How often to breed your bitch?
The experts all seem to agree that the least healthy approach for a breeding bitch is to skip heat cycles and keep the bitch unbred. This is not only Dr. Hutchinson's philosophy as Dr. Threlfall at Ohio State Univ. teaches the same thing (my husband just attended a Cont. Ed seminar on Canine Repro earlier this year at OSU). This is NOT new information, either. I was reading Dr. Billinghurst's book GROW YOUR PUP WITH BONES, which addresses the health of puppies as well as their parents and reproductive issues. This is not a new book (maybe 10 years old?). He states the same thing. Canines are meant to be pregnant on every heat cycle.
As Dr. Hutchinson explains it in his seminars, the hormones are the same and the bitch goes through the same changes whether they are bred or not. So when the hormones 'do their thing' to a uterus that does not have pups, it is "hammered" (his term) by the hormones and causes aging and thickening which makes the uterine lining less conducive to implantation and more prone to infection over time. The recommendation it to breed them young, breed on every heat cycle until you are done, then spay them. THAT is the healthiest scenario for your breeding bitch. While Dr. Threlfall and Dr. Hutchinson don't see eye to eye on some issues, this one they completely agree on. I have to wonder if anyone has found a vet knowledgable on repro issues who states otherwise.
Yet there are still people who refuse to believe this advice. I have often wondered about the practice of condemning back-to-back breedings. I wonder if it stems from the way bitches blow their coat post weaning which may lead people to feel the bitch is not recovering well. I know that our girls blow their coat at the same time they would after being in heat (about 4 months) whether bred or not, but the post puppy coat loss is usually more. I suspect that this appearance made people believe that the bitch was completely run down and it "was hard on her" having the pups.
Unfortunately, in our current PC environment, we want to suggest that people who breed more than one litter every several years are simply money hungry puppy mills and some of us are quick to condemn their practices based on this mentality. So if someone follows the EXPERTS advice concerning their dogs, the self appointed Ethics Police talk poorly of them ignoring the fact that what they are doing is biologically in the BEST interest of their dogs.
I think many people want to act like dogs are little people in fur coats. They want to suggest that what we may feel is how a dog feels. While I wouldn’t personally want to have a new child every year, I do believe that my dogs have always adored having puppies. Granted, there are certainly reasons why some bitches should probably not be bred again. Some are poor mothers. Some don't produce much milk. Some can't whelp or conceive w/o veterinary intervention. But the bottom line is that in a healthy normal bitch, breeding every heat cycle for as many litters as you want from that bitch, then spaying her, is the most healthy way to go. And that is from the people who are qualified to say so.
You know, cattle are kept pregnant every year starting when they would "freshen" (have their calf) at 2 years of age. They breed them until they won't breed anymore. If a cow is "open" (not pregnant), the farmer either tries to get her bred or sells her because wintering an open cow is a big money loser. Yes, it is certainly a business having calves (no one denies that), but the cattle certainly seem fine being pregnant all but three months of the year and well into their teen years. Just as an aside, cows/heifers start having calves at 2 years of age (earlier and they aren't fully grown so often can't calve on their own). They are bred back EVERY year. I know cattle is a money business and many of the Doggy PC Police want to say that breeding more than a few litters a year is only out of greed, but cattle NEVER get a break and apparently have no ill effects as a result. Also, dairy cows won't have milk unless they are bred back each year. But my point is that this does not seem to effect their health in a bad way at all and has been the way cattle have been kept for many many decades. If you tried to tell them that it is too hard on the cow to be pregnant every year, they would think you were a COMPLETE idiot!
The bottom line is that if you are a breeder… well, you breed! Perhaps it is time for some of us to rethink our beliefs that dogs should get a break between heat cycles for their health because under normal circumstances, this is simply not true.