Breaking Down Small Animal Reproduction: Myths and Misconceptions

“As veterinarians, we often face situations where we don’t have enough data to make informed decisions about small animal reproduction. This lack of information can be particularly problematic for dog and cat breeders who rely on our expertise to ensure healthy litters. In the field of SAR (=Small Animal Reproduction), many diseases or clinical findings give rise to the publication of case reports, which may just be anecdotic and not at all representative of the most frequent clinical forms of a disease. As a result, we must remain vigilant and aware of potential biases and limitations in the research we use to guide our decisions.”

This quote is from an article I read this morning, named ‘Small Animal Reproduction: Scientific Facts versus Dogmas or Unverified Beliefs’. And I see it as an invitation 🙂

In the field of reproductive biology, there is indeed no such thing as perfection.

As veterinarians and breeders, we must recognize the limitations of current research and be cautious when drawing conclusions about small animal reproduction.

We may be eager for concrete answers, I am sure we all are here… but we must acknowledge that the field is constantly evolving… which is what makes it beautiful when you think about it:)

More studies are needed to fully understand the complexities of small animal reproduction, there is no doubt about this. By remaining open-minded and continuing to question assumptions and biases, we can ensure the best possible outcomes for our patients and breeding programs I believe.


The Challenges of Small Animal Reproduction

Reproduction is a complex and delicate process that is fundamental to the perpetuation of life.

In small animals like dogs and cats, the breeding process can be especially challenging due to the variety of factors that can impact fertility, from infectious diseases to genetic predispositions.

As veterinarians and breeders, it is our responsibility to understand and address these challenges to ensure the health and wellbeing of our animal companions.

One of the most pressing challenges in small animal reproduction is the prevalence of infectious diseases that can impact fertility and pregnancy outcomes.

While some pathogens are well-known, such as Brucella canis in dogs or Feline Leukemia Virus in cats, there are many others whose impact on reproduction is not fully understood. I am thinking Coxiella burnetti (the agent responsible of Q fever), Leptospira interrogans, the Blue Tongue virus…

This lack of knowledge can make it difficult to diagnose and treat reproductive disorders in animals, leaving veterinarians and breeders struggling to find answers.

Another challenge in small animal reproduction is the conflicting data and opinions surrounding best practices.

For example, the decision of when to spay or neuter a pet can impact their long-term health, but there is not yet a clear consensus on the optimal timing.

Some studies suggest that early spaying or neutering can increase the risk of health problems like urinary incontinence or certain types of cancer, while others argue that it can reduce the risk of reproductive disorders like mammary tumors. This uncertainty can make it difficult for veterinarians and breeders to make informed decisions about the health and wellbeing of their animals. If you want to find out more on this one, there is a good review article on the current knowledge in different canine breeds you can access here.

Furthermore, the cost of reproductive procedures and treatments can be a significant challenge for pet owners and breeders alike.

In vitro fertilization in canines was in the news a few years ago (see here), it is something that research teams have done in cats for quite a while… but it remains costly, restricted to research purposes… and may not always result in a successful pregnancy.

Similarly, treating reproductive disorders like pyometra or mastitis can require extensive veterinary care and may result in the need for spaying or neutering, which can be emotionally difficult for pet owners and breeders alike (that being said, remember that pyometra can be successfully medically treated in dogs and cats – see here).

No doubt – small animal reproduction presents a variety of challenges for veterinarians and breeders…

Recommendations for Small Animal Reproduction BEST Practices

Recommendations for Small Animal Reproduction BEST Practices

What is the best way to overcome those challenges?

One answer: staying up-to-date with the latest information on small animal reproduction practices! And here are some recommendations from the paper actually, touching on some of the various topics we already mentioned and that have been proven to be challenging:

  1. When it comes to spaying and neutering, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Discuss the risks and benefits with your veterinarian and consider the individual needs of your pet or breeding program.
  2. Keep in mind that early neutering may have potential health risks, including urinary incontinence and developmental issues. Consider waiting until after the first heat cycle or until the pet has reached physical maturity..
  3. Be cautious when interpreting research on small animal reproduction. Contradictory results are common and more studies are needed to draw definitive conclusions.
  4. Stay aware of potential reproductive diseases in dogs and cats, including Brucella canis, Mycoplasma and Ureaplasma spp., and feline Chlamydophila felis. If you suspect reproductive issues, consult with a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment.
  5. For breeding programs, consider working with a reproductive specialist who can provide more in-depth knowledge and expertise in reproductive health and breeding practices.
  6. Keep accurate records of your breeding program, including pedigrees, health screenings, and breeding histories. This information can help identify potential health risks and improve the overall health of the breeding population.
  7. Stay informed on emerging reproductive technologies, such as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization. These technologies can offer new opportunities for breeding programs but should be used with caution and under the guidance of a reproductive specialist. (stay tuned to this blog, I’ll keep you updated for sure on these!).
  8. Consider the overall welfare of your pets and breeding animals. Reproductive practices should prioritize the health and well-being of the animals involved.
  9. Be open to ongoing education and training on small animal reproduction practices. Attend seminars, conferences, and workshops to stay up-to-date with the latest research and techniques.
  10. Finally, remember that small animal reproduction is a complex and ever-evolving field. As veterinarians and breeders, it’s important to approach it with an open mind, a willingness to learn, and a commitment to improving the health and welfare of the animals in our care.
Ethical considerations in small animal reproduction

Ethical considerations in small animal reproduction

Small animal reproduction can be a sensitive and complex topic, particularly when it comes to ethical considerations. I think it is crystal-clear for all of us involved in this field: it is important to prioritize the health and well-being of the animals we work with, as well as consider broader ethical concerns around animal welfare and responsible breeding practices.

The paper I mentioned at the beginning of this post discusses the following points.

One key ethical consideration is the issue of overbreeding and the impact it has on animal populations. Overbreeding can lead to a surplus of animals, which can result in overcrowded shelters and euthanasia of healthy animals. As such, it is important for breeders to carefully consider their breeding practices and avoid contributing to the overbreeding problem.

Another ethical consideration is the use of reproductive technologies, such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer. While these technologies can be useful for certain cases, they should not be relied upon as a replacement for responsible breeding practices. Additionally, the use of these technologies should not compromise the health or well-being of the animals involved.

It is also important to consider the potential impact of breeding on the health of the animals involved. Breeding practices that prioritize certain physical traits over overall health can lead to the propagation of genetic health issues, which can have a significant impact on the well-being of the animals and their offspring. As such, responsible breeding practices should prioritize the health of the animals and avoid breeding for traits that may contribute to health issues.

Furthermore, ethical considerations around the treatment of animals during the breeding process should be taken into account. This includes ensuring that animals are treated with respect and dignity, and that their welfare is prioritized throughout the breeding process. This may include providing adequate space, nutrition, and veterinary care, as well as minimizing stress and discomfort.

Ethical considerations are an important aspect of small animal reproduction, and should be carefully considered by veterinarians and breeders. Prioritizing the health and well-being of the animals, avoiding overbreeding, and using reproductive technologies responsibly are all important factors to consider when working with small animals. By taking these considerations into account, we can work towards responsible breeding practices that prioritize animal welfare and promote the health and well-being of our animal companions.

Small animal reproduction is a complex and constantly evolving field of study. It requires careful consideration of various factors, including breed, age, health status, and individual animal characteristics. As a veterinarian or dog and cat breeder, it is crucial to stay up-to-date with the latest research and guidelines in order to provide the best possible care for your animals. By working together, we can continue to advance our understanding of small animal reproduction and improve the health and well-being of our furry companions.

One of the most common challenge we encounter in breeding kennels is NEONATAL MORTALITY. 

It can be very frustrating… even heart-breaking.

Good news though : you can do something about it ! 

We now have more knowledge than ever in this discipline. 

In recent years, new research brought us a much better understanding of what can be done to optimize the health of newborn puppies.

By taking this course, this is what you will learn indeed ! 

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