ddison's diseaseThe pituitary gland produces a hormone that triggers the adrenal gland to produce corticosteroids. If there is a problem with the adrenal gland, or a pituitary tumor, the process breaks down and not enough corticosteroids are produced. Characterized by weakness, weight loss, anorexia, and fatigue.
alopecic syndrome, color dilution alopeciadeficiency of the hair, caused by a failure to grow or regrow after loss. Signs may include bacterial folliculitis, scaling and hair loss. Caused by the dilution gene at the D locus.
allergyimmunological hypersensitivity to certain foreign antigens
anemiareduction of red blood cells or hemoglobin. The red cells contain the protein 'hemoglobin' which binds oxygen in the red blood cell. This allows the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. Symptoms include weakness, reluctance to exercise, pale mucus membranes, and tachycardia (abnormally rapid heart rate).
anatomyThe physical structure of the body. Understanding the words used to express positioning on a dog's body helps a great deal in understanding veterinary lingo. For the directions below, the dog is standing in the center of a room with his head facing the north wall.
Berner lipsOn the body:

Dorsal - toward the ceiling or back
Ventral - toward the floor or belly
Cranial, or anterior - toward the north wall or head
Caudal, or posterior - toward the south wall or butt
Lateral - toward the east or west wall or side
Medial - toward the midline, away from the east or west walls

On the limbs:

Proximal - toward the body
Distal - away from the body
Palmar - the front foot pads
Plantar - the rear foot pads


Flexion - decreasing a joint's angle
Extension - increasing a joint's angle
antibodyproteins produced by the immune system in response to antigens; an important component of the immune system
antigena foreign substance that stimulates an immune response
arthritisinflammation of a joint caused by abnormal stress on a normal joint, or by normal stress on an abnormal joint. Polyarthritis is immune mediated, and is arthritis in multiple joints. osteoarthritis
autoimmune diseasefailure of the immune system to differentiate the body?s own cells from foreign substances, triggering an inflammatory response against self. This can be in the form of a very specific immune attack, such as the destruction of pancreatic islet cells resulting in diabetes mellitus, or a broad immunologic injury such as lupus.
autoimmune hemolytic anemiathe body produces antibodies directed against its own red blood cells, causing their destruction. FYI: Many if not all of the autoimmune anemias have antibodies that attack related, similar blood types, donor RBC's too.
autosomalany of the chromosomes other than the sex pair, the 'X' or 'Y' chromosomes
benignnot cancerous or malignant
calcinosis circumscriptadeposits of calcium found in small lumps under the skin, in the tongue, or attached to tendons or in joint capsules
cancera group of diseases caused by transformation of normal cells into malignant ones. When these cells shed and travel to other areas of the body, the cancer is said to metastasize. As the cancerous growth draws nutrients, and the general lack of well-being diminishes the appetite, the resultant emaciation is called cancer cachexia.
cataractsLoss of transparency of the lens of the eye. Can be genetic or acquired as the result of injury or diabetes, aging, etc. Also associated with PRA which is inherited. Also see ► CERF

develops in dogs less than 6 months old

small points

cerebellar degenerationdegeneration of the cerebellar portion of the brain
cervical vertebral instability (wobblers)compression of the cervical (neck) spinal cord caused by instability or malformation of the cervical vertebrae. Dogs show lack of muscle coordination in the back legs and possibly neck.
cleft palatea congenital split involving the hard or soft palate in the mouth. May cause nasal regurgitation in newborns. Known to be inherited in some breeds, may also be caused by environmental factors.
congenitalpresent at birth. May or may not be inherited from parents and may or may not be passed on to off-spring.
cruciateshaped like a cross. Cruciate ligaments are found on the front (cranial or anterior) and the back (caudal or posterior) of the stifle (?knee?) joint.
cryptorchidan animal with one or two undescended testicles.
Cushing's diseasethe pituitary gland produces a hormone that triggers the adrenal gland to produce corticosteroids. If there is a problem with the adrenal gland, or a pituitary tumor, the process breaks down and too much corticosteroids are produced.
cutaneousbenign proliferation of nodules in or under the skin
cystitisinflammation of the urinary bladder.
cysta closed sac of fluid or semi-solid substance. Generally harmless, but in some cases they may become malignant.
demodectic mangeskin disease characterized by hair loss particularly on the head, face, neck, shoulders and the front of the forelegs. Caused by the demodex mite which is normally found on the skin of most dogs, but due to an abnormality of the immune system, the body overreacts to its presence. It can be treated, but it is occasionally resistant to treatment.
Diabetes insipidusinadequate secretion of, or resistance to the effects of, antidiuretic hormone (ADH or Vasopressin). This hormone stimulates the kidney to retain water in the body. Consequently, the dog passes a large volume of urine with a low specific gravity, and also exhibits great thirst. It may be acquired, inherited, or idiopathic. mellitus - due to a failure of the pancreas to produce sufficient insulin, or the cells resistance to the effects of insulin the body is unable to properly process glucose. May require insulin injections, or may be controlled with diet. May be acquired or possibly inherited.
dominantonly one copy of a gene is necessary for a trait to be exhibited. At least one of the parents would also exhibit this same trait.
dysfibrinogenemia, factor I deficiencyfibrinogen, or Factor I, is an important component of the "clotting cascade" which allows your body to stop bleeding. This disease is due to either an abnormally low amount of fibrinogen, or its complete absence, or the presence of a normal amount of an abnormal and less effective fibrinogen. Symptoms include easy or excessive bleeding or no symptoms at all.
dysplasiabad (dys) + growth (plasia)
ectopic ciliahairs on the inside of the eyelids causing irritation to the eye.
ectropioneyelid turns outward. Allows for the accumulation of foreign matter causing eye irritation.
elbow dysplasia, EDasynchronous growth of the bones of the foreleg causing the joint to meet improperly.elbow dysplasia
entropioneyelids turn inward causing hair to irritate the surface of the eye. Normally requires surgical correction, and sometimes requires multiple surgeries.
epilepsyabnormal electrical function of the brain causing disturbances of the nervous system.
epilepsy (acquired)Acquired due to injury to the brain at birth, tumor, blow to the head, endocrine (hormonal) disorder, etc.
epilepsy (idiopathic)no demonstrable cause, may be genetic.http://www.bestbeau.ca/bmd_health_links_3.htm#EPILEPSY
fading puppy syndromean apparently normal puppy gradually weakens and dies within a week or two of birth. Not a specific disorder, but generally applied to infectious causes.
fibrosarcomaa malignant tumor arising from collagen-producing fibroblasts (an immature fiber-producing cell of connective tissue).
fly-snappingrepeated snapping at non-existent flying object has been associated in BMDs with partial seizures, in some cases with ear infections, and in a few cases with food allergies. Some forms may be alleviated by seizure medications. A few have been alleviated with behavioral modification techniques, which may indicate that some forms are simply behavioral problems often caused by boredom.
fragmented coronoid process, FCPthe coronoid process fragments forming a loose body in the elbow joint, called a joint mouse. See elbow dysplasia.
gastric dilatation-volvulus, bloatGastric dilatation means stomach distention or enlargement, caused by expanding gas. This may or may not be accompanied by volvulus, or torsion, or twisting of the stomach on its long axis. bloat
glomerulonephritisInflammatory disease of the glomerulus, part of the kidney, which filters toxic waste from the blood. Tests of the urine can show a variety of abnormalities. Complete loss of kidney function can occur.
gulpsexaggerated swallowing movements. In BMDs, it often is accompanied by a desperate need to eat anything, especially grass.
hemangiosarcomaa malignant tumor of endothelial cells - the layer of cells that lines the cavities of the heart and of the blood and lymph vessels. (Epithelial cells cover all body surfaces, inside and out.)
hematomalocalized collection of blood, a lump. Dogs can get them in their ear flaps from violent and repeated shaking of the head, from such things as ear infections or insect stings.
hemophiliathe blood lacks coagulating factors, causing a strong tendency to bleed, and difficulty in getting the bleeding to stop.
hepatitisinflammation of the liver. This can result from a variety of causes including infections (particularly viral), drugs, autoimmunity and genetics. The liver stores and filters blood, secretes bile, converts sugars, processes fat, produces proteins which help to control blood volume, and produces some of the clotting factors.
hepatocerebellar degenerationdeath of liver cells causing poisoning of the white matter of the brain.
herniaabnormal protrusion of organs through a weak spot or abnormal opening, usually in the abdominal or groin areas.
hip dysplasia, CHD, HDimproper development of the hip joint, typically, the acetabulum (socket) is not deep enough for the femoral head (ball) to fit fully into place. Seehttp://workingdogs.com/doc0090.htm
histiocytomasa small wart-like skin growth that will eventually disappear. (Note: NO growths or lumps on a BMD should ever be ignored! Your vet can do a needle aspirate on most lumps to help rule out cancer.)
histiocytosisabnormal appearance of histiocytes in the blood. (Histiocytes are produced by the bone marrow and are normally immobile until stimulated by inflammation. They are a type of antigen presenting cell.)
histiocytosis (malignant)a rapidly invasive proliferation of neoplastic (new growth) histiocytes. No known treatment, always fatal.
histiocytosis (systemic)proliferation of histiocytes invading the skin and lymph nodes. Can go into remission for years, or progress to the malignant form. Can be treated, but not cured.
Horner's Syndromeis a group of signs that occurs when specific muscles of the face lose their stimulation by certain nerves, specifically the sympathetic nerves. Signs of Horner's syndrome may include constricted pupil, elevation of the third eyelid, retraction of the eyeball into the head, slight drooping of the eyelid, and an increased pink color and warmth of the nose and ear on the affected side. May be immune mediated.
hot spotsinflammation of the skin, dermatitis. Frequently caused by flea bites, or a hypersensitivity to an allergen. It can also be caused by bacteria building up in an area that the dog bites or scratches. Some BMD owners have linked it to the dog having wet fur for prolonged periods of time.
hydrocephalus, water on the brainaccumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the skull, which diminishes the size of the brain.
hypertrophic osteodystrophy, HODinflammation of the growth plates, and can be accompanied by depression, weight loss, and fever. The joints may be swollen and feel hot. Mild cases usually resolve with no lasting ill effects. However, in the rare case of severe HOD, permanent damage to the bone joints can result in limb deformities. hypertrophic osteodystrophy
hypomyelination, tremblersreduction in the amount of myelin (cover or sheath) on the nerves. The disease has an early onset, in BMDs is considered to be an autosomal recessive trait.
idiopathicno known cause
incontinenceinability to control urination and/or defecation.
intervertebral disk disease, IVDDpain and often paralysis resulting from displacement of the center of a vertebral disk
intussuceptionthe intestine telescopes on itself, causing a blockage
irritable bowel syndromesoft or watery feces, often with mucus. Associated with stress. Also called colitis.
lateral torsiontwisted or rotated out
leukemiaa cancerous proliferation of one of the subsets of White Blood Cells
luxating tarsusdislocation of the 'ankle'
lymphoma, lymphosarcomamalignant tumor that arises from cells of the lymphoreticular system. Commonly presents with swollen lymph nodes, masses, enlarged liver or spleen, fevers, weight loss.
malignanttending to become progressively worse and result in death
mastitisinflammation of the mammary gland, usually due to bacterial infection.
mastocytoma, mast cell tumorsa growth of mast cells (cells in the dermis which is directly beneath the outer skin layer, which release histamine to counter allergens). These tumors may become malignant. (Note: in BMDs, determine status, may be malignant!) mast cell
megaesophagusoverly enlarged esophagus causing buildup of food and saliva and regurgitation. Associated with aspirative pneumonia from an early age.
meningitisnot a disease, but a symptom, the inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, the meninges. This can be caused by bacteria, virus, fungi, or chemical toxins.
meningitis (aseptic)an inflammation of the meninges for which no identifiable infectious agent can be cultured or tested for, and may be genetic.
mitral valve defecta defect in the heart valve that separates the left atrium and the left ventricle.
murmuran abnormal heart sound associated with the opening or closing of a heart valve. This may indicate a structural or functional abnormality.
optic nerve hypoplasiaincomplete development of the optic nerve.
osteochondritis dessicans, OCDa piece of cartilage tears away forming a flap. The flap may reattach to the bone on its own, or it may tear away, becoming a joint mouse in the joint cavity. Symptoms include pain and limping. Often requires surgery. osteochondritis dessicans
pain, chronicpersisting for a long time
pancreatitisinflammation of the pancreas due to a variety of causes such as infections and drugs. The pancreas produces enzymes and bicarbonate, important in digestion and absorption of nutrients, as well as insulin. Chronic, severe pancreatitis can result in malabsorption and diarrhea as well as diabetes mellitus.
panosteitis, panoinflammation of the bone, particularly the long bones in growing dogs. Causes pain and limping. panosteitis
patellar luxationdislocation of the 'knee' cap, causing mild to severe, continuous or intermittent pain.http://www.bestbeau.ca/bmd_health_links_4.htm#PATELLAR
patent ductus arteriosus, PDAthe normal opening between the aorta and pulmonary artery, which allows blood to bypass the unoxygenated lung in utero, fails to close after birth.
pemphigus foliaceusa generalized scaling disease, with hair loss, and sometimes with the formation of heavy crusts. Involvement of a nail bed leads to loss of the nail.
picachronic eating of non-food materials.
pituitary glanda hormone secreting (endocrine) gland at the base of the brain; it regulates growth as well as regulating the proper functioning of many other glands and processes.
polyarteritis nodosaan inflammatory disease of small and medium sized arteries.
portosystemic shunt, PSSabnormal blood vessels in the liver preventing normal circulation and functioning of the liver.
progressive retinal atrophy, PRAany of a number of inherited diseases of the eye leading to blindness. It generally starts with difficulty seeing in the dark followed by a loss of vision in the daylight. In the BMD it is an autosomal recessive trait.
prostatitisinflammation of the prostate gland.
pyodermaany purulent (containing or forming pus) skin disease
pyometrapus accumulation in the uterus, normally caused by bacterial infection.
recessive (mode of inheritance)requires a copy of the gene from both parents to exhibit the trait. Having only one copy of the gene makes the dog a carrier of the trait, and he will never exhibit the trait - unless the gene is located on the 'X' or sex chromosome.
registryA database of health information.

See ► Health, registries, databases (PDF)

Berner-Garde - Bernese Mountain Dog data repository used to track health trends and provides reports about a dog's family on request. Independent foundation, not part of the BMDCA.► Berner-Garde 
OFA - Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, closed registry of hip, elbow, heart, thyroid, and other results. ► OFA 
GDC - Institute for Genetic Disease Control,(Note: Historical data from the GDC is being maintained by the OFA.) open registry reporting orthopedic and ophthalmologic evaluation reports, tumor, epilepsy, heart registry and some other breed specific health information. ► GDC 
PennHIP - Penn Hip Improvement Program - closed registry of hip laxity measurements. Uses a DI (distraction index), a number from 0.0 - 1.00 with the lower the number the better the hip.► PennHIP 
CERF - Canine Eye Registry Foundation - closed registry of eye test results. ► CERF

registry (open registry)repository of health test results, allows full access to the information.
registry (closed registry)repository of health test results, limited access, and/or allows access to normal results information only.
sarcomatumor formed of connective tissue cells: bone cartilage, muscle, blood vessel, or lymphoid tissue.
sarcoptic mangeskin disease characterized by extreme itching, hair loss, and secondary infection. Usually widespread, but often seen on the belly and inner thighs. Can be treated, but spreads easily.
sebaceous adenitisinflammation of the sebaceous glands (found at the base of hair follicles).
seborrheaabnormal secretion of the sebaceous glands at the base of hair follicles, causing anything from dandruff to greasy scales and crust.
selective IgM deficiencya deficiency in the production of the IgM antibody, one of the body's five classes of immunoglobulins, the proteins produced as antibodies to fight infection and toxins.
snow noseloss of pigmentation on the nose, usually in winter.
spinal myelopathydisease of the myelin, or covering (sheath) of the spinal nerves (the spinal cord).
staphylococcus, stapha type of bacteria. Normally found on the skin and upper respiratory tract, but can occasionally cause localized suppurating infection.
stenosisa narrowing or contraction of an opening.
stenosis (aortic stenosis)obstruction of the blood flowing from the left ventricle to the aorta.
stenosis (mitral stenosis)narrowing of the mitral valve that separates the left atrium and the left ventricle.
stenosis (pulmonary artery stenosis)narrowing of the outflow from the lungs.
stenosis (subaortic stenosis)narrowing of the aorta just below the semilunar valves. Severity increases with age.http://www.bestbeau.ca/bmd_health_links_4.htm#SAS
stonesa mass, usually formed from mineral salts, occurring within the hollow organs: kidney, gallbladder, urinary bladder.
systemic lupus erythematosis, SLEan autoimmune disease in which the immune system sees its own body as foreign matter. Characterized by polyarthritis, hemolytic anemia, skin disease, among many other symptoms.
thrombocytopenic purpuraa disease characterized by the formation of platelet clots in the microcirculation (very small vessels). The exact cause is unclear, but thought to be due to infections, inherited conditions or immunologic abnormalities. It results in bleeding, with a low platelet count, anemia, neurologic symptoms kidney disease, and fever.
thyroidthe largest of the hormone secreting (endocrine) glands located in the neck; it regulates metabolism.
thyroid (hyperthyroid)excessive production of thyroid hormones, often seen in older dogs, causing excessive thirst, weight loss, increased appetite and restlessness.
thyroid (hypothyroid)decreased production of thyroxine, causing poor coat, weight gain, mental dullness, fatigue, cold intolerance, and infertility.
tricuspid valve defecta defect in the heart valve that separates the right atrium and the right ventricle.
ununited anconeal process, UAPthe anconeal process never unites with the ulna, can detach and form a loose body in the joint, called a joint mouse. See elbow dysplasia. See elbow dysplasia.
uveodermatologic syndrome, Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada-like syndromedepigmentation of the skin and hair, and of the nose, lips, eyelids, footpads and anus. (In humans this disease is believed to be immune-mediated.)
von Willebrand's diseasevon Willebrand's disease - deficiency of coagulation factor VIII causing prolonged bleeding time. This can be an autosomal dominant trait, but Bernese Mountain Dogs have Type I, which is an autosomal recessive trait.


What is an umbilical hernia?

umbilical_hernia-1_2009An umbilical hernia is a protrusion (outward bulging) of the abdominal lining, abdominal fat or a portion of abdominal organ(s) through the area around the umbilicus (navel or belly button). The umbilicus in dogs and cats is located on their underside just below the ribcage.

What causes an umbilical hernia?

Before birth, the umbilical blood vessels pass through the umbilical ring (an opening in the abdominal muscles) to provide nourishment to the developing fetus. An umbilical hernia is caused by the incomplete closure of the umbilical ring after birth. The hernia generally appears as a soft swelling beneath the skin and it often protrudes when the puppy is standing, barking, crying, or straining. Some hernias are reducible, meaning that the protrusion can be pushed back into the abdomen while others are non-reducible indicating at least partial obstruction or adhesion of the herniated contents to the opening.

"Some hernias are reducible, meaning that the protrusion can be pushed back into the abdomen."

An umbilical hernia can vary in size from less than a quarter-inch (1-cm) to more than an inch (2.5-cm) in diameter. Small (less than ¼ inch or 1-cm) hernias may close spontaneously (without treatment) by age 3 to 4 months. Umbilical hernias that do not close may require surgery, especially if a portion of an intestinal organ protrudes through it. Umbilical hernias are usually painless. The exact incidence and cause is unknown. Certain family lines have a higher incidence of umbilical hernias suggesting at least a partial genetic predisposition to the condition.

Is an umbilical hernia dangerous?

Most umbilical hernias pose no health threats.

"In rare cases, a portion of the intestines or other tissues can be trapped and become strangulated."

In rare cases, a portion of the intestines or other tissues can be trapped and become strangulated (blood flow is cut off to the tissue, causing its death). This is an emergency requiring immediate surgery.

How is an umbilical hernia treated?

ununited_anconeal_process-2_2009If the hernia has not closed by the time of spaying or neutering, surgical repair of the hernia is recommended. The surgery can be performed at the time of spaying and neutering. The fibrous or scar tissues that have formed around the hernia are dissected out or removed, and the defect is closed with sutures.

What is the prognosis for an umbilical hernia?

The prognosis is excellent following surgical correction. Few puppies experience recurrence of the hernia and few complications are reported with the procedure. 

I have been told that my dog has hip dysplasia but she isn't lame. Can the diagnosis be correct?

hip_dysplasiaHip dysplasia is a deformity of the hip that occurs during growth. The hip joint is a "ball and socket" joint. During growth both the "ball" (the head of the femur or thighbone) and the "socket" in the pelvis (acetabulum) must grow at equal rates.

In hip dysplasia this uniform growth does not occur. The result is laxity of the joint followed by degenerative joint disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis (OA), which is the body's attempt to stabilize the loose hip joint.

The degree of lameness that occurs is dependent on the extent of these arthritic changes and may not be correlated with the appearance of the hip joint on x-rays. Some pets with significant signs of hip dysplasia or osteoarthritis on x-rays may not exhibit any clinical signs while others with minimal changes may experience severe pain and lameness.

What causes it?

There are two primary causes of hip dysplasia, genetics and diet. The genes involved have not been conclusively identified, but it is believed to involve more than one gene. Advances in nutritional research have shown that diet plays an important role in the development of hip dysplasia. Large breed (generally greater than 50 lbs.) puppies should be fed a special large breed growth diet during the first year of life to reduce this risk.

If it is hereditary, are certain breeds affected more than others?

degenerative_myelopathy_in_the_dog-1_-_2009Yes, although any dog can be affected, it is predominantly seen in larger dogs such as German shepherds, Saint Bernards, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Old English sheepdogs, Bulldogs, etc. Large mixed-breed dogs are also at risk for developing hip dysplasia and should be fed a special large breed growth diet the first year.

What symptoms should I look for?

Weakness and pain in the hindlegs are the usual clinical signs. The dog appears wobbly and is reluctant to rise from a sitting or lying position. This can be seen in puppies a few months old but is most common in dogs one to two years of age. Dogs with mild hip dysplasia on x-ray may develop minimal arthritis without clinical signs until they are older.

How is it diagnosed?

A hip radiograph under general anesthetic is the preferred method for diagnosing hip dysplasia. Clinical signs and palpable joint laxity may also indicate hip dysplasia. Any pet suspected of having hip dysplasia should be radiographed as soon as possible.

What is the treatment?

This depends upon the pet's clinical signs and amount of discomfort. There are very effective non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that have minimal side effects. The choice of medication is made on an individual basis and various drugs may need to be tried before finding the most effective one. Most dogs with hip dysplasia should receive veterinary-approved glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and/or omega-3 fatty acid nutritional supplements. Moderate daily exercise, avoiding high impact activities such as jumping, may help keep the patient mobile. Since excess weight puts undue stress on the hip joints, weight loss is strongly recommended in overweight dogs.

What if NSAIDs don't help?

The alternative to NSAID therapy is surgery. There are several surgical procedures available to treat hip dysplasia. The two most common surgical techniques for hip dysplasia are total hip replacement and femoral head ostectomy (FHO). The choice of surgery will be determined by your pet's condition and lifestyle.

I originally intended to breed my dog. What should I do?

Hip dysplasia is considered a genetic or inherited disease. We do not recommend that any pet showing any signs of hip dysplasia be bred.

What else can I do to reduce the risk of hip dysplasia?

Large breed or at-risk puppies should eat a special large-breed growth diet during their first year of life. 

When does a female dog first come into \"heat\"?

Puberty or sexual maturity in the female dog usually occurs around six months of age. The smaller breeds tend to go into estrus or "heat" earlier and some females can have their first "heat" cycle as early as four months of age. On the other hand, the large and giant breeds can be up to two years old before they come into heat for the first time.

How often do female dogs come into heat?

breeding_for_pet_owners-estrusOn average, this occurs about twice a year or every six months, although it varies from dog to dog. When cycling first begins, there may be a great deal of variability in the time between cycles. This is normal. Some females take eighteen months to two years to develop a regular cycle.

Small breeds tend to cycle more regularly than the larger breeds. Three and occasionally four heat cycles per year can be normal in some females.

Very large breeds may only cycle once every 12-18 months. In most giant breeds (Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, St Bernard', etc.) an estrus cycle every twelve months is common.

There is no evidence that irregular heat cycles predispose the dog to false pregnancies or pyometra (uterine infection).

How long does a \"heat\" cycle or estrus last?

 "Heat" cycles vary, but average two to three weeks for most dogs. The heat cycle begins with the first signs of vulvar swelling or vaginal discharge. It ends when all discharge ceases and the vulva has returned to its normal size.

What are the signs of \"heat\"?

Vulvar swelling is the first physical indication of an impending heat cycle. However, the most obvious recognizable sign is vaginal bleeding. This may not become apparent until a few days after the female has actually come into estrus. Some female dogs experience heavy vaginal bleeding during estrus, while other dogs have minimal bleeding. If you are concerned, please consult your veterinarian.

From the beginning of the heat period, she will be attractive to male dogs, but will usually not be receptive, or allow mating, until about 7-10 days into the cycle. As the cycle progresses, the color and appearance of the discharge change. At the beginning, it is usually quite bloody and thick in appearance, but gradually it changes to a watery, blood-tinged discharge. The receptive period for mating usually corresponds to this change in the appearance of the discharge.

"The urine contains pheromones and hormones, both of which signal any interested males..."

You may also find that she is passing small quantities of urine more frequently. The urine contains pheromones and hormones, both of which signal any interested males that she will be receptive soon.

How do I know when it is the best time to mate my dog?

This can be difficult. Most ovulate and are receptive around the eleventh day of estrus. The discharge is usually less bloody (often described as a 'salmon color') and the female will be actively looking for a male. However, ovulation may occur either early or late during the "heat" cycle.

Are there any tests to determine when to mate my dog?

Yes. There are two simple tests that your veterinarian can perform:

1. Vaginal cytology or vaginal smears. A simple microscopic examination of vaginal cells will detect changes in cell appearance and numbers. This technique has been used for many years and is reasonably reliable. It is non-invasive and does not cause discomfort for the female. Most vaginal smears are performed serially, or over several days, to look for changes in the cells that predict ovulation and the best time for breeding.

"Serum progesterone test is very sensitive."

2. Serum progesterone test. This measures the progesterone level in the blood. This test is very sensitive and has become popular due to its accuracy. Some pets will require several tests to predict ovulation.

Your veterinarian may be able to perform both tests at the veterinary practice. The serum progesterone test gives a very good indication of when mating is most likely to be successful and is useful for females that have a history of unsuccessful mating or if the dog will be traveling a considerable distance to the male dog.

What can I do to ensure mating is successful?

"Male dogs appear to be more stress sensitive than females during mating."

Surprisingly, male dogs appear to be more stress sensitive than females during mating. Successful matings are more common when the male dog is in its own environment. For this reason, females are usually taken to the male dog's home for breeding.

The time of mating is extremely critical and it is highly recommended that you have tested your female to determine the optimal days for breeding. For most females, the best time for breeding is between the tenth and fourteenth day of estrus. However, some females ovulate as early as the third or fourth day or as late as the eighteenth day. Blood tests will assist in determining the best period for your dog.

It is normal to arrange for two matings, also called services, for your dog, often twenty-four or forty-eight hours apart. Check these details with the owner of the stud when making initial enquiries. Also, be sure to ask what will happen if your female dog does not become pregnant as a result of the stud service. It is common for owners of the male dog to offer a free service next time.

I was told that my female had \"tied\" well with the dog and that only one service was necessary. What does this mean?

breeding_for_pet_owners_estrus_-_2009During coitus, part of the dog's penis (the bulbis glandis) swells and enlarges. The female's vaginal muscles contract against the bulbis glandis, thus preventing the penis from being withdrawn. This is the "tie" that is considered a desirable feature of a successful mating. It is important to note that pregnancy can occur without a "tie". Once "tied" the male dog will often step over the female or be turned by handlers into a position so that the animals are back to back. The tie will usually last for five to ten minutes.

I found my dog \"tied\" to a female dog during a mismating. Was there anything I could do to separate them?

There is little point in trying to separate animals that are locked together in this way. Buckets of cold water, water pistols, cap guns, and so forth do little to speed up the process of separation and merely upset the dogs. In fact, forced separation can result in serious injury to the female and should be avoided.

If a mismating has occurred, discuss it with your veterinarian as soon as possible. 

Feeding Growing Puppies

Puppies are typically weaned off of their mother’s milk at about 8 weeks of age. The goal of feeding growing puppies is to lay the foundation for a healthy adulthood. Proper nutrition is needed to:

  •         achieve healthy growth (neither too rapid nor too slow),
  •         optimize immune function,
  •         minimize potential for obesity, and
  •         avoid developmental orthopedic disease. 

What does normal growth and development look like?

dog_-_beagle_puppy_eatingPuppies grow quickly, maturing to adulthood by the time they are 10 – 12 months of age.

Growth rates for puppies vary by breed and involve a complex process of interactions among genetics, nutrition, and the environment. Proper nutrition is critical to the health and development of puppies, regardless of breed, and it directly influences their immune system and body composition. The nutrient density of food and the amount of food fed can mean the difference between optimal growth and maximal growth.

"Proper nutrition is critical to the health and developmentof puppies, regardless of breed, and it directly influences
their immune system and body composition."

Should I aim for optimal growth or maximal growth?

An optimal growth rate in puppies is ideal – it’s a slow and steady growth rate that allows the puppy to achieve an ideal (optimal) adult body condition while avoiding excessive weight and obesity. 

The maximal growth rate means the puppy grows as fast as possible, usually the result of high fat foods, overfeeding and/or free-choice feeding. A maximal growth rate increases a puppy’s risk of skeletal deformities, obesity and a shortened life expectancy. 

Regular weigh-ins and body condition assessments are the most practical strategies to help keep a growing puppy on track at an optimal rate. Your veterinarian and veterinary health-care team can explain how to assess your puppy at home.

"Regular weigh-ins and body condition assessmentsare the most practical strategies to help keep a growing
puppy on track at an optimal rate."

What are the nutritional requirements for growing puppies?

When choosing a nutritional product for your growing puppy it is important to understand four key nutrients: protein, fat, calcium and digestible carbohydrates.

1.      Protein

  • Protein requirements for growing puppies are highest immediately after weaning, but the amount of protein they need will steadily decrease thereafter. 
  • The recommended protein range for healthy puppy growth is 22 – 32% on a dry matter (DM) basis. These levels support optimal growth, so it is not recommended to exceed these protein levels. 
  • Nutritional formulations for adult dogs should not be fed to growing puppies. Although the dry matter protein level may be adequate, other nutrients and energy content will not be balanced for optimal growth.

2.      Fat

  • Fat is a source of essential fatty acids. It’s a concentrated source of energy and it carries fat-soluble vitamins. 
  • But, excessive energy intake is risky and can lead to obesity and developmental orthopedic disease. For this reason, the fat content for puppies should be rationed between 10 – 25% on a dry matter basis.

3.      Calcium

  • Growth formulations for large breed and giant breed puppies should contain 0.7 – 1.2% calcium on a dry matter basis. 
  • Small to medium breeds are less sensitive to the effects of slight over- or under-feeding of calcium, so the levels of calcium can range from 0.7 – 1.7% on a dry matter basis.

4.      Digestible carbohydrates

  • No specific amount of digestible carbohydrates has been identified as optimal for growing puppies, but it’s suggested that 20% on a dry matter basis may maximize their health.

Once an appropriate nutritional product has been chosen, no additional vitamin or mineral supplements should be given, and treats should be limited to less than 10% of the total amount of food fed.  

How can I prevent maximal growth and obesity?

Growing puppies need higher amounts of all nutrients in comparison to adult dogs, but excess energy calories and calcium can create serious problems. In small to medium breeds, excess energy can lead to obesity. In large and giant breeds, excess energy and calcium can also lead to abnormal skeletal development.

Preventing obesity must begin during the weaning stage and continue through to adulthood and old age. Being overweight or obese sets the stage for many complications and diseases, including:

  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Heat intolerance
  • Decreased immune function

Free-choice feeding increases the risks for higher levels of body fat, becoming overweight or obese, and (in large breed puppies) skeletal abnormalities.   

Portion feeding provides the greatest opportunity to prevent puppies from becoming overweight. Puppies grow rapidly and should be fed measured amounts at regular feeding times, generally 2 – 3 times per day, based on their body condition and age.

Moderate energy and food restrictions during growth in large breed dogs can also decrease the risk of hip dysplasia without interfering with their ultimate adult size.

"Free-choice feeding increases the risks for higherlevels of body fat, becoming overweight or obese,
and (in large breed puppies) skeletal abnormalities.
Portion feeding provides the greatest opportunity to
prevent puppies from becoming overweight or obese."

Your puppy’s weight, body condition, and growth rate should be regularly assessed. With planning and attention to detail, you can lay the foundation for your puppy’s optimal health and longevity. Together with your veterinarian and veterinary health-care team, you can help your puppy grow into as healthy of an adult dog as possible. 

Reference: Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 5th edition; Hand M, Thatcher C, Remillard R, Roudebush P, Novotny B eds.; Mark Morris Institute 2010.