Breeding of Picardy Sheepdogs is not for the faint hearted and reproductive issues contribute to the breeds rarity worldwide. We have included several articles or studies to alert you to problems you may encounter if intending to breed from your Picard.

For those who do not intend to breed, before you routinely neuter, please research the pros and cons of neutering not only on the health but also the behavioural effects of Spaying or Castration before you make a decision.

You can access the different subjects by clicking on the buttons below

Reproductive Issues (courtesy of Berger Picard Club of America)

Not as easy as it looks!

The Picardy Sheepdog breed as a whole has been known to be difficult to breed which may be one of the reasons that it continues to be a rare breed even in its country of origin. Breeders through the years and around the world have reported that some Picardy Sheepdogs plainly refuse to breed. Most of the attention has been focused on the females, who may have either chemical or mechanical issues.

Chemical problems can be anything that has to do with the hormonal messages sent from the brain to the reproductive organs and can lead to irregular heat cycles and pyometra. Irregular heat cycles make breeding difficult unless progesterone levels are tracked carefully.

Once pregnant, another hormonal problem seen in Picardy Sheepdog is uterine inertia. Uterine inertia can be broken down into two types: primary and secondary.

Primary inertia is the killer – the bitch’s cervix may dilate but the uterus never contracts; so the puppies die, because they are not ex-pulsed. If the inertia is not recognized, sepsis can set in and can compromise  the ability to  breed and, in a worst case scenario, the health of the mother. There have been several reported cases of whole litters being lost because the owners did not realize that their bitches were in labour until it was too late. Often times it was because extremely small litters fail to trigger the hormonal processes.

Secondary uterine inertia describes when the bitch has gone into labour, often delivers a pup or two, then stops contracting. This may be easier to detect and manage, as long as the number of pups still inside is known. At that point Oxytocin is used, and if that fails, a caesarean section should be done and quickly to save the pups.

Totally worth it!

To avoid a disastrous whelping experience, diligent breeders check progesterone levels during heat cycles to pinpoint the date of ovulation and thus a more exact date of expected delivery. During pregnancy, calcium supplements should NOT  be  given  to  the  bitch,  as  the  high  levels  of  calcium  can  contribute  the  uterine  muscles  inability  to  contract. Checking the basal temperature  twice  daily for  a sudden drop starting a  week before  due date  can also  signal the  onset of labour. Any dark greenish discharge denotes separation of the placenta from the uterine wall so if no puppy accompanies this, veterinarian assistance should be sought immediately.

Taking a x-ray about a week before the due date can determine litter size and take some of the guess work out. Many reproductive veterinarians now recommend scheduled c-sections for bitches that have known whelping problems. This avoids the mad midnight dash to the emergency vet.

Mechanical issues associated with the female Picardy Sheepdog involve mainly two issues. One problem is what the French call “Vulve Barree” which translates into a locked vulva or recessed vulva.

 
Vulve Barrée or Recessed vulva

Recessed or inverted vulvas are caused by a piece of skin that covers to different extents the entrance to the vulva, making  penetration impossible. There are different degrees of this condition, and just like in many breeds, the vulva may open up after  the first heat. In benign cases, this can correct itself after the first whelping. In the more severe cases, the fur at the tip of the vulva looks as if it was coming right out of the lower part of the belly and looks like a very juvenile vulva. In the case of a completely locked vulva, this requires surgical correction.

Apart from breeding issues, this condition can predispose the bitch to urinary tract infections. To lessen the chance of infection, the wick or tuft of hair on the tip of the vulva should be kept trimmed. It is  also very important that a pup with this condition is not spayed until she has her first heat cycle because most times the vulva will correct itself as a result of that heat cycle (sometimes it takes 2 cycles to correct but most often only one cycle). If you spay prior to the first heat you could be subjecting the pup to a lifetime of infections.

 
Vaginal dorsoventral septum through a scope

The other mechanical problem is with vaginal malformations or altered anatomical structures such as imperforate hymen (where the hymen is solid) or dorsoventral septum (where the vagina has a vertical dividing membrane or wall). This congenital issue has been noted by the French club since the 1990’s. Vaginal strictures are not visible, as they are inside the bitch (a good reason for a pre-breeding exam). The bitch can have one or many strictures in the form of fibrous bands at the vulva-vestibule junction or in the vagina.

As the canine vagina is very long, the strictures can be in more than one area and prevent penetration of the penis and  cause intense pain to the bitch. Depending on the nature of the stricture, they can either be opened manually by a good reproductive vet or surgically opened under anesthesia. When surgical intervention is done, the results are not always the best, as any scarring that occurs can cause more interference. Stretching the stricture open yields the best results.

Not to leave out the males, there have been issues noted with the males, but not as much seems to be known about these.

As with all breeds, undescended testicles have been seen in the Picardy Sheepdog. Some of these have been high in the abdomen and require more extensive surgery to be removed. This is a highly heritable trait and should not be used for breeding.

There have been a very small number of males that are known to be sterile. The definitive cause is not known, but it has been noticed that dogs in extremely cold climates have been affected. Since environmental factors may greatly decrease sperm counts  and  motility, stud  dogs should not be allowed to lay on cold OR hot ground for extended periods  of  time. It is also recommended that  semen collection for freezing should be done in spring and fall to maximize numbers and quality.

Another rare occurrence that has come up is hermaphrodite puppies.This is where it is difficult to determine if the puppy is a male or female. A vulva looking organ is displaced where the penis would normally be.

A recent case has been documented
Malou 

If your Picard has had any of these issues please take the breed survey to help keep tract of the incidence of these problems.  Also if you are breeding your Picard, please bank your Picards DNA with AHT so future markers may be found.

Pyometra in Dogs – uterus infection, pus, causes, signs, treatment

Pyometra is defined as an infection in the uterus. The uterus is also known as the womb and is where the developing foetus is located. It is a serious and life threatening condition that must be treated promptly and aggressively.

Pyometra is often the result of hormonal changes in the reproductive tract. Following oestrus (“heat”) in the dog, progesterone levels remain elevated for eight to ten weeks and thicken the lining of the uterus in preparation for pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur for several oestrus cycles, the lining continues to increase in thickness yuntil cysts form within it. The thickened, cystic lining secretes fluids that create an ideal environment in which bacteria can grow. Additionally, high progesterone levels inhibit the ability of the muscles in the wall of the uterus to contract.

Are there other situations that cause the changes in the uterus?

Yes. The use of progesterone-based drugs can do this. In addition, oestrogen will increase the effects of progesterone on the uterus. Drugs containing both hormones are used to treat certain conditions of the reproductive system.

How do bacteria get into the uterus?

The cervix is the gateway to the uterus. It remains tightly closed except during estrus. When it is open, bacteria that are normally found in the vagina can enter the uterus rather easily. If the uterus is normal, the environment is adverse to bacterial survival; however, when the uterine wall is thickened and cystic, perfect conditions exist for bacterial growth. In addition, when these abnormal conditions exist, the muscles of the uterus cannot contract properly. This means that bacteria that enter the uterus cannot be expelled.

When does pyometra occur?

Pyometra may occur in young to middle-aged dogs; however, it is most common in older dogs. After many years of oestrus cycles, the uterine wall undergoes the changes that promote this disease.

The typical time for pyometra to occur is about two to eight weeks after oestrus (“heat cycle”).

What are the clinical signs of a dog with pyometra?

The clinical signs depend on whether or not the cervix is open. If it is open, pus will drain from the uterus through the vagina to the outside. It is often noted on the skin or hair under the tail or on bedding and furniture where the dog has laid. Fever, lethargy, anorexia, and depression may or may not be present.
If the cervix is closed, pus that forms is not able to drain to the outside. It collects in the uterus causing distention of the abdomen. The bacteria release toxins that are absorbed into circulation. These dogs often become severely ill very rapidly. They are anorectic (off food), very listless, and very depressed. Vomiting or diarrhoea may also be present. The
Toxins from the bacteria affect the kidney’s ability to retain fluid. Increased urine production occurs, and the dog drinks an excess of water. This occurs in both open- and closed- cervix pyometra.

How is pyometra diagnosed?

Dogs that are seen early in the disease may have a slight vaginal discharge and show no other signs of illness.

However, most dogs with pyometra are not seen until later in the illness. A very ill female dog that is drinking an increased amount of water and has not been sterilised is always suspected of having pyometra. This is especially true if there is a vaginal discharge or painful, enlarged abdomen.
Dogs with pyometra have a marked elevation of the white blood cell count and often have an elevation of globulins (a type of protein produced by the immune system) in the blood. The specific gravity of the urine is very low due to the toxic effects of the bacteria on the kidneys. However, all of these abnormalities may be present in any dog with a major bacterial infection. If the cervix is closed, radiographs (x-rays) of the abdomen will often identify the enlarged uterus. If the cervix is open, there will often be such minimal uterine enlargement that the radiograph will not be conclusive. An ultrasound examination can also be helpful in identifying an enlarged uterus and differentiating that from a normal pregnancy.

How is pyometra treated?

The preferred treatment is to surgically remove the uterus and ovaries. This is called an ovariohysterectomy (“spey”). Dogs diagnosed in the early stage of the disease are very good surgical candidates. The surgery is only slightly more complicated than a routine spey. However, most dogs are diagnosed when they are quite ill so the surgery is not as routine as the same surgery in a healthy dog. Intravenous fluids are often needed before and after surgery. Antibiotics are also usually required for a period of time after surgery.

If your dog is a valuable breeding female then please contact your vet to discuss alternative options. They are not always successful, and can have some serious side effects.

Behavioural Effects of Spay

The studyNon-reproductive Effects of Spaying and Neutering on Behavior in Dogs utilizes the “Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ)“, the only peer-reviewed, reliable, standardized method for evaluating and screening dogs for the presence and severity of behavioural problems. The overarching conclusion of the study is:

“For most behaviors, spaying is associated with worse behavior, contrary to conventional wisdom.“

Specifically, the study found:

  • Spayed females are more aggressive towards people
  • Spayed females are more fearful and sensitive to touch/handling
  • Spayed females beg for and steal food more often
  • Spayed females are more aggressive towards other dogs
  • Spayed females are less energetic
  • Spayed females roll in and eat feces more often
  • Spayed females lick people and objects more often
  • Spayed females self-groom and bark excessively

Another study, “Behavioral and Physical Effects of Spaying and Neutering Domestic Dogs” , also utilizes C-BARQ. The study concludes:

“The overall trend seen in all these behavioral data was that the earlier the dog was neutered [or spayed], the more  negative the effect on the behavior.”

Specifically, the study found:

  • Spayed females are more aggressive
  • Spayed females are more fearful
  • Spayed females are more anxious
  • Spayed females are more difficult to train
  • Spayed females are less responsive to cues

The study also determined:

“The  other  three  behavioral  categories  examined  (miscellaneous  behavior  problems,  attachment  and  attention seeking behavior, and separation-related behavior) showed some association with neutering [or spaying], but these differed more substantially depending on the age at which the dog was neutered [or spayed].”

Likewise, a study conducted in 2014, “Evaluation of the risk and age of onset of cancer and behavioral disorders in gonadectomized Vizslas”, concluded the younger the age at gonadectomy (spay or neuter), the earlier the mean age at diagnosis of a behavioral disorder, or fear of storms. It is clear to us that sterilization should not entail removing hormone producing glands, and this study’s conclusions seem to concur:

“Additional studies are needed on the biological effects of removing gonadal hormones and on methods to render dogs infertile that do not involve gonadectomy.”

The study, “Behavioral Assessment of child-directed canine aggression”, evaluated dogs who had already bitten a child. The study concludes:

“Historical evidence of fearful or anxious behavior in response to loud noises and thunderstorms or separation from      the owner may signal a predisposition to biting in threatening situations related to anxiety or fear…

“…Fear-related  aggression  was  the  most  common  primary  behavioral  diagnosis  in  the  dogs….Most  dogs (93%)…both male and female were neutered [or  spayed].  Although our  data  did  not  include  age  at  neutering  [or spaying] or whether the surgery occurred before or after the appearance of aggressive behavior, it is apparent that neutering [or spaying] does not guarantee a reduction of aggression in dogs.”

The study, “Behavioural effects of ovario-hysterectomy [spaying] on bitches”, determined that:

“Spaying is accompanied by the risk of certain behavioural changes. There is a risk of increase in indiscriminate appetite. More importantly, there is a risk of increase in dominance aggression towards family members.”

The study, “Effects of ovariohysterectomy [spaying] on reactivity in German Shepherd Dogs“, concluded:

“The results revealed that reactivity was increased in the ovariohysterectomy dogs in comparison to the intact group.” (Note: in this study the term reactivity refers to barking, growling, snarling, lips  lifting or curling, head  up,  ears forward, staring, widely opened eyes, lunging and/or jumping).

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