Breeding with your pet: here’s what to consider before you do

Breeding with your pet may seem like a really attractive proposition. Your pet is beautiful and you want to share that beauty, you could make good money from breeding, and you’ll end up with a house full of kittens or pups. What’s not to like about breeding?

Yes, there’s no denying there’s nothing cuter than a basketful of pups and kittens but we have a major pet overpopulation problem in South Africa and every year many pets are surrendered to welfare organisations because their owners are unable to care for them. In worst case scenarios, some of these pets are abandoned and end up in dog fighting rings.

It is essential to consider your reasons for breeding with your animal to ensure that you don’t inadvertently add to the overpopulation problem.

Breeding: things to consider

  1. Many people feel it is ‘healthier’ for a female dog to have a litter before she is sterilised. This is a myth! Female dogs can be sterilised from six months of age and suffer no health risks if they are sterilised before they have a litter.
  2. If your pet is wonderful (as they all are!) and you would like to breed because you would like to keep one of their puppies or kittens, please make sure that you identify potential good homes for the remaining littermates before you begin breeding.
  3. Many people think that breeding with their pet can be a good way to make money. If you are a responsible breeder and take the required steps (as explained below), you will find that it is quite difficult to make a profit from breeding with your animal.
  4. If you are a registered, responsible breeder and you are promoting a healthy continuation of a sought-after breed then breeding is a good option for your family.

Breeding: is your pet a good candidate?

Before breeding with your pet take time to discuss with your vet whether they are good candidates for breeding. Many health conditions are inherited (genetic) and it is important that we breed for happy, healthy animals.

Before beginning to breed you should register your pet with an organisation such as the Kennel Union of South Africa (KUSA) which holds records of your pet’s pedigree. KUSA and other organisations have guidelines on breeds and the screening that should be done before breeding. Large breed dogs such as Labradors, German Shepherds and Rottweilers need specific hip and elbow dysplasia screening before they are bred with to prevent these traits from being passed onto their offspring.

Other breeds such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels need genetic testing before being used for breeding. And even cat breeds, e.g. Persians, need screening for genetic conditions.

Your vet should also ensure that your dog or cat is healthy and has no underlying conditions that would make breeding difficult or that may affect their health. For example, if your dog has severe arthritis they may struggle with carrying a large litter, or if they have had a pelvis fracture they may not be able to give birth naturally.

Your pet’s age and breeding history should also be taken into account. Your dog should also be fully vaccinated and dewormed before breeding with them.

Costs and time required to breed

Breeding responsibly can be costly. Having paid for registration and screening, you may also need to pay a fee to have a male dog visit your female or, if you choose to do artificial insemination, there are costs associated with that.

Your dog will need an ultrasound to confirm pregnancy and an x-ray 2 weeks before giving birth to count the number of puppies and kittens in order to be prepared for the birth and for the vet to know when to intervene.

In some cases, you may incur veterinary costs if the birth doesn’t go according to plan and a vet is needed to assist, ie: to do a caesarean section. Many times, dogs and cats will give birth at night and one has to be prepared for after hours’ veterinary fees too.

The average gestation period (time that the animal is pregnant) of a dog or cat is about 2 months. It is quite difficult to predict when they will go into labour but you may have to be available at short notice to assist with the birth. It can take up to 24 hours for them to complete their labour.

And then the real work begins. Although most dogs and cats are able to care for their puppies and kittens it is quite labour intensive to assist her and keep their area clean. In some cases, the mother will not be able to feed the puppies and kittens and then they will need to be hand fed every 2 hours (through the night) for 4-6 weeks until they are weaned.

Pregnant dogs and cats need to be on puppy or kitten food from about 4 weeks into their pregnancy until the puppies or kittens are weaned. For a full guide on ensuring your pet has a healthy pregnancy and birth, click here

Caring for and homing babies

It is the breeder’s responsibility to deworm the puppies or kittens every 2 weeks after birth until they are 6 weeks old. And puppies and kittens should receive their first vaccination with the breeder. Puppies and kittens start eating solid food from 4-6 weeks old and depending on the size of the litter and the breed, this can become quite costly.

Ideally kittens and pups should stay with their mothers until they are 8 weeks old. It is essential to perform home checks on the potential homes to ensure that they will be well cared for. This can be quite time consuming.

Before breeding, it is important to remember that you will have to home the pups or kittens when they are at their cutest and just start developing personalities. You’ll have fallen in love! We’ve had many people that end up keeping a litter because it was too difficult to bid them farewell.

Don’t be tempted to home two puppies from the same litter to one household, especially if they are the same gender. Once they enter puberty they can often become aggressive towards one another and this may require one of the dogs to be re-homed.

Breeding complications

While most dogs and cats are able to give birth on their own, when they have a very small or very large litter they may run into difficulties. In some cases, they may just need assistance from the vet and other times a caesarean section is required.

In small breed dogs with large litters or dogs that are malnourished, they may develop milk fever a few days after giving birth. This can be life threatening to the mother and needs immediate treatment. The puppies will then need to be hand reared.

If the mother dog is not adequately vaccinated then the puppies will be at risk of contracting parvovirus (cat-flu/katgriep) or distemper before they are old enough to be vaccinated.

What to do if your dog or cat falls pregnant accidentally?

Male dogs and cats can be quite wily and can easily cover a female that is on heat without you being able to prevent it. Should your dog or cat fall pregnant or be mated accidentally and you are not prepared to have the litter please contact your veterinarian immediately. In many cases we are able to sterilise them early into their pregnancy to prevent unwanted puppies or kittens.


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