Marli's Chi's - AKC Longcoat Chihuahuas
of San Jose, California
To Breed or Not to Breed?
The decision of whether or not to breed is a very serious one. It is an especially serious decision with toy breeds because the whelp is so much more difficult and potentially dangerous than with larger breeds. What I am about to write may sound like a lecture but please read all the way through and think about it very carefully. As a breeder of Chihuahuas I am obviously not going to say that it shouldn't be done, but it is important to know the risks, educate yourself, and be very sure that your girl really is breeding quality and likely to whelp easily before you begin.
Wanting to breed is understandable - we love our little babies, naturally we want more just like them. Unfortunately, it is important to remember that there is no way to know for certain that any of the puppies will be anything like the parents. Because of the diversity in the Chihuahua gene pool, the odds are that they will be very different from him/her and each other, unless both parents are long-time line-bred from the same line and/or of very similar type with similar type parents. This is why a knowledge of lines, pedigrees and the heritability of various characteristics is critical to a serious breeder. It is also important to remember that the health and welfare of any puppies you produce is your responsibility FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. If you pick out a dog (whether purchased or adopted) you can see what you're getting, but if you breed then there are NO guarantees.
Here is some input from other sources on the decision on whether to breed:
From the Dog Owners Guide on spaying:
"...Females are better pets if they do not experience estrus twice each year. Heat cycles bring hormonal changes that can lead to personality changes. Repeated heat cycles subject the reproductive system to UTERINE AND MAMMARY CANCERS and UTERINE INFECTIONS. Some bitches experience false pregnancies that can be a bother to deal with... "
From the Official Newsletter of the Canine Health Foundation (AKC) Fall 1999, Issue 1:
"Dogs develop more mammary tumors than any species other than mice. The incidence in bitches, 199/100,000 female dogs, is nearly three times that seen in women... "
"The most widely recognized risk factor for developing mammary carcinoma in the dog is the number of estrous cycles (heats) experienced prior to ovariohysterectomy (spaying). Bitches spayed before the first heat have a relative risk of 0.05% for mammary cancer, while those with one heat cycle had 8% and those with 2 or more cycles had 26% relative risk. The sparing effect of ovariohysterectomy is lost after two years or four cycles... "
Translation: Females that are spayed after maturity but before their third heat cycle live longer healthier lives. In the over thirty years that I have been breeding Chihuahuas, I have personally observed this to be true. Mammary and uterine cancers will usually spread to the lungs and other internal organs long before you know the bitch is ill. It is an ugly painful death and difficult to prevent - except by early spaying.
From the Chihuahua Club of America breed fact pamphlet on breeding:
"SO YOU WANT TO BREED...
Breeding is not the mating together of two AKC registered dogs to produce puppies. That has been the downfall of many breeds. It's a creative art that requires the study of genetics, conformation, and bloodlines and veterinary procedures. The responsibilities for the future generations lies with a breeder. The mating together of outstanding champions will produce many pets, so if dogs that are not outstanding are bred, can you imagine what can happen? Personality, disposition and health are lost, along with the good looks of the breed. Chihuahuas are often delivered by Cesarean section and that's expensive! Puppies are small, usually 3 to 4 oz., and require a lot of extra care. SO CONSIDER CAREFULLY!"
Part of the decision process when picking two dogs to breed together is to look at the parents, grandparents and siblings of the dogs in question. Looking at dogs that are closely related to the dogs you plan to breed will tell you a lot about what you can expect to see in the puppies. Serious responsible breeders want to make sure that the lines in question are free of patellar luxation, bite distortion, heart disease and other hereditary diseases or defects. Even if your bitch is the perfect size for breeding (4-6 pounds), has a perfect scissor bite, excellent disposition, perfect “apple” dome, round eyes well set in the skull, perfectly shaped muzzle, perfectly level topline, perfect angulation, perfect proportion, perfect coat, good tuck-up, perfect tail set and carriage, etc. there may STILL be problems in her line she could pass on to her puppies. She may have had ugly, nasty parents and her good nature and good looks are a fluke that would not be passed on to her puppies. This is why a knowledge of genetics and the lines of both dogs in a mating pair is important.
Because it takes only a few dogs to breed but many bitches, usually only top winning Champions are used by good breeders as stud dogs. Many dogs that become Champions are still not considered perfect enough to use for breeding. And responsible owners of top-quality studs will not breed to bitches without papers. If your bitch is not registered, it is possible that only the very worst quality studs owned by unscrupulous, disreputable, or ignorant people will be available to you. Because Chihuahuas are so small, the bitches are sometimes unable to deliver puppies naturally and need cesarean sections. To reduce the risk to the bitch, often only smaller stud dogs (under 4 pounds) from similarly sized parents are used, so that the bitch has the best chance possible of being able to deliver naturally. Breeding Chihuahuas can be very expensive and when the average stud fee to use the #10 or better top winning Chihuahua in the nation is only $450-$600, it makes sense to use only the best.
From my personal experience I would say that there are a few things you should ask yourself before you decide to breed:
Have you studied genetics and the backgrounds of the dogs in question? Do you feel confident that this will be a sound breeding (i.e. that the puppies will be free of any serious genetic defect and will be good quality examples of the breed)?
Is you bitch of appropriate size, and sufficient health and quality that it is advisable to breed her? Does she have good pelvic breadth and a good tuck up so she can carry and deliver the puppies safely?
Is she the right age to be bred? On her first breeding, she should be physically mature but still have some of the flexibility of youth to enable her to whelp and carry more easily. This usually means she should be bred the first time on her second or third heat, and definitely before the age of three. Breeding a bitch too young or too old can cause more damage to her health than if she were the correct age. No matter what age she is, having pups will almost certainly shorten her life span.
Why do you want to breed? What are you trying to produce? Do you have a breeding plan? If all you want is another puppy, buy one. It is cheaper, safer and easier. Better yet, adopt a dog from a local rescue group or animal shelter.
If this is your first toy-breed litter, have you read about whelping and do you have a toy-breed breeder near you who can help you and act as your mentor?
Can you afford a cesarean section, x-rays, puppy shots and other possible medical expenses? Where I live, an emergency C-section can cost from $950 to $2,500 dollars.
Are you prepared to deal with the loss of the bitch if the unthinkable happens and the delivery kills her? Every Chihuahua breeder I know has had at least one breeding bitch die from infection contracted during the breeding, trauma during the delivery of the pups, or from complications afterwards.
Are you prepared to "put down" defective puppies rather than letting them suffer and watching them die slowly?
Are you prepared to never leave the bitch alone for more than an hour at a time for the entire week prior to when she is due to whelp until the time she actually delivers? Or if you cannot be with her, can you afford to hire a breeder to board her during this time and act as "midwife"?
Are you prepared to help her deliver the pups or get her to a vet immediately if she needs assistance? Do you know how to turn or pull a stuck puppy without injuring the puppy or the bitch?
Do you know how to recognize eclampsia, mastitis, uterine inertia, and other potentially life- threatening complications?
Are you prepared to bottle and/or tube feed puppies every 3 hours if it is necessary?
Have you spent the time to pick out a good stud dog with qualities that compliment your bitch's qualities and made arrangements with his owner? He should be of such outstanding quality and breeding potential that it will be worth it to you to risk your bitch's life to produce his offspring.
Are you prepared to take responsibility for the puppies for the rest of their lives? To take them back and care for them if they are no longer wanted?
Are you prepared to refund money for any puppy you sell that does manifest a serious congenital disorder?
Do you know how to accomplish the breeding? To artificially inseminate, if necessary?
Have both dogs been checked for transmissible diseases?
Are you sure that both dogs are free of heritable defects or genetic disease such as patellar luxation, bite distortion, heart disease, etc.
Do you have a contract of sale that protects you and the purchaser of the puppy? Many states have "puppy lemon laws" that you should be familiar with before selling a puppy. If you choose to give puppies away instead of selling them, then statistically they will not be as well cared for by their new owners. Also, I guarantee that between stud fees, lost time at work and medical bills it will almost certainly end up being cheaper and will definitely be less stressful to buy a puppy.
A recent litter of mine is a good example of what can happen:
Tami weighs 5 1/4 pounds so a C-section was not likely to be needed but I have had a bitch as large as 6 pounds who needed a C-section and I know of a 7 1/2 pound bitch who always does. Tami whelped 4 days before she was due and in the late afternoon while I was still at work. If I had not been bringing her into the office with me that week she would have been alone when she delivered. Bandit was born breech and had great difficulty breathing at first because he was premature. I really had to work to get his lungs clear and get him started breathing. If I had not known how to help him, he almost certainly would have died then. Tango was fairly normal but large and Tami had a little trouble pushing him out - I had to help and pull him. Without assistance, Tango probably would have been killed during the birthing process and Tami would likely have had pelvic injuries. At first I thought Bandit would need to be tube fed (because of his labored breathing I thought he would be too weak to nurse) but fortunately this was not the case. I have found it necessary to tube feed tiny puppies in the past, however - especially if there are more than three pups in the litter. Tube feeding is always a nerve-wracking business - make a mistake and you kill the puppy. For the first two weeks of his life until he stabilized, I checked on Bandit every three hours to make sure he was not in distress. When the pups were four weeks old Tami's milk dried up and I had to take over feeding them until they were weaned at six weeks.
This was a first litter by a good-sized bitch who was bred to a Champion-quality and proven stud dog who weighed under 3 pounds. If there had been only one puppy, it would probably have been bigger than Tango was and Tami almost certainly would have needed a C-section. Single pup litters are not at all uncommon with Chihuahuas, especially in first litters, and the fewer the number of puppies then the larger the individual pups are. The average litter size for Chihuahuas is only 1-3 pups.
I know many breeders who have lost bitches or puppies due to complications related to breeding such as anaesthesia poisoining or uncontrolled bleeding during C-section surgery, eclampsia, pyometra, mastitis, uterine inertia, etc. I have acted as mentor to several novice breeders and I can say that the ones who did a lot of study and research first fared better, although they all had their losses, too. By the way, this is not true of just Chihuahuas - breeders of all breeds will occasionally lose bitches and puppies to breeding complications. I know a lab breeder who lost a bitch during a c-section surgery.
For one novice breeder I mentored it was a horror story. I had advised her not to breed because her bitch was small and short-bodied. I thought I had convinced her but she decided to do it anyway. In the seventh week of carrying, the bitch's uterus burst open (it was too small for the pups she was carrying) and emergency surgery was needed to save her. After $1,500 in emergency vet bills, losing both of the puppies and nearly losing the bitch who was the woman's only pet and love of her life, I cannot begin to describe to you how this woman felt about what she had put her beloved “Lucky” through, what she had lost, and what it had almost cost her. In addition, her little 7 year old daughter was traumatized by what had happened to her little doggie.
If your main reason for wanting to breed your is that you have a Chihuahua that you love and would like another like him/her, then what makes the most sense is to find another to buy or adopt. It may take you time and work to find the right dog but it will be worth it. Remember, even if you do somehow end up breeding your Chi, it may be that none of the puppies will be anything like him/her and there are NO guarantees - not even that the bitch will survive.
I won't tell you that you shouldn't breed, but it really is more than just putting two dogs together and "letting her get pregnant". I studied a great deal and assisted on the whelps of other people's Chihuahuas before I ever bred a litter of my own. I had an experienced mentor to help me. I still regularly consult with other breeders and read books and articles to see what I can learn that will give every one of my furkids the best shot at health and happiness possible.
Be sure that you are also prepared to do what is needed and if you think that your little girl is too precious to risk, no matter how small the risk, don't do it. Even if absolutely nothing goes wrong with the breeding and the whelp, you will still be shortening her expected life span. I hate to sound pushy or like a doomsayer, but I have seen what happens when things go wrong with a breeding and the people involved were just not prepared to deal with it. Even for those of us who really know the risks and have had our losses, it hurts every time.
Breeding is not for everyone and don't kid yourself that only breeding one litter doesn't make you a breeder. For the sake of your little baby, you had better think of yourself as a breeder and do what needs to be done. It is a serious thing to do. Once you are committed, you can cry afterwards if things went wrong, but you had better be there 100% until it's all over. She will need you to be. That's what we "real breeders" do because little lives depend upon it.
-by Marli Medinnus
Copyright © 1999 by Marli Medinnus. Authorization to reprint, copy, and distribute this article is hereby granted provided such publication is done for no profit and the source is credited.