanta, Georgia. After four hours behind the wheel, I found myself waiting anxiously in the lobby for our name to be called, with a confused Hallie in tow.

The Operation
After Hallie was given a pre-surgical evaluation, she was "put under" and prepped. The implantation surgery itself lasted only ten minutes, but it was amazing to watch. A four-inch incision was made in Hallie's tummy and and her uterus was brought up to the surface, checked for cysts or other problems that could inhibit conception, and then injected with the semen. Just knowing that fertilization would take place over the next day was priceless. (The procedure itself did have a price, though. It cost us $500, plus travel expenses.)

After Hallie had awakened, a doting staff loaded her back into my van and we were on the road again, battling rush-hour traffic in Atlanta, GA. Hallie was still under the influence of anesthesia and needless-to-say, I kept glancing back to her crate to make sure she was okay during the long drive home. Two short days later, Hallie was herself again and the waiting process began.

Hallie's Pregnancy
In anticipation of her pregnancy, Hallie's diet had already been altered several weeks prior to her coming into season. Her food was changed to a richer, high-performance food while she remained on her usual vitamin C and Acidophilus. Five weeks after the implant, the total amount of food Hallie received was increased until she was consuming approximately 1500 calories per day.

Now that Hallie had been bred, my next big decision was whether or not to request an ultrasound, which would tell me if Hallie was, in fact, pregnant. The $75 ultrasound test is usually performed 30 days after a breeding, which is about halfway into the pregnancy. Some vets can palpate the uterus of the bitch around day 28 and actually feel the "string of pearls," each pearl being a puppy. If the vet is really good, he or she can pretty accurately predict the number of pups expected. I saw no reason to subject Hallie to the stress of an ultrasound, so we decided to skip it and just wait and see. We'd know soon enough. We were pretty sure Hallie was pregnant after a few weeks had passed. Then the panting and pacing began – and I'm not talking about the mother-to-be!

Next Installment

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