General guidelines for breeding Bulldogs 



Age and health of bitch

Bulldog bitches can come into their first season anytime between 6 to 12 months of age. A bitch up to 12 months old is still considered as a puppy because she is in a growing phase and not fully matured yet. Therefore the Kennel Union of SA does not allow registration of litters from a dam younger than 12 months old on the birth date of the litter. The recommended age for mating a Bulldog bitch for the first time is at the age of 12 to 18 month. Any bitch about to be mated should be healthy, fully vaccinated and properly dewormed. The bitch must never be too fat - it is well-known that overweight Bulldog bitches will very seldom conceive.


Signs of heat in the bitch

A Bulldog bitch can exhibit a number of signs when she comes on heat. It is important, however, to remember that there is no fixed rule that applies to all bitches as they can show any combination of signs or no signs at all. The most common signs include swelling of the vulva, a bloody discharge from the vulva, change in appetite, aggressive behaviour, interest in males, climbing onto other dogs or bitches, lifting of the vulva and/or tail and allowing males to mount her . The two most common signs and usually also the first to be seen when a bitch comes on heat, is the swelling of the vulva and a bloody discharge from the vulva. Again, remember that some bitches do not even show this signs, although this is only true of a small percentage of all bitches.


The right time to mate

The exact time during the heat cycle when a bitch should be mated is of the utmost importance for conception.  Depending on the specific situation of the breeder, he has the following means to decide when to mate:

1.   Breeders who do not readily have access to a veterinarian, could use the natural signs of the bitch on heat to show them when she is ready for mating. This method is not infallible but should give a reasonable success rate over a period of time. From about 5 to 6 days after the first signs of heat, a mature male is put with the bitch at least two times a day. If the bitch is not ready, she will keep the male at a distance and even growl or bite at him. When the bitch is ready to be mated, she will stand still, allow the male to sniff and lick her, lift up the vulva and sometimes the tail as well and eventually allow the male to mount her. After the first mating, extra matings should be repeated every second day until the bitch does not want to stand for the male anymore. The whelping date can be calculated by counting 63 days from the day of the first mating.

2.   Breeders with the necessary experience and equipment sometimes make use of vaginal smears in combination with the natural signs of the bitch to determine the best time for matings. A microscope with a 100x magnification is used on a daily basis during the heat cycle to examine cellular changes of the vaginal mucous membrane in order to determine the correct time for mating. Depending on the experience of the person, the success rate should be higher than the previous method, although not full proof. The whelping date can be determined accurately by counting 57 days from the first day of di-oestrus i.e. the first day after the last day of the heat cycle.

3.   Currently the most reliable and successful method to determine the correct time for mating is a combination of the natural signs of the bitch, vaginal smears and vaginoscopy. In the latter instance, a speculum is used to examine the appearance and consistency of the vaginal mucous membrane, which is a reliable indicator of the correct time for mating. Serious breeders of Bulldogs will be well advised to consult with their vets on this method. The whelping date is also calculated with the use of vaginal smears as before.

Whatever method is used, it is always very important to calculate and record the anticipated whelping date for a bitch. This whelping date will be used to determine the best time to perform a caesarian on the bitch if she should get pregnant (see ‘The best time for a Caesarian’).


Selection of a stud dog

The selection of a stud dog for a specific Bulldog bitch is of great importance for the long-term improvement and preservation of the breed. Knowledge of the qualities and potential genetic defects of ancestors is crucial for successful long-term line breeding and to avoid the pitfalls of inbreeding. Inbreeding results from mating Bulldogs that are very closely related to each other, like brother to sister or parent to offspring. Line breeding is a form of inbreeding but the Bulldogs are not so closely related as in the case of inbreeding. A novice breeder will be wise to make use of a reputable and experienced breeder for advice on the stud he wants to use on his bitch, until he himself has gained enough experience in this field. When deciding on a specific stud, it is important to make sure that the stud has already sired some progeny. If not, it is good practice to have the stud’s fertility tested by a vet before he is used on a bitch. The same principle applies to a young dog that will be used as a stud for the first time. Dogs can normally be used as studs from the age of 12 months and older.  

Method of mating

Bulldogs in general are not able to mate naturally by themselves and it is common practice among Bulldog breeders to provide assistance to the bitch and the stud during matings by means of various methods and innovations. Novice breeders who want to do assisted matings with their own Bulldogs are advised to first get some practical experience with the help of an established breeder before trying it on their own. When doing assisted matings with Bulldogs, never do it on the heat the day and never after the dogs have eaten. It is also important to allow contact between the dog and the bitch (at least 10 minute) before and after matings.

Artificial insemination by vets or breeders with the necessary experience is an effective alternative to assisted matings and should be considered in cases where either the dog or the bitch is aggressive or difficult to handle. The potential for genital infection is reduced substantially with artificial insemination.


Care of pregnant bitch

A pregnant bitch needs to be fed well and kept quiet and warm. A bit of daily exercise is recommendable but she must not be allowed to exhaust herself, to get excited or to jump up. Use a well-balance dog food and avoid any salt in the food. A calcium supplement is recommended but should be given strictly according to manufacturer’s instruction as excessive calcium can cause serious health problems in puppies. The bitch should be dewormed 2 weeks before the whelping date with a broad spectrum anti-helmintic.


Signs of pregnancy 

During pregnancy, which can be from 58 to 63 days, bitches can show a combination of habitual signs, which can vary from very obvious to very subtle. This includes changes in temperament, increased or decreased appetite, morning sickness (vomiting) and increased dormancy. In the last few days before the actual whelping, they can also show signs of nesting, uneasiness, difficult breathing, panting and refusing of food.

Physical signs include enlargement of the milk glands which can be felt from about the 4th to the 5th  week of pregnancy and distention of the abdomen which can be seen anytime from the 4th to the 7th week, depending on the size of the bitch and the number of puppies she carries. Pregnancy in a Bulldog bitch with a small litter can sometimes be very difficult to detect by means of physical examination, even by experienced breeders and vets.

In a small percentage of cases, bitches can have a false pregnancy, showing normal signs of pregnancy which may sometimes continue for several weeks beyond the normal gestation period.

A definite pregnancy diagnosis can be made by scanning the bitch with an ultrasound monitor anytime from 21 days after conception. The size and the viability of fetuses can also be evaluated with this method, but it is not accurate in counting the number of puppies. Towards the end of pregnancy (± the last 10 days), when the skeleton of a fetus starts to calcify, X-rays can also be used to make a definite pregnancy diagnosis and to count the number of puppies.


Caesarian or not

Selective breeding in the Bulldog for big heads and narrow hindquarters (pelvises), as prescribed by the Official Bulldog Standard, effectively means that Bulldog puppies with their big heads must pass through a narrow birth canal, which is the result of the bitch’s narrow hindquarters. To add to this potential birth hazard, Bulldog bitches in general tend to have inadequate uterus contraction, which is needed to expel puppies during the birth process. The combination of these factors is the reason why purebred Bulldog bitches can very seldom give birth naturally and requires that caesarians be done as a rule rather than an exception. If the operation is performed properly, a Bulldog bitch can have several caesarians in her lifetime without any ill effect to her health or her fertility. It must be remembered however, that a caesarian, as with any other surgical procedure, involves a certain amount of risk to the bitch and to the puppies. Bulldog bitches that poses a higher than normal risk and requires special attention during caesarians, include old bitches, those with a history of heart problems and those with very big litters.


The best time for a Caesarian

It should always be the aim of both the breeder and the vet to perform a caesarian on a Bulldog bitch as close to the natural time of birth as possible. To be able to do this, an accurate whelping date is essential (see “The right time to mate a bitch”). Remember, however, that bitches with large litters tend to whelp a day or two before their anticipated whelping date and bitches with only one or two puppies can sometimes overrun their whelping date by a day or two. It is necessary to inform the vet at least a week in advance that the bitch is due for a caesarian, so that he will be ready for any unforeseen happenings.

As the whelping date gets closer, the behaviour of the bitch should be watched very carefully. Take notice of the amount of food and water she takes in, her mental status (depressed or not), if she is restless, if she starts nesting (preparing for a place to whelp) and whether her breathing is normal. If the bitch is very big, it is better for her during the last week of pregnancy, to get small amounts of food more often instead of one big meal per day.

Normally milk should be present from about 3 to 7 days before whelping. In a young bitch that is pregnant for the first time, it is sometimes necessary to stimulate her milk production by treating her from 3 to 4 days before whelping with Eglonyl tablets twice daily.

When a bitch starts to pant heavily within a day or two of her whelping date, she has probably gone into whelp and should be taken to the vet immediately. The same applies for a bitch that starts with abdominal muscle contractions a day or two before her whelping date. In this case it can also happen that the first puppy enters the birth canal and if the fetal membranes should break, a yellow-brown fluid will become visible. In this case a caesarian should be done as soon as possible to save the puppy.

The body temperature of the bitch is one of the most useful and reliable signs to determine the optimum time for a caesarian. Normal body temperature in a healthy Bulldog bitch can range from 38,0 – 38,9 ˚C. Approximately 10 to 12 hours before actually going into whelp, the body temperature of the bitch will drop significantly from normal to a level of  37,2 to 37,3 ˚C for a short time (a few hours) and then rise again to normal. The 10-hour time period after the drop in temperature is the ideal time to perform a caesarian on the bitch. The taking of the bitch’s temperature should start at least 4 days before the anticipated whelping date and it is important to take the temperature at least 3 times daily (every 8 hours) so as not to miss the drop in temperature.  Once the temperature has dropped, all food and water must be taken away from the bitch immediately, in anticipation of the operation.

The golden rule for a caesarian in a Bulldog bitch is always to operate rather too early than too late.

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