AKC eNewsletter

Winter 2008

This is an excerpt from Breeder’s Handbook on Canine Reproduction from Royal Canin. Providing accurate and useful information on the practicalities of reproduction in breeding kennels is a goal of Royal Canin.

Since 1967, Royal Canin has been at the forefront of developing innovative nutritional responses in the field of dog breeding. Even if nutrition is fundamental in breeding, it cannot give all the keys for success. Application of reproduction techniques is the deciding factor. The Handbook is an optimal collaboration with international authors who are specialized in reproduction and have a thorough understanding of the problems experienced by breeders.

Breeder's Handbook: Weaning Principle and Method

Weaning is the process of transition from a milk-only diet to a growth-promoting food. It ends by the physical separation of mother and puppies.

When to Start?
Physiologically, the bitch’s milk production increases during the first weeks of lactation to provide everything that the puppies need. However, this reaches its maximum point after 3 to 4 weeks, necessitating another food source for the puppies in order to satisfy their growth requirements. The larger the litter, the sooner the mother’s lactating capacity is likely to be exceeded.

In addition, the eruption of incisors in the puppies’ mouths at around 4 weeks of age makes the feeding process painful for the bitch.

Giant-breed puppies are more immature at the time of weaning than small-breed puppies.

Depending on breed size, puppies are weaned during what is a relatively difficult period for them—in large or giant breeds; it takes place just when puppies are in their phase of maximum growth. For females, however, the lactation phase is most taxing for small and medium breeds.

Four-week-old puppies mimic their feeding behavior straight from their mother, which means that it is easier to begin weaning a litter when the same food is offered to both the bitch and puppies because the puppies will begin to eat it in imitation. Since their dentition at 3 to 4 weeks is limited, it is advisable to offer them re-hydrated food for easier ingestion, and then gradually reduce the amount of water so that food is served dry by the time they are 6 weeks old.

What Preparation or Product?
Breeders are always looking for the easiest and most effective solution to wean their puppies. It is a mistake to use meat alone since it does not provide enough calcium to meet the needs of growing puppies. Homemade preparations are also often deficient in minerals and require the addition of a mineral supplement. They also have the disadvantage of varying considerably in ingredients from one day to the next, which can cause diarrhea. Moist foods have the advantage of palatability, but they are not always suited to the needs of growing puppies. Specially formulated dry weaning foods exist, which eliminate complicated preparation and provide both mother and puppies with the same food source. The nutritional uniformity eliminates the risk of sudden changes in diet, and no supplementation is needed. Technological advances make it possible to offer breeders a kibble that is ideally shaped for the puppy’s teeth and jaws and easy to re-hydrate when making up a weaning gruel.

Infectious Diseases at Weaning

Diarrhea may cause the pup's general condition to deteriorate very quickly.

The period of weaning puppies onto solid food, between 3 and 6 weeks of age, coincides with the start of the critical period for puppies.This is another transitional phase, but with regard to immunity, this time makes them particularly vulnerable to diseases.

The critical period corresponds to a transition between passive immunity provided by the mother’s colostrum and the puppy’s active immunity. The antibodies transferred by the mother in the first 36 hours of life gradually decrease, while puppies progressively acquire the ability to produce their own. This period is described as “critical” since it is a time when puppies are particularly vulnerable to all infectious diseases, whether of bacterial or viral origin, including those against which the mother has been vaccinated.

Mainly Digestive Disorders
In practice, the diseases seen most frequently in puppies in the critical phase are parvovirus, coronavirus, E coli and Salmonella. One of the things these infectious diseases have in common is the property of causing acute or chronic digestive disorders and diarrhea.

Since the puppy is simultaneously in a phase of dietary transition, breeders are often inclined to initially suspect all food. However, it is essential here to explore all hypotheses in order to avoid the same phenomenon repeating itself in future litters. Conversely, for acute diarrhea, often accompanied by damage to cells in the digestive tract, it is advisable not to give puppies anything orally until a medical opinion can be given in order to prevent any risk of permanent sensitization to food.

First and Foremost Prevention
There is no specific treatment for viral diseases associated with weaning.The best that can be done is to provide symptomatic treatment to support the puppy, such as antidiarrheal medications, antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial diseases, and maybe fluid therapy.

In the case of parvovirus, it is the vaccination protocol that needs to be adapted to the kennel’s situation. There is no ideal solution, since it depends on each group’s specific situation as to whether it is best to apply so-called conventional protocols in a healthy environment, or protocols for infected sites.

During the critical period, pups are no longer protected by antibodies from the mother and may still develop diseases even if the mother has been vaccinated against them.

No matter what the scenario is hygiene measures are critical here. Placing pregnant bitches in the maternity area must be done at least 15 days before whelping, and they must also be cleaned and groomed before being put into the dedicated area.Indeed, parasites can exist in their hair for relatively long periods, so there is a risk of contaminating puppies several weeks later.

There are many ways of disinfecting the surroundings. It should be noted that parvovirus is often resistant to acid disinfectants. Chlorine bleach is effective, but only when used on clean surfaces, since it is inactivated in the presence of organic matter.

Internal Parasites
Weaning is a time when there seems to be such an infestation of internal parasites that it is often thought that it is impossible to rear puppies without also “rearing” parasites of the digestive system.

A Phase of Intense Parasite Excretion

Toxocara canis and Coccidia eggs, identified during routine coproscopy (fetal flotation) -- a quick and inexpensive procedure that should be carried out regularly in kennels.

The main parasites affecting puppies at weaning can be split into two categories: (a) nematodes or parasites of a cylindrical shape (roundworms) and (b) protozoa (unicellular parasites). Ancylostoma (hookworms) and Ascaris (roundworms) are the nematodes seen most often in puppies. They have adapted themselves to the bitch’s reproductive cycle and ascarids (such as Toxocara canis, a type of roundworm, for example) are capable of infesting puppies directly in the mother’s uterus when they are still no more than fetuses at the 42nd day of gestation. Ancylostoma and Ascaris can also be transmitted directly from mother to puppies via the milk. Therefore, it is always recommended to treat puppies against these parasites by the time they are 2 to 3 weeks old and to continue at three-week intervals under 3 months of age.

Protozoa, which includes Coccidia (particularly the Isospora genus) and Giardia, are parasites of the digestive system that are often well tolerated by adults, while young puppies in the critical phase are very vulnerable to them.

Thus, when a coproscopy (fecal examination to detect the presence of parasites) is carried out on puppies suffering from diarrhea at weaning, one finds at least one of these parasites and sometimes all four in almost 90 percent of the cases.

Varying Symptoms
The symptoms seen in puppies can vary from soft stools to profuse diarrhea, or even intestinal obstruction. They do not generally cause mortality, although they may lead to even more severe diarrhea when several parasites are combined with each other or with coronavirus. In this case, growth may be considered retarded.Though uncommon, it is possible for internal parasites to cause puppy death.

Controlling Parasite Infestation

The percentage of animals affected by parasites in dog-breeding kennels is very high. Survey carried out in dog-breeding kennels (Royal Canin 2004).

It is not realistic to expect to eradicate all parasites permanently from a breeding kennel. However, a good understanding of their lifecycles should make it possible to adapt disinfection and the deworming protocols to specific situations, in conjunction with the kennel’s veterinarian. It is essential to have complete information on the organisms being targeted to be able to eliminate them once they have been identified.

Best Deworming Treatment for Puppies
There is no ideal deworming treatment or standard recipe for dealing with parasites in neither puppies nor adults.

Every deworming treatment in fact has a specific action spectrum, i.e., it is capable of treating certain parasites but not others. Some are larvicides, meaning they are capable of killing the larvae in migration in gestating females, which therefore also protects the fetuses, while others are not effective in this area. Cases of coccidiosis and giardiasis require the use of specific medications that are different from usual dewormers.

Finally, it should also be noted that none of these treatments have a residual effect.In other words, from the day after treatment, puppies or mother may again be infested through their immediate surroundings. This shows the importance of using deworming treatments in combination with cleaning and disinfection.
For more information on Royal Canin and its nutritional solutions, visit www.royalcanin.us/akc.

Ronald N. Rella, Director, Breeder Services
Email: AKCbreeder@akc.org
Customer Service | Phone: 919-233-9767 | Email: info@akc.org

© The American Kennel Club 2008