1. Breeding programme for pet owners
Over the past few years, veterinarians have put a lot of effort into promoting neutering in bitches, not only to control the canine population, but also for behavioural and health reasons (cf. neutering case study). This message has been so well communicated that the majority of veterinary clinics have come to ignore the small minority of owners who are truly motivated to breed from their bitches.
First and foremost, it is important to agree on the meaning of the term ‘Breeding Programme for Pet Owners’ We are not going to discuss the services that a veterinary clinic can offer professional breeders, i.e. those who make a living or some income from breeding dogs. For breeders, it is absolutely essential to design a specific range of services (the commonly made error being simply to offer a discount on services that are offered to private owners). Some owners of one or more bitches may express the desire to breed from them for their own reasons, but not professionally as such. Is it advantageous to design a range of services targeted at these clients? If so, how does one go about it?
Motivation and commitment
The first important point is to check that the client is aware of the implications of their decision. The decision to breed from a bitch requires considerable motivation and commitment and the veterinarian is under an obligation to provide advice, i.e. he must ensure that his client is fully informed of the various difficulties he might encounter. Let’s be clear, it is not the vet’s job to systematically dissuade clients who chose this path, before abandoning those with the courage to ignore their warnings, leaving them to cope with it by themselves! On the contrary, it is advisable to clearly explain the consequences of a breeding project to the owner, and once you are sure they have properly considered their decision, to offer the help of the clinic throughout the duration of the process.
Of course, the market is very limited, and even then, veterinarians would not want to encourage it, indiscriminately. Having said that, a range of services and products aimed at owners who wish to breed from their bitches presents a dual advantage for the veterinary clinic:
• Firstly from a technical standpoint, it enables the clinic to develop or confirm their expertise in terms of gynaecology, obstetrics, and peripartum & neonatal medicine.
• Secondly it presents a strategic and economic advantage, in that the clients in question will be very grateful to the clinic for their help, given that these services are highly differentiated from the standard range of services and may also represent a base on which a clinic could develop a range of services aimed at professional breeders. Furthermore, some of the adopted puppies’ owners might become new clients.
Range of services
A ‘Breeding Programme for Pet Owners’ does not represent one single service but a range of services that are used to assist the client throughout the process: before mating, during mating, gestation, parturition, lactation, weaning, and post-weaning. Within this range there are both professional and ancillary services.
The range of professional services may comprise of the following elements:
• Consultation prior to breeding.
• Monitoring heat
• Consultation to confirm pregnancy
• Assistance during parturition
• Domiciliary post-partum checks
• Paediatric consultations
The target (whom is the service for?), objectives (what is the service for?), content (what are the components of the service?), procedure (how is the service organised and delivered?), and a suggestion of pricing for each of the above services is presented in the Table. The range of ancillary services may include elements such as assistance with the choice of stud dog, or helping to home the puppies, notably through the data mining of information held on client records.
One of the main challenges faced by veterinarians who wish to promote this range of services, is in identifying potential clients to offer them the support of the clinic. To this end, it is important to present the services as part of the standard healthcare program to a young bitch, as illustrated in the Figure below.
• The first step takes place during the last paediatric consultation, which is usually held at around 4 months of age, when the vet (or qualified nurse) broaches the subject of reproduction for the first time with the owner (cf. neutering case study). This is when the different options, neutering or breeding, are presented. If the owner expresses interest, however slight, in breeding from their bitch, it is particularly helpful to arrange a pubertal consultation, which will present another occasion on which to review the subject.
• During the pubertal consultation, which is conducted at varying ages depending on the breed, the veterinarian or qualified nurse checks the owner’s motivation to breed from their bitch, explaining the limitations of the project, but also offering the services of the clinic to assist them throughout the process. In short, this consultation is used to explain the ideal age for implementing a breeding programme, relative to the specific breed of the bitch in question.
• During the first annual health check, which usually occurs at around 16 months of age, the vet or qualified nurse verifies that the owner is still keen to go ahead with their project, and if so to help them plan it. It is at this stage that one has truly recruited the client.
From mating to adoption
The main objective is then to provide comprehensive support starting with mating and finishing when the puppies have been weaned, microchipped, vaccinated, and are ready for adoption. Indeed, each phase of the service provides a natural link to the next; as such one can provide targeted recommendations about the next phase without overburdening the owner with too much information to retain. Moreover, several themes recur throughout the overall programme, such as the prevention of infectious and parasitic diseases or nutrition, firstly of the bitch, and then of the litter.
In terms of nutrition, the veterinarian or qualified nurse should start by checking the diet and weight of the bitch prior to breeding and make any necessary adjustments. It is then important to differentiate the key phases:
• No change in the bitch’s diet, or excessive supplementation during the first 6 weeks of gestation; the main objective being to avoid weight gain.
• During the seventh week of gestation, start the transition towards a diet that has been specially designed for the end of gestation and lactation; then adopt a specific feeding plan related to the specific needs of that individual bitch; at this stage the objective is to control weight gain at the end of pregnancy and prevent weight loss during lactation.
• With regards to the puppies, the mother normally provides for their needs during the first three weeks of life, but an appropriate milk substitute may prove necessary if milk supply is insufficient.
• Progressively introduce the puppy diet during the fourth week, initially in a very moist form with the gradual introduction of more solid food at seven weeks, the recommended age for weaning; at this stage, the dietary advice should be centred on the practical aspects: How and with what should one moisten the food? Dividing the ration up into many small meals, etc.
• Either towards the tenth week or two weeks before the departure of the puppies, the owner ‘breeder’ should organise a transition to a growth diet, specific to the breed.
Simplifying the recommendations
One of the difficulties of such a wide range of services resides in the number of possible variations on offer, hence the need to target the advice to the specific phases, to be precise, and to use several simple hard copy aids to support these recommendations, making them more effective. Here are a few examples of such aids:
• A document presenting the approach to reproduction giving an overview of the entire process and a set of fact sheets for each phase providing a clear explanation of the key points of mating, gestation, parturition, the neonatal phase, weaning, and adoption.
• A record of the pregnancy diagnosis, an ultrasound image for example, which represents a very important step for the owner.
• A dietary prescription sheet for the bitch and puppies; this can be given to the owner and discussed at the pregnancy diagnosis consultation, which often takes place between 25 and 45 days of gestation, just before the first important change in the bitch’s diet.
• A calendar highlighting all the various stages: appointments with the vet, changes in the bitch’s and puppies’ diet, antiparasitic treatments, etc.
• Reminders sent by text messages can also increase compliance.
In conclusion, offering a range of services for canine reproduction aimed specifically at owners requires a well thought out strategy and a few simple aids. Even though the market is limited to a small number of clients, they will be very loyal to the clinic and become its most fervent promoters. The recommendation of neutering remains a global priority, but it should not lead one to neglect those owners who show a real desire to breed from their bitches and who confirm this interest after being given a detailed explanation of the advantages and potential drawbacks.
1. American Pet Products Association (http://www.americanpetproducts.org/).
2. Chambre syndicale des fabricants d’aliments préparés pour chiens, chats, oiseaux et autres animaux familiers (FACCO) (http://www.facco.fr/article67,67).