Infertility in Bitches
By Vivien Phillips (Clipperdown Wires)

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INFERTILITY IN BITCHES


As a breeder of some 25 years, I have encountered most of the
problems that beset breeders over the years, the most common of
which, is of course, infertility. Having discussed this problem over the
years with my vets, our conclusions drawn from experience and of
course the experience of others is that the main reason for this is BETA
HAEMOLYTIC STREPTOCOCCAL infection or "B.H.S.".

The most common cause of failure to conceive, foetal absorption, still
births and early puppy mortality is this infection caused by the B.H.S.
bacteria.

The infection can occur in both sexes, but most commonly in bitches,
rarely does it affect the testicular tissue of the dog.

Infected bitches can have very irregular seasons with only 2 or up to 12
month gaps. Some do not come into season for 2 years or more.

Young infected bitches may have a very late first season, sometimes
missing the first season altogether.

Failure to conceive is another sign of B.H.S., either making it impossible
for the bitch to conceive at all, or stopping the embryonic process of
implantation, or the bitch may abort 4 to 5 weeks into her pregnancy. If
this happens within 21 days after mating, there may be a bloody
discharge or the bitch may be a bit off colour. Later on in pregnancy,
some bitches may show distress and sometimes dead foeti can be seen
in the discharge.

Re-absorption may also occur and normally the bitch will show no signs
of distress. There may be a loss of appetite or a rise in temperature.
Sometimes the bitch can develop a symptomatic reaction.

Fading Puppies

B.H.S. can also cause Fading Puppy Syndrome. This is the most
heartbreaking result. Puppies start to die at about 4 or 5 days, losing
their desire to suckle and becoming blue looking. Remedial action can
save the puppies. The bitch will become distressed by the crying
puppies and she will still be carrying milk causing discomfort. These
puppies, born healthy, are becoming infected by suckling infected milk.
They can be saved by antibiotics and being hand-reared or fostered.
The importance here is obviously early diagnosis and treatment.


The most common way for the bitch to pick up B.H.S. is by direct
contact of the external genital organs, particularly during her season
when her cervix is dilated, as she sits to urinate and the vulva is in
contact with the ground where the bacteria could be. The stud dog
can act as a carrier. B.H.S. can survive on his penis for some 48 hours.

If a bitch repeatedly "misses" or any of the other symptoms occur, then
B.H.S. should be suspected.

Swab Testing

It is important to take swabs from your bitches as soon as they come
into season, as B.H.S. strains can vary. In the laboratory the vets can
decide which antibiotic should be used and then the treatment should
begin without delay. On the advice of my vets, I actually continue the
five day treatment until the bitch has completed being mated and then
five days after she whelps.

There is a school of thought suggesting antibiotics are given 5 days
prior to whelping. It is advisable for owners of stud dogs to request that
all bitches coming to them for studs are swabbed as soon as they come
into season. Obviously hygiene is of the utmost importance at all times.

VIVIEN PHILLIPS


I can sympathise with Vivien, as we have had this very distressing
problem with our bitches. It started about 8 years ago when over a
period of 3 years, none of the bitches managed to conceive. We
consulted our vets, who got in contact with the Royal Veterinary College
at Potters Bar to try to solve the problem. Typically the bitches would
come in season as normal, would be mated successfully at the usual
time of 11 - 13 days, but instead of the season gradually fading away,
they would exhibit a heavy, bloody discharge at about day 19 of the
season, presumably, losing any fertile eggs at this time. One bitch used
to exhibit a heavy mucous discharge about 2 weeks after mating.

We had each bitch swabbed and B.H.S. infection along with E-coli was
discovered. All the bitches, including our spayed bitch, were treated
with the appropriate antibiotic. We then took to swabbing each bitch as
she came in season, and putting her on antibiotics for 10 days, starting
about 5 days before the anticipated day of mating and continuing for the
whole period of the matings and about three days afterwards. Even
with this regime, it took one of the bitches four seasons before she
finally proved in whelp.

So, I concluded that even with antibiotic treatment, this is not
necessarily the answer to the problem of B.H.S. infection, as we still
had bitches missing. I suspect that several factors are involved.
Obviously without antibiotic treatment there is little hope of the bitch
conceiving, but I also feel that some bitches are more susceptible to
being "overwhelmed" by bacteria normally present in the genital tract at
the time of mating.

Of course, the stud dog introduces different bacteria at the time of
mating which is why we keep the bitches on antibiotics over the few
days they are being served. I think that, equally, some stud dogs' sperm
is more susceptible to being killed by bacteria in the uterus of the bitch.
I think that eventually, with repeated treatment at each season, the
bitch gradually builds some resistance to the bacteria and then she may
be able to conceive, but time ticks by as this is happening and the bitch
may become too old to breed from in the meantime.

Since the three year period without any puppies, thankfully we have
managed to get all the bitches in whelp.

The other thing we have done to try to overcome the infection is to
institute a policy of thorough disinfection with a high quality, specifically
designed product. It is expensive, but, I feel worth it. We disinfect the
paved run the bitches use for toileting as this is the most common way
to pick up the infection, as the bitches squat in the same place to
urinate. The other mode of infection is by the bitches licking one
another when they are in season, and of course, by drinking from the
same water dish. This all combines to cause a real problem, if like us,
you keep perhaps 3 or 4 bitches together, living as a little pack, as this
normal daily social contact means the infection is constantly
reintroduced.

If anyone wants to talk to me in greater detail about this problem, I am
always happy to pass on the information we have gained by trial and
error. Hopefully the above summary will be of some help.