Sometimes an advance in knowledge is unfortunately brought on by problems. A decade or so after the new Century dawned, we started hypothesizing about the alarming increase in failures in the dog breeding community that we had been hearing about for the past 10 or 15 years. I know I was not the only one hearing more and more complaints about bitches not conceiving. And this in a day when veterinary schools and private-enterprise researchers can help us zero in on the exact best time to inseminate. Progesterone, LH, and other hormones can be tracked with simple and fast test kits, and give far better accuracy than the vaginal cytology (study of the changing shape of cells lining the uterus) or the physical activity of the bitch or even the most jaded or experienced stud dog. But even with plenty of matings bracketing the time/day of ovulation, breeders are complaining of failures.
Freight and air regulations are prohibitive, “Homeland Security” has much adverse fallout, and even if you can get them, delayed repeat breedings are a drain on the pocketbook. Most Germans will not give you more than the time of day after you twist their arms for a second breeding if the first did not take.
At least in the German Shepherd world, many have been blaming the fact that so many of our bitches were “coming up empty” on the known use of anabolic steroids given to many of the top show dogs in an attempt to boost their chances of being placed in the very highest positions at the annual national specialty, or even the preliminary competitions where success is considered in making judging decisions at the final big show. There is no doubt that this goes on, and we know that many of the top human athletes in weightlifting, football, boxing, track, etc. are sterile or temporarily have a low sperm count. But this would not account for the trend seen equally in services by less-famous stud dogs. Perhaps, then, it is more a problem in the bitches.
The increasing, too-frequent use of vaccines for any and all things is another target for blame regarding lack of conception and other concerns. That is, some want to point the finger at the effect that over-vaccination has on the immune- and other systems. Perhaps the new factor in the well-known but poorly documented rise in number of missed matings is a new herpes variety. This appears to be the cause of at least some of these failures, and this evidence has led to much research, advertising, and money directed at this viral factor. In many growing pockets in Europe, breeders are using and reporting success with a vaccine marketed by Merial. In England, for example, friends tell me of scores of bitches supposedly infertile or nearly so have been producing very well after getting the vaccine. The word going around there is that if the bitch is vaccinated while in estrus or right after the bitch is mated, and again at 6 or 7 weeks in whelp, not only is it almost always successful, but larger litter numbers than expected seem to be the norm.
Merial have said [rough translation]: “the herpes canine virus is an infectious and contagious disease caused by alpha herpes virus, which involves reproduction disorders, losses of pups mainly before 3 weeks, but also of infertility, abortions, and/or stillbirths. The vaccination which exists is used to protect the pups less than 3 weeks at which age one finds the clinical form most serious. The mothers receive an injection at the time of heats [estrus] and another injection one or two weeks before whelping.”
Merial also says, “Visit www.canineherpes.com for comprehensive public domain info.” and describes the virus and vaccine thusly: “EURICAN Canine herpesvirus (F205) strain antigens; Indication: Active immunisation of bitches to prevent mortality, clinical signs and lesions in puppies resulting from canine herpes virus infections acquired in the first few days of life.”
The Other Major Reason
But there certainly seems to be more than one factor for failure to conceive or develop embryos. Nobody has been keeping statistics, so we can’t tell how many failed breedings are costing bitch owners money and time. While a few German clubs like the SV (for GSDs) will make note of such complaints, and withdraw rights from males that are shooting blanks, they will not hear from most disgruntled breeders. Stud dog owners elsewhere are racking up the fees, and bitch owners are getting poorer. Correspondents in England and Australia tell me it (failure to conceive) has been going on in their countries for some time, as it has in the U.S. Recently, reports have come out of New Zealand and other far-flung places also. It’s a matter of awareness as much as any physical reason. “Coming to a theatre near you!”
One person wrote me about the inability to get Boston Terrier bitches pregnant, and being just about to give up breeding. A friend suggested that she “do a sensitivity test for bacteria near the uterus, and she did and put her dogs on an antibiotic. (Amoxicillin wasn’t doing the job.) I believe that they were put on Baytril. Since she began treatment she now has three very pregnant bitches.” But E. coli and other bacteria, while almost as omnipresent as Herpes and Demodex, is relatively seldom the culprit.
I have discussed the problem with many GSD breeders who claim to have done away with the risk simply by boosting the thyroid function of their bitches. They usually give thyroxine pills one or more days during estrus and again at time of mating, at a dosage of 0.1 mg. per 10 lbs. of body weight. One vet told me that Soloxine™ is so safe, that he recommends, for a typical GSD bitch, two 0.6 mg. tablets a day (one in morning, one at night) for 14 days before breeding, or from the first dropping of blood. GSDs and many other breeds have a great number or percentage that are “low-normal” or borderline-hypothyroid according to previously accepted standards, but the levels aren’t the same when estrus starts… and what is “low normal” may indeed be abnormally low already. Maybe not enough to cause any symptoms (except missing conception!) but lower than mid- or optimal-range levels.
Something that may be inadequately taught in vet schools is the fact that generalities may often be inaccurate, or at least quite variable from breed to breed. Levels of body chemicals that seem to be normal or adequate in everyday life may be borderline or may not be sufficient when certain stresses or hormonal-biochemical changes occur (such as estrus or gestation). What may be sufficient for some breeds might not be for yours. Even if your dog does not have frank (obvious) deficiency of thyroid function, it will probably benefit from boosting the hormone level produced by this gland.
Soloxine is cheap, safe, and apparently efficacious (it works!) in improving the chances of fertilization and implanting, from what breeders and vets have told me. One unfortunate requirement is that in the USA, one has to get a prescription from a veterinarian, and with the exorbitant office-visit-exam fees most charge for the simplest things, this results in a burden on many breeders, an additional and probably unnecessary cost. In the meantime, while we wait for more controlled studies to convince readers of the veterinary journals, we breeders can use the Soloxine approach. I have seen near-miracles through the use of Soloxine, in producing litters of healthy pups. It is simply up to the brood bitch owner to convince a veterinarian to sell him a supply of tablets for his next breedings.