Progesterone tests are used to accurately estimate the best time to breed a female dog. Progesterone is a hormone that regulates pregnancy by thickening the lining of the uterus, which a fertilized egg needs in order to implant and grow.
When should a dog be tested for progesterone?
Progesterone tests should be done every two or three days once a female dog is 4-5 days into her heat cycle.
Normal progesterone levels are less than 1ng (nanogram) per milliliter. After a spike in LH which occurs during ovulation, progesterone levels will increase to 4ng/ml.
How much does a progesterone test for dogs cost?
The average price for taking a blood sample, performing the progesterone test, and having a vet look over the results is $45 or £50. This is the cost per test and many breeders will take 2 or even 3 tests over several days until they get the correct date and progesterone levels that signal the dog is ready to breed.
Prices vary depending on your region, whether the vet is administering and checking the tests, or you are testing at home and sending the test to a vet to be checked.
How to test progesterone levels at home for dogs
As science has advanced, it has become possible for progesterone testing to be done at home. There is no need for a veterinarian to look over the results, as many testing kits come with an electronic test reader.
These units do not come cheap, starting at $2000, but the cost can go as high as $5000.
The price depends on the particular model you purchase, the accuracy it can provide in reading the test sample, and whether the kit offers other tests besides progesterone.
If you are testing from home, you need a baseline, so test before your dog begins her heat cycle. On day 3 or 4 after her heat cycle begins, perform another test. Her progesterone levels should have increased from less than 1ng/ml to around 2mg/ml.
The surge in LH causes an increase in progesterone, but this only lasts up to 24 hours. Ovulation typically occurs 2 or 3 days after the LH surge and this is the best time for breeding to occur. At the point or just after ovulation, a dog’s progesterone levels will reach 5ng/ml. This is the reading that breeders are looking for when deciding the best time to breed their dogs.
Whether you are testing yourself at home or visiting the vet, progesterone tests should be done every 2 days to ensure the ovulation and breeding window are not missed. Dogs generally come into heat every 6 months or so, but breeding dogs should be given at least one heat cycle of rest between pregnancies to prevent ill health.
How can I confirm my dog is pregnant?
There are a few signs to look for that might indicate your dog is pregnant. These include a swollen belly, loss of appetite, lethargy, and changes in behavior.
Trying to confirm pregnancy by palpating the dog’s abdomen could be unreliable as you can’t feel the embryos. A more reliable way of confirming pregnancy is to have your vet perform an ultrasound test on your dog, although this will likely cost you some money.
Pregnancy can be confirmed by abdominal ultrasound three weeks after mating.
In addition to the behavioral changes that may include nesting, milk production, and aggression towards other dogs or puppies, the following physical symptoms may be present:
- Enlarged vulva
- Erect nipples
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain
Although these signs are not always present in non-pregnant bitches, if your pet shows any of the above symptoms, it’s best to take her for a veterinary consultation to confirm if she is pregnant by doing an ultrasound.
What is the best age to breed a dog?
Dog breeding can be a fascinating and educational experience for the whole family if it is preceded by a little planning. It can also be a disappointing and distressing time if entered into without forethought.
Female dogs should not be mated in their first season, which usually occurs when the bitch is 8 or 9 months old. At this time she is not fully mature, either physically or temperamentally, so she is unlikely to be able to adequately look after a large litter and be able to give the puppies the early guidance which is so important if they are to develop into well-adjusted pets.
The bitch is usually mated about the 12th day after the commencement of her season. It is best to keep her confined during the early phase of the season, to avoid the attention of other male dogs in the neighborhood. Two matings on succeeding days are usually allowed, as ovulation tends to occur towards the end of the period of acceptance rather than at the beginning.
For the first 3 to 4 weeks of the pregnancy little special care is necessary. The amount of food given to the bitch is usually increased gradually from the third week onwards until about double the usual amount is being fed by the end of the gestation period of 9 weeks or 63 days.
It is advisable to treat the bitch for roundworms during this first month, to prevent subsequent infection of the litter. Your veterinarian can advise you which preparations are safe to use at this time and if the bitch is taken for examination a month after mating, the pregnancy can be confirmed.
Extra calcium should be supplied by increasing the amount of milk or cheese fed. In the case of large breeds, with possible large litters, it is usual to give extra calcium in the form of calcium carbonate as tablets or powders.
In the second half of the pregnancy, it is wise to give two or three small meals a day rather than one large meal, as the space within the abdomen is becoming cramped. Exercise should be continued until the dog shows signs of distress. A healthy, well-muscled dog is less likely to have complications during birth than an overweight, lazy dog.
In recent years litters of puppies have been lost through infection in the first four weeks of life, with parvovirus disease. This is a viral disease that can attack the heart muscle of very young puppies, causing sudden death.
In older puppies, a gastroenteritis form is more common. To protect the litter for the first six weeks of life the bitch should be vaccinated in the early weeks of her pregnancy. As the vaccine used is a killed-virus vaccine, there is no danger to the developing puppies.
Before mating, it is wise to make sure that the bitch is up to date with her distemper and hepatitis vaccinations. As this vaccine is a live-virus vaccine, it is not advisable to administer the vaccine to a dog in the first few weeks of her pregnancy.
In the next article, we will discuss preparations for the birth and the actual whelping process.