Why Most Families Should Not Breed Dogs

mommy-misha2During my feverish four years as a veterinary student, unexpected nontraditional lessons occasionally came my way and left an everlasting effect on me and how I practice my profession. One especially shocking lesson that still sticks out in my mind hit me during my final year.

It was during internal medicine rotation when a prominent veterinary reproduction specialist spoke his words of wisdom.
Out of the blue he said, “Instead of breeding their pets, people who want their children to witness the miracle of life should have another child, then they can invite their children and the neighborhood kids to witness the birth.”

Sounds like a joke but he was dead serious, and rightly so. He’d just received a call from an owner whose pregnant dog had consumed one of its newly born pups. The family kids and their friends had eagerly taken their front row seats around the dog’s make-shift birthing box several hours earlier. The promised event never came to pass though, as the female Fido’s stage fright helped to abnormally lengthen her labor. Finding the suspense too long to bear, the kids were sent home and to bed just in time to miss the birth and post-birthing mishap.

The Miracle of Life May Teach an Unexpectedly Dark Lesson
Every year pet owners breed their dogs, cats, rats, mice—whatever animal is at hand— in the name of educating their children about the miracle of life. What they don’t realize is that not only can they be contributing to pet overpopulation, but the lessons their kids might be learning could be much darker than anything they imagined.

For instance, they might learn that not all animal moms make good mothers. For some females the maternal instincts don’t kick in the first year. These young moms don’t recognize the offspring as being related to them any more than you’d recognize a coconut as your cousin. Some are even afraid of the little youngsters and flee as if running from a fire. Others are openly aggressive to the surprise intruders treating them as if they are there to steal their babies instead of be their babies. This twist in maternal instincts may last just the first year or may be that particular mom’s modus operandi. In any case, it means that humans will have to provide intensive nursing care, which, let me tell you, is only fun for about the first half hour.

Lesson two might be about infanticide. Sometimes animal moms made nervous by a hoard of watchful human eyes respond by killing their infant. In other cases this murderous trait may be a special characteristic of the species. Lions have long been known to kill their own kind. When a gang of males overthrows the reigning royalty, they eventually knock-off all existing cubs. This brings the lionesses back into breeding season so that the murderous males can mate, producing offspring of their own. In domestic cats a similar sight has been recorded by researchers, at least once or twice. In one case an unfamiliar tomcat made a visit to a nest shared by four female cats. Like a hired gun, he silently shook six kittens by the back of the neck and would have killed more if the mothers hadn’t driven him away.

Lesson three might be that while the breeding may be free, the veterinary care is not. This is no problem if all goes unusually well. In the perfect scenario, veterinary pre-pregnancy exams, radiographs or ultrasounds, and then examination and vaccination for youngsters before they go to their homes would be the only veterinary fees to pay. But if your pug or Persian needs a C-section or a litter of pups gets parvovirus, animals may die and you may be out the cost equivalent of several wide screen TVs. Even without one of the common catastrophes, minor problems, such as skin rashes or upper respiratory disease can cause bills to quickly add up too as can prescreening tests for common hereditary diseases that you would not want to pass on to an unsuspecting adopter.

Birth is a Miracle but What’s the Value on Life?
Perhaps the most troubling lesson the kids might learn is about what happens to the youngsters that are produced. With 3-4 million dogs and cats euthanized in animal shelters a year (ASPCA) finding a home for randomly bred pets can be a serious task. Should you give them away like hand-me-down clothes to anyone who can pay a few bucks, or can you take the time to screen potential owners as if they’re adopting a precious life? Have you done your homework and checked both parents beforehand for common hereditary diseases so you are providing healthy pets? If the pups or kittens crop up with congenital or hereditary diseases the new owners may be heartbroken or they may expect you to take responsibility by refunding their money and replacing their new pet. And what if you can’t find homes or the new owner-animal pair is a poor match? Will the puppy or kitten go to the pound where it is likely to meet a sorry fate?

With all of the things that could go wrong, if you’re unprepared or you choose the easy and inexpensive solution, by breeding your pet you may be teaching your kids the wrong lesson. You may be teaching them that birth is a miracle but life after birth is cheap.

My recommendations is that if you want your kids to witness the miracle of birth, either adopt a pregnant cat or dog into your home from the shelter and then view the entire event by web cam or go to Netflix and download a video.

To see the type of socialization, care, and training that goes into raising a puppy or kitten before and after it's adopted out, read Perfect Puppy in 7 Days.


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Positively Expert: Sophia Yin

Dr. Yin is an internationally-acclaimed veterinarian and applied animal behaviorist who lectures and teaches workshops to dog trainers, shelter workers, and veterinary staff, and is the author of three books including a veterinary textbook and DVD set on behavior. Her "pet-friendly" techniques have set the standard of care for veterinarians.


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