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Breeding Rat Terriers For The First Time

Selection: Selecting a pair of dogs to breed is one of the most important steps in breeding dogs. Great consideration should be taken to insure that both the male and female are in excellent health, have conformation that compliments each other and closely fits into the breed standards and that the temperament of the dogs is not only sound but also true to their innate characteristics.

Heat Cycle: A female will generally come into heat for the first time anywhere from 6 months to 1 1/2 years. Their cycle will then run typically every 6 months from the first time they come in. Sometimes a female will come into heat once a year and then other times they may come in as quick as 4 months. This is not the general rule but it can happen.

How do you know when your female is in heat?
The first signs can be a swelling of the vulva area and at times changes in personality. She will start to drip (spot) blood. When the spotting begins that day should be counted as day one of the cycle. It is advantageous to write this date on your calendar. From the start of the first sign of (spotting) a female will be in her heat cycle for the next 21 days. The spotting will increase over the next 7-8 days with an increased swelling in the vulva area before it begins to clear. As a general rule a female is ready to breed on the 9th thru the 14th day but this can vary from dog to dog. Keeping track of the days from the first sign of bleeding is important so as not to miss her fertile period. After about the 14th day her cycle starts to wane and may take up to a week to complete. If you have a male on hand he will more than likely let you know when it is time to breed. He will insist on being with the female and may whine constantly or stop eating when the female is in the height of the cycle. Note: A female may accept a male very early in her cycle days 5-7. A hormonal switch making the female think that it is time to breed causes this.
     Once the mating begins the males sperm is viable within the female for a about 48-72 hours so breeding every other day for as long as she will accept is a good rule. In general a female will willingly accept the male and let him mount her when "she is ready" and then absolutely refuse to breed him after that time.

The Tie: Each individual dog will have his or her own techniques when breeding. Some insist on having a time for courtship where they play and dance and then others get right down to business.  At times a female will solicit the male into climbing on top of her or will poke him under the belly to get him up on her. A male who is experienced will know exactly what to do while the first time males may have a problem figuring out which end they want to be at. Eventually nature takes over and instinct shows both of them the way. The first time female may accept the actions of the male but once he penetrates her she may cry and fuss and attempt to get away. She will usually settle after a short period of time.
    In dogs there is a unique mechanism that prevents her from getting away. This is called the "Tie". After a male mounts the female from behind and penetrates her he begins to swell. At the base of his equipment there is what is called a "knot". This knot also swells inside of the female making a connection that cannot be broken easily. As it swells her muscles contract down on it making it a tighter connection. It is like inflating a balloon that you have blown up after pushing it through a loop. Once this "tie" is securely made the male will turn off the female leaving them standing rear to rear. This is a normal mating position. The tie can last from 10 minutes up to 45 minutes but rarely longer. Do not worry, this is perfectly natural and they will break when they are ready.

Is she pregnant? A female might show that she is pregnant physically in 3-4 weeks or may keep you guessing for 6 weeks. Usually the first sign is her rib cage expanding near her chest. The swelling then moves to her stomach that noticeably begins to show around 6 weeks. As time progresses she begins to widen out and then starts to sag. Her nipples will start to swell and she might even take on small sacks of milk. Some dogs get morning sickness in the early stages and some get an insatiable appetite. Her personality may also change, many get overly affectionate and silly and then some may get very protective and ornery. This will pass and their normal personality will return after the pups are weaned. If you wish to find out how many pups she will give birth to an x-ray can be taken around the 6th week of pregnancy.

Gestation: The puppies will be ready to be born approximately 63 days from the date that she conceived. This means that you should start counting the days from the first time you saw them tie. She has the leeway of giving birth from 58 -65 days. A lot of the time with big litters she will give birth early on day 58. With small litters the opposite can happen giving birth on day 65.  It is a good idea to have a vet on call or a 24-hour emergency clinic available to you when you are expecting puppies.

When to call a Vet: A female should not go longer than 68 days and you must see a vet if this happens. If a female takes ill with fever or lethargy during a pregnancy see your vet. If she starts to drip blood or green or yellow foul smelling discharge see your vet immediately.

     During whelping contact a vet immediately if your female has started to give birth and suddenly stops for longer than 2 hours and you know she still has pups. If she is straining for up to 30 minutes without giving birth or if a puppy becomes stuck in the birth canal get to your vet as soon as possible. If she suddenly has a fever, appears to be very depressed and fatigued and stops having contractions call your vet immediately.

Getting Ready - Equipment Needed: Most dogs like their privacy while giving birth and raising a young litter. Well ahead of time decide where you want your dog to have her pups. An ideal area is where there is low traffic in the household; where the lights can be dimmed and the area kept very warm. It is best to get her accustomed to this area about a week or so before she is due. You can feed her there to make it her home and even give her toys and her regular bedding.

     Whelping boxes are one of the best places to set up your female. She will be protected from drafts and have a safe haven for her and her pups. This will also contain the puppies as they grow. You can use a piece of rug that does not have a high pile for the bottom of the box. Because birth can be wet and messy you might also spread some newspaper on top to help soak up the excess and dry up the pups. Towels can be hazardous because a frantic female may not be able to distinguish between a pup and a soft pile of towel or blanket sometimes fatally injuring the newborn.

     Warmth is essential for a newborn litter so you must provide a source of heat whether it is a heat lamp or supplemental heating cubes. The ideal temperature for a room is about 80 degrees.

     Have on hand towels for helping to dry the newborns if necessary and a pair of scissors should you need to cut an umbilical cord.

Birth: You will know it is time for your female to have her pups not only by the days you have counted but a lot of the time she will stop eating 12 to 24 hours before she starts. Often they will start to pant and pace and nest. It is called Nesting because she will frantically scratch at the bedding below her trying to build a comfy corner. Some dogs try to hide in a closet or in an out of the way corner and even sometimes on your bed. So watch her carefully or you may find a litter of pups in a place you never expected. They may also whine or down right cry. Regardless, her signals will be obvious most of the time.

     If she is not already in her special area when she starts into labor put her there and comfort her. Show her that this is where she will be having her puppies. Contractions will be coming at shorter increments, as she gets closer to having the first pup. This is usually the hardest time for the first time mother. They do not always understand what is happening and she will need you to soothe her. Soon she will break her water or you will see a bubble coming out. The puppy is now on its way.

     The pup should come out headfirst and she will immediately begin licking to break the sack and get the pup breathing. Do not interfere unless you really have to. She will proceed to cut the cord and eat the sack and after birth that comes along with the pup. Let her do this. If she is having a large litter and you can take away some of the after birth, she does not need to consume all of them. Do not make a big issue with her over it.

     Some mothers will let their puppies nurse as they are having them and some won't. Don't be concerned just make sure the pups stay dry and warm. When she is settled she will nurse all of them. If her milk has not dropped yet, it will as soon as they start to nurse. The first milk that comes out is called colostrums and is essential for the health of the pups. It looks different from the milk that is to come. It has a thicker yellowish appearance and is chock full of immune protection and nutritional content. After about 48 hours the colostrums turns too regular mothers milk. This milk is very white and flows easily.

     It can take from an hour or two to 6 hours and longer for a female to finish giving birth. Some pups will come rapidly or one right after another and then at times it may take an hour or more between pups. She knows what she is doing let her take charge. If she has been giving birth for several hours you can offer her some water but its best to wait on feeding her until she is completely finished and settled with her pups.

     A healthy puppy will wiggle and squirm when picked up and will feel warm and full. If you pull the skin on the scruff of the neck and it springs back quickly your pup is hydrated and doing well. If the skin does not rebound quickly or stays up he is in danger of dehydration and must get liquids in him fast. Puppies are not noisy; they will generally cry only when they are cold, hungry or sick. A healthy puppy will make quiet cooing sounds or squeaks but never cries out. Healthy puppies also twitch when they sleep, this is good. It has been called chasing bunnies and breeders love to see their pups doing this knowing that they are growing and healthy.

Potential Problems: Orphans, weak or sick pups. As tragic as it may be, pups can be left orphaned due to the mother dying. Should this happen you will have to raise the pups by hand feeding. This can be done by a bottle or by a tube. Newborns need to be fed every 2-3 hours for several days and then every 4 hours till they are about a week old. After a week of age they generally do not have to be fed during the night.

     There are several formulas that can be fed to the pups, one is a commercial product called Esbilac and can be purchased at Pet or Feed Stores. Goat's milk is another option that is very close to mother's own milk. You can also make your own formula with the following recipe. One 8 oz can of evaporated milk, two eggs yolks, a dash of honey or corn syrup and a half-cup of plain yogurt. Mix them all together and store in a container in the refrigerator. Formula needs to be warmed to body temperature or the pups will not take it. The pups also need to be kept on a heating pad or under a heating lamp to keep them warm. They have no way of regulating the temperature in their own bodies and getting cold can mean death. If a pup is cold you must first warm the puppy up before feeding him. If a puppy is cold he cannot assimilate the food.

     Pups that you are feeding by hand also need to be burped after each feeding and stimulated to go to the bathroom. They have no way of eliminating unless you help them. You do this by wetting a soft cloth with warm water and gently rubbing it over their bottoms. You must do this after each feeding.

     Weak pups can also be supplemented with any of the formulas above along with the mother's milk until they gain the strength to nurse normally.

     If a puppy becomes ill it is essential that the cause be found immediately and treated or the pup will die. The first thing to do is warm the pup if cold and then feed it. If the pup does not respond to this call your vet.

Weaning: Pups can start on solid food as early as 3 weeks and as late as 5 weeks. This can be left up to the litter owner as to when they will begin feeding solid food to the pups. Mothers will start weaning their pups on their own anywhere from 3-7 weeks. There are several ways to get pups to eat on their own and one way is to start feeding the mom with the pups. A lot of the time the mother will allow the pups in her bowl teaching them to eat. They may not get much food but the process has begun. Over the next week you can start feeding the young pups ground puppy food or cereal making a wet gruel of it. Remove the mother when you do this or she will eat all the food. Slowly add larger pieces of food to the gruel until the pups are eating it all on their own. They should be offered food at least 2-3 times a day before the age of 8 weeks. When you see that they are eating a goodly amount remove the mother for longer and longer periods of time until she is no longer feeding them. The mother should not be allowed to clean up after the pups once they start eating solid food. Water can also be introduced to the pups after they have finished their gruel. Remove all water and food that is not eaten in a given amount of time to avoid contamination. Young pups have the need to eliminate frequently and lack house manners so it can become messy. This mess needs to be cleaned regularly to avoid illness in the pups.

The young puppy: Pups are ready to go to their new home at about 8 weeks of age. But a puppy that is 5 weeks will be bouncy and full of spirit. They will get in all kinds of trouble and now is the time to have a place for them to play and socialize safely. It is important for a young puppy to receive as much socialization as possible to groom them for adult life. There is no need to be quiet around a young pup because they need to get use to the noises of everyday living. Vacuum around them, clang dishes, play music and act normal. By the time they go to their new home they should be well use to every day sounds.

Tails and Dewclaws: Are removed at about 3 days after birth according to the breed standards. Have your vet dock the tails leaving approximately 1/2-3/4 of an inch.

Shots and Worming: Worming usually begins about 2 weeks of age and at least once or twice more in 2-week increments. Most but not all pups have round worms that they acquire at birth from the mom. Even if the mom is not showing signs of worms a lot of times the worm egg is activated by pregnancy and passed to the pups through the placenta. Worms are extremely common and can easily be dealt with effectively. If worms are ignored they then can become a problem. The worms can severely damage a puppy's intestine.

     Shots generally begin at about 6-8 weeks of age. The mother's immune system has protected the pups up until this time and now they will have to start building their own immune systems to keep them healthy. A puppy may not have a fully mature immune system until they are 6 months of age or longer. Shots are given in a series of 3 usually spaced two weeks apart. The reason for this is that it is difficult to know when the pup's immune system kicks in and when the mothers passed on immunity wears off. Booster's shots have been recommended yearly for the dog's entire life.

Advertising: There are many places that you can advertise the sale of your pups. Some are local newspapers, dog magazines, the internet or the NRTA web site. Many states do not allow the sale of pups until the age of 8 weeks.

Shipping: Airplane shipping has been an acceptable way of transporting a puppy or dog from state to state. It is as safe as driving in a car to pick one up. There are two ways to ship on a plane, one is by cargo and one is called counter to counter. Cargo is less expensive and generally it is on a first come first serve basis. Counter to counter is a flight where a reservation is made and costs more. The compartment that the puppy or dog fly's in is the same regardless of which way the animal is sent. A dog must be 8 weeks of age in order to fly and must have a health certificate that is obtained by a vet. If it is too cold, under about 45degrees or to warm over 80 degrees, an animal cannot be shipped. You need to check with the individual airline at the time of shipping. Please note: it is the responsibility of the buyer to pay for the shipping the pup to them.