Welcome to Pure Dog Talk, the podcast on pure-bred dogs.  I’m your host Laura Reeves.

Hey guys, it’s Friday fun day!  This is our debut of an awesome new series of random, cool stuff.  All of you folks who are breeders who might, or who might want to learn about responsible breeding of pure-bred dogs, we’re kicking off Friday Fun with a fascinating 4-part series on whelping and raising puppies. I now deliver to into the capable hand of our producer, Mary Albee as she talks to Dr. Gayle Watkins from avidog.com

MA:  Thanks Laura and thanks to our sponsors for this episode, avidog.com and Jennifer for pets.com I had the pleasure of attending Gayle’s 2-day Avidog seminar for breeders, and was absolutely blown away by the amount of research presented.  Gayle, thank you.  I changed my dam’s nutrition and puppy protocols with your help, and feel that every breeder needs to hear what you have to say.

GW:  Terrific.  I’m excited to be here, and it was an awful lot of fun to come out to California to do that seminar.

MA:  So what I’d love to cover today, is you’d talked about the four different stages of development for the puppy litter, so if you could go ahead and give us a little bit of overview, jump right in.

GW:  That sounds great.  So, there are actually seven stages of development in dogs, but for most of us we focus early in a puppy’s life, so development in dogs begins at conception, and then we have pregnancy which is a separate stage, and then puppies are born and they go in to what’s known as the neonatal period. And that’s the first two weeks of life, and if you’ve been around puppies that age you know that they’re extremely limited, they’re blind, they’re deaf, can’t control their temperature, they can’t even pee or poop on their own.  Then there’s this transition period and it’s called the transition period, and it’s about a one week period that begins once their eyes are open, typically by 14 days, and it ends once their ears open, and that’s going to be around day 21.  So, it might be a seven to ten-day period.  Once puppies have all of their senses, they go in to what’s known as the sensitive period. It used to be called the critical period, so if people had studied biology or other animals in the past, you may be familiar with that term but it dogs it’s been changed to the sensitive period, and it’s this interesting canine period where very small influences on a puppy have either long-term, or even life-time consequences.  So, if that’s a good thing, say a positive experience with people, then that will last puppies and they may happen say at five weeks, that can last puppies for an entire lifetime.  Conversely if it’s a negative experience, this often happens when puppies maybe interact with adult dogs, and maybe they get rolled by an adult dog, that also can have life-time consequences, but not such good ones for puppies.  So, that sensitive period is a period that begins about day 21, and it ends when the puppies are 16 weeks old, and that period is this very-very important period in a puppy’s life. Some of that period is at the breeders, and some is typically at the home of its owner if it gets sold or placed, or it’s gonna be with the breeder if the breeder keeps the puppy.  What we do with puppies in that period’s absolutely is foundational to the rest of their lives in terms of temperament and in terms of their health.  So, we want to pay attention to all of these periods, but the sensitive period perhaps is one we want to emphasize even a little bit more.  Dogs then go on and they have a juvenile phase, we will often all it the juvenile delinquent phase, and adolescence, and the they go in to adulthood.  But those three periods, when they happen, how long they last, and if and when they ever end depends upon the breed and size of the dogs.  So, we’ll often say that toy dogs mature much more quickly and typically are adults by a year.  Large breed often aren’t’ adults until two or even three, and giant breeds are often not adult until they’re four.  And then there’s Labradors and perhaps they never become adults and just stay adolescence for a lifetime.  So, those are all the stages we’ll in our conversations, focus from conception until the end of the sensitive period at 16wks.

MA:  One of the things that I was very impressed about that you talked about had to do with the prenatal period, and it had to do with the nutrition and taking care of the dam prior to breeding.  Can you talk a little bit about that?

GW:  More and more we’re beginning to understand the importance of those very early periods on the lifetime health and temperament of babies, puppies and other animals, and this is absolutely true in dogs.  Setting the stage for a dog’s lifetime health actually begins before we breed the bitch.  The bitch is a little more important in this situation than the sires, we want our sires to be healthy and well fed and that’s gonna produce stronger sperm and things like that, but because the bitch takes them through pregnancy, carries them, she will be more important.  Her nutrition will be more important, her stability will be more important.  So, we’re looking in this case, about the things that will influence the bitch before she’s bred, and then while she’s pregnant, nutrition being one of them.  What a bitch eats, the quality of the protein that she has, the quality of the nutrients that she has, sets the stage for all of her puppy’s lifetime health at the point.  Interestingly enough it can also affect their temperament, and so as we think about what we’re feeding our bitches and whether we supplement and things like that, we need to make sure we’re understanding that this is long-term consequences for the puppies.  The kinds of things that we should be looking for is the macro nutrients so that’s going to be the protein, the fat, the carbohydrates, that the bitch is eating to reproduce well.  Bitches actually need a relatively high fat and protein percentages, so protein should be 26% or higher, fat should be 18% or higher.  The protein the bitches have ideally, are very good quality, easily digestible, bio available proteins, those are typically going to be animal in nature.  So, it’s going to be chicken, or beef or pork or something like that, so we always want to make sure that the reproductive foods we’re that feeding our dogs start with an animal protein of some sort.  It can also be fish, but it needs to be a meat, not a plant.  Fat needs to be at least 18% and that can come from a wide array of fats.  The one fat that every bit should get during pregnancy is Omega 3 Fatty Acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, you don’t have to know how to say it, just the initials, DHA.  DHA is critical to the neurological and retinal development of puppies, so puppies whose mothers were fed DHA are more trainable, have more stable reactions to the world, have better immune system, they can see better, and then if we look at males, male puppies and males themselves, they’re going to have better testicular development and better sperm development.

MA:  When you were talking about the DHA, I realized it wasn’t doing it appropriately, I was giving them, I thought I was doing great, I was giving them the fish oil capsules from Costco, and you came back to say that those didn’t actually have enough DHA for them.

GW:  That’s a really good point.  Typically, what people look at is the label of their supplement which will say 1,000mg of fish oil which is terrific, we want a lot of fish oil in our dogs.  The problem is, how much DHA is in that fish oil. Typically, out of 1,000mgs of fish oil, you might get 200mgs of DHA.  How do you figure out how much DHA you should be feeding your pregnant bitch? It should be 15mgs per pound of body weight.  So, if we take a look at Golden Retriever, say a 65pd Golden Retriever, she should be getting 1,000mgs of DHA alone a day, so that would require that if capsule had 200mgs in it, she would need 5 capsules a day, and some of them have only about 100mgs of DHA, and so that’s 10 capsules a day you’re trying to get in to them.  So, making sure you read the label is very important, and then consider feeding bulk oil, you know just the straight fish oil, because most dogs love the bulk oils and they’re so much cheaper than trying to do the capsules.  We as people, we don’t want to be eating fish oil raw, that just makes us ill, but dogs don’t mind it at all for the most part. Some don’t like it, but most of them do very well on it, and so you can feed a product like Grizzly, Nordic Naturals, Bravo, all of those are bulk oils, liquids, that you just add to the dog’s food.  So, for example, to get 1,000mgs of DHA Bravo in to your dog, you’re going to just need to feed two teaspoons, which sure beats 10 capsules.  If your dog is one of those dogs that just cannot abide the fish oil in their foods, Carlson’s makes a wonderful capsule that has 500mgs of DHA in it, and so if you’re trying to get 1,000mgs  in to your dog, then you just have to give the two capsules rather than the 10 from Costco.  Let me go back and talk about one more macro-nutrient, and then one more micro-nutrient.  So, the other macro-nutrient that is really important during this period is carbohydrates, and if you feed kibble, you don’t have to worry your dog is getting enough carbohydrates, either in the form as cereals such as wheat or rice. Or, if you feed a grain-free product, it’s going to be potatoes, tapioca, sweet potatoes, something along those lines.  To be kibbled, dog food has to have 51% or more carbohydrates so you don’t have to worry about adding it. But if you’re one of those raw feeders that is adamant that your dog isn’t going to get carbohydrates, you need to reconsider during this period.  There’s some very good research that shows that bitches that don’t have any carbohydrates in their diet, or have very low rates end up having more problems whelping, fewer puppies surviving, and they themselves, their body condition gets sacrificed in order to produce and raise these puppies, so both lactation actually the creation of the puppies.  So, this is a time that carbohydrates are essential in a dog’s life.  There are, according to the research, only two times its’ key, one is during reproduction and lactation, and the second is puppies being weaned.  So, if you are a raw feeder, make sure that as you’re weaning your puppies, you add carbohydrates to their diet, and you can transition them to a raw food once they have been fully weaned, a raw food that doesn’t include carbohydrates.  Those are the key macro-nutrients, protein, fats and carbohydrates.  No for a really another really key micro-nutrient and that’s folic acid, or folate vitamin B9.  If you’ve been breeding awhile, you’ve probably heard people talk about giving their bitches folic acid, and folic acid is protective in as the puppies very early in their development, develop basically their brain and their nervous system.  And so, if a bitch has inadequate amounts of folic acid, her puppies will often have cleft palates and most of us will want to avoid cleft palates, even if the puppies survive it’s very difficult to raise them until they can have the surgery.  So, folic acid supplementation can be very beneficial.  I will say it doesn’t necessarily avoid all cleft palates because we have an increasing amount of information that we have some breeds that have a genetic tendency towards cleft palates.  Right now, the gene is known in Nova Scotia Duck Tollers and in Labradors, but I suspect we’re going to find that they are other breeds that have a tendency towards clefts. Hopefully we’ll be able to get a DNA test for that & we’ll be able to breed away from it relatively quickly, but for your average bitch, adding folic acid to her diet, from the time she comes in season until she has finished lactation, or has weaned her puppies, is going to be protective to the pups both in their development and their immune system.  It also helps bitches produce more milk, and so we always like more milk, unless we have singletons, and so that’s a reason to keep her on it up through weaning.  The one thing that I tell people is you don’t have to put your bitch on it very early. You know people, you’re always told as soon as you think you want to get pregnant get on to folic acid, that’s because with human beings, it’s much more difficult to figure out when ovulation occurs.  But it’s pretty easy in our dogs, we know if she’s not in season she’s not ovulating, and so you can just wait until she comes in season to add the folic acid from day one or day two, and just leave her on it through the time the puppies go home.

MA:  Before we discuss the importance of probiotics, Gayle recommends Geneflora as the probiotic for our dogs.  Not only for immune and digestive support, but also to help establish the critical microbiome in our puppies.  Thank you, Neil, our sponsor at genefloraforpets.com for offering 15% off for our listening.  Just go to genefloraforpets.com, use the code “puredog” at checkout and get 15% off. So, Gayle, please tell us about why we should use probiotics for our pregnant dams and our puppies.

GW:  Ya, probiotics, there’s a growing body of literature about the benefits of probiotics and it’s still relatively ambiguous, we don’t know all of the species of bacteria that we should be giving our dogs.  But one of the and compelling studies that I know of was done by the National Institutes of Health many years ago, probably years ago, probably 15 or 16 years ago.  They took two group of puppies, they vaccinated them with one distemper parvo vaccine, they then raised them for a year.  One group was fed a basic food, the other one was fed that basic food plus a probiotic.  The puppies that received the food with the probiotic had significantly higher titers, or protection antibody levels against distemper and parvo, and that for me really made the case that probiotics are an immune support, not just an digestive aid. We usually think of probiotics when our dog has diarrhea and we think, oh my gosh we have to put them on some probiotics, but probiotics are the thing that establishes the immune system or can help establish the immune system in a puppy. The microbiome, all of the bacteria, the trillions of bacteria that live in our dog’s guts, enable them to digest, to respond to any kind of toxins in the environment, to fend off invading bacteria or other pathogens, and so assisting or boosting that gut microbiome is tremendously beneficial.  If we give them to our bitches prior to whelping, so while they’re pregnant, they tend to have a stronger immune system to give to the puppy, cuz puppies don’t get any immunity in utero, they only get it after birth.  And they typically get it during the birthing process, they actually get it in the trip through the vagina, and they get in from vaginal secretions, lesser so they get it from their mom’s skin and a little bit from milk.  So, the main key to establishing a healthy microbiome in a puppy, is the mother’s microbiome that is evident in her vaginal secretions. Obviously, that complicates things for C-section babies, and there is pretty strong evidence in human beings that C-section babies have a different microbiome than those born vaginally, so we want to make sure that we are boosting or assisting puppies that are born via C-section.  Our recommendation is in addition to giving them plenty of opportunity to be around their mom, and as terrible as it is, and as much as we try and keep them clean, all of those vaginal secretions that happen after birth are actually beneficial and aren’t going to hurt the puppies.  The other thing that we can do is simply give them a product like Bene-Bac or Proviable, products that have been around for years that help establish healthy bacteria in the puppy’s guts.

MA:  And in talking about immunity, I was incredibly excited when I heard you talking about a Genome Graphs in regards to the immunity and the vaccinations and the dam’s titers.

GW:  Ya, Genome Graphs were an absolutely amazing thing for me to learn about.  I started using them about 15 years ago, I’ve used them for all of my dogs and puppies since then.  And a Genome Graph in itself, all Genome Graph means is that it’s a chart, so we what actually are looking at is vaccine titer Genome Graphs, we’re looking at a chart of the mother’s titer or antibody levels against two specific vaccine components, distemper and parvo.  And those really are the two that we’re most concerned about with puppies.  Of all of the diseases dogs can get, distemper and parvo can kill puppies quicker than anything else that we have a vaccine for.  Obviously, herpes virus is also a concern, but at least in North America we don’t have access to the vaccine right now.  So, what the Genome Graph does is we will draw the bitch’s titer prior to her whelping, or about two weeks after her whelping, we’re gonna send it to a lab, they’re going to read it and I’ll talk a little bit about the lab we use in a second, and they’ll tell you they can predict from that when we can vaccine puppies assuming that they got a normal amount of colostrum.  So, as I said earlier puppies are born with no immune system, they have no natural immunity at birth.  They have to acquire it in some way so they’re going to get some of it from the environment, they’re going to get some of it from their mothers first milk known as colostrum. Colostrum is the thing that transfers from the mother to the puppies, defends against things like distemper, parvo, there is some rabies even though we can’t do much with that, but there is some rabies antibodies that are transferred, adenovirus is another one. Through the colostrum, the mother gives to the puppy, all kinds of immune cells but specifically protection against those diseases.  The puppy’s gut can only allow transfer of those for the first 12 hours of life, so getting that milk in the first 12 hours is so, so, so important to puppies.  Puppies that don’t get that have to be supplemented in some way, either through plasma or serum in order to ensure that they have protection for puppyhood.  But let’s assume our puppies are normal, they nurse normally, they get plenty of colostrum in the first 12 hours.  Using the Genome Graph, we can now identify when they will be at risk, when their maternal antibodies will drop so low that they’re no longer protective, and when they can respond to a vaccine.  And the big complication that we have in dogs, is that those are two separate events.  So, there is a period at which the maternal antibodies have declined enough that they will no longer protect the puppy, but they’re still high enough that the puppy can’t respond to a vaccine.  So, if you give a vaccine during that period, the puppy’s body will just attack it and it will have no reaction whatsoever on the puppy’s immunity. That’s why we give so many puppy shots, so what is the normal protocol? It really depends upon your Vet, but typically your gonna vaccinate at 6 weeks, 9 weeks, 12 weeks, 15 weeks and maybe even 18 weeks.  And we’re giving these vaccine every three weeks because we’re trying to hit that period where the puppy’s maternal antibodies have dropped low enough that the puppy can now respond to the vaccine as soon as possible, as early as possible.  We don’t want to wait too long because the puppy may come in contact with a disease in the interim and become ill and possibly die.  So, if there wasn’t any risk of the puppy getting disease we could just wait ‘til 20 weeks.  At 20 weeks, I guess I should never say 100%, but 99.999% of puppies are going to be able to respond to a vaccine, but we don’t want to do that because we have this other really important thing we need to do with puppies, and that is socialize them.  Unlike other species that where socialization can take place throughout the first year of their lives, in dogs it really needs to take place during the sensitive period, and that’s prior to 16 weeks of age.  So, we have these two conflicting needs where we need to keep them safe, and we need to get them out and about, so the Genome Graph enables us to pinpoint when we can give a vaccine.  So, Genome Graphs are done through the Schultz Lab at The University of Wisconsin Vet School, so it’s a very up and up lab, its run by Dr. Ron Schultz, a fabulous immunologist.  And what Ron will do is he will take your bitches blood, get the titer levels and plot them against the Genome Graph plots and tell you, you should vaccinate your puppies at six weeks and nine weeks and they’ll be protected after nine weeks.  Or, he may tell you your puppies can respond to a vaccine until 15 weeks, so you need to follow this vaccination protocol and you need to keep them safe the rest of the time. The most important thing for us to understand is that no one vaccine protocol will protect all puppies, or even most puppies.  Every bitch is different, every bitch gives a different amount of protection to her puppies, and so doing these plots for every litter, enable us to tailor our vaccine protocols to that specific puppy.  Let me give you an example of why we need to do it for every litter:  we had a lovely young bitch that we bred, and as she was growing up we tittered her a few times and she had a very normal parvo titer, probably was 1/320. And that second number is the important number and the higher it is the better the protection, and so 1/320 is pretty normal, and that meant that the puppies could respond to a vaccine at, I think it’s about nine or 10 weeks. Well we decided we really should follow our own guidance and so we re-did the titer and ran a Genome Graph about two weeks prior to her whelping, and her titer was 1/5,280. That tells us that at some point from the time that we tittered her when she was just a young adult, until the time she got pregnant she came in contact with parvo.  We couldn’t tell that because she was fully protected by the vaccine, she didn’t get sick, she didn’t have any symptoms whatsoever, but her body reacted to the virus, it mounted a defense and now she had these very, very high antibody titers.  That meant that her puppies couldn’t respond to a vaccine until they were 17 weeks old.  If we had normally vaccinated them the way most people do, we would have stopped vaccinating them between 15 and 16 weeks, and they would not have been protected.  Even if we would have given them five vaccines, they would not have been protected because they couldn’t respond the vaccine until 17 weeks.

MA:  This is such a major advance for breeders on two different levels.  One you’d had talked about the socialization, because for most of us who lived through the parvo scares where you kept all your puppies in protection, they did not get the socialization that they needed because you were trying to protect them from acquiring parvo.  So, on one level that is a huge advancement.  And then like you said on the other advancement you had puppies that you did everything right, you vaccinated them according to the regular protocols, then you sent them home and they may have picked up parvo and passed away later because we didn’t know that their bodies couldn’t accept the vaccines.

GW:  I think those are two really important points, and I also lived through the parvo epidemic, and I think any of us who did are changed for life. You just can’t go through something like that and not have this gut feeling that you have to protect your puppies at all cost, but we know that we sacrificed temperament and stability in doing that, because puppies need to get out, they need to see the world, they need to meet all kinds of people and all kinds of dogs if they are truly going to be the best that they can possibly be.  And so, Genome Graphs tell us two really important things.  They tell us of course when to vaccinate our puppies, but equally importantly they tell us when our puppies are at risk, when are their maternal antibodies no longer protective, when will we need to keep them in the house or away. You know go to banks, go to garden centers, but not take them around other dogs.  I think both of those pieces of information are really really important for all of us that are trying to raise the healthy, most stable dogs possible.  So, your second point is one that I see regularly, and I find it so heartbreaking.  These are breeders and owners who diligently vaccinate their puppies according to the protocols out there, and assume that their puppy is protected if they get the last vaccine at 15 or 16 weeks, and that’s the truth for the vast majority of puppies.  But it isn’t all puppies, and those puppies then come down with parvo, you know they go to a show, they go to a training class and they come down with parvo, and people think there’s a new strain of parvo out there, or they think that the vaccine is ineffective.  When in reality, most likely it was simply that that puppy’s vaccine protocol didn’t go long enough, that it had maternal protection far longer than your average puppy, and so we had five vaccines and it wasn’t protected.  And that’s a point I try and say over and over and over to people: vaccination during puppyhood does not equal protection, it only equals protection if it’s done at the right time.  But I’ll often hear people, I’ll see someone with a puppy at the dog park, and I’ll say how old is your puppy? 12 weeks.  Why are you here?  Oh, he had a vaccine on Friday. That’s irrelevant, that vaccine may or may not have had any effect.  If you have a Gnome Graph you have an idea whether it did have an effect, if you don’t have a Genome Graph there’s a high likelihood that puppy is not protected and should not be out and about. One of the great things, and we can’t control what the bitches titer is, this is a reason that we don’t boost bitches prior to breeding them, because if you give a booster just prior to breeding you will elevate her titer, she will give even more maternal antibodies to the puppies, which sounds great, but it means that those puppies won’t be able to respond to the vaccine until much later in the sensitive period, so possibly 16, 17 or even 18 weeks.  So, we don’t boost, and as a result our bitches typically have a relatively low protection. So, for example we have a litter of 13 born last summer, and their maternal antibodies ran out prior to six weeks, we gave them a single distemper parvo vaccine at six weeks at age which is a little early, but we knew they we no longer protected.  Of the 13 owners, 10 of them ran titers when they got their puppies home at nine weeks, and all 10 of them were fully protected, and remain fully protected today.  Three owners felt they needed to do one more vaccine, they vaccinated their puppies at nine weeks, ran titers at 10 weeks, three out of three were protected as well, so by 11 weeks these puppies were fully protected against distemper and parvo, and could be anywhere.  They could be at shows, they could be anywhere we would want to take a puppy to socialize it.  We can’t control that, we can’t insure that our bitches have that level that enables very, very early response to the vaccine, but we can at least have an idea of when they’re going to be protected, and when they aren’t so that we can vaccinate them at the right time, and keep them safe the rest of time.

MA:  Thanks Gayle, and we are in for a treat.  Gayle will be with us for three more episodes covering whelping, the neonatal transition and sensitive periods, traction in the whelping box and its relation to hip dysplasia, and some much more.  Also, information on Genome Graphs, how to get a hold of Dr. Schultz’s lab, and a nutrition chart are all in the show notes at puredogtalk.com.  See you next week.


PDT:  As always, if you have any questions or input, we’d love to hear from you.  The show notes and links to resources on today’s topic are available at puredogtalk.com.  Drop us a note in the comments, or email to Laura at puredogtalk.com.  Remember guys, this podcast is for you, so if you want to know something give me a holler, we’ll do a podcast for you.  If you wouldn’t mind, you could help me out here.  Take a couple minutes to visit iTunes and give us a review. This will help share the love with others out there in the sport.  This has been Pure Dog Talk with your host Laura Reeves.  We hope you can join us next time as we continue on the journey of success with your purebred dog.

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