Natural Births In A “Cesarean” Dog Breed

Stats On Natural Versus Cesarean Births Are A Barometer For A Breed’s Reproductive Health


I breed Norwich Terriers. It is what I call a “Cesarean” breed. Many breeders deliver their puppies through scheduled c-sections, meaning that they never give their bitches a chance for free whelping, because through their own experience, or horror stories of others, they choose a path that in their mind ensures the safest delivery. This approach may work for individual litters but the damage inflicted on a breed as a whole is devastatingly deleterious.

First, the art of assisting in a natural birth is lost, with all its implications for future generations of breeders and their charges. And second, breeders never find out which of their bitches indeed have any difficulties delivering puppies and which would have delivered perfectly easily if given a chance, and thus compounding any whelping problems in consecutive dog generations. How can you improve reproductive health and birthing when the data is never accumulated and so the problem cannot be addressed by judicious selection of mating pairs?

During my many years as a health chair for the national breed club I had a chance to talk to people involved in a fabulous diversity of dog breeds, geneticists and theriogenologists (reproductive specialists). There is a pattern of reproductive concerns, where breeds with high incidence of c-sections tend to also have higher risk for resorbed pregnancies, stillborn births, premature births, difficulty conceiving and extremely small litter sizes. I believe that one of the factors is an abdication of breeders’ responsibility to keep the breed’s health at the forefront of every decision. When we focus too narrowly on what might be easiest for us at the moment and forget our responsibility to the breed as a whole, decisions to have scheduled c-sections result. Those individual decisions, much too often made more out of fear than educated risk analysis, cumulatively hurt a breed.

In my opinion accepting inability to free whelp a litter as a breed’s trait and not even attempt to improve it through selective breeding is a very unfortunate mind set. I recognize that some brachycephalic breeds are too far gone in that direction (because of fetal size to pelvic opening disparity), and even the most ethically introspective breeders have little chance of making a meaningful shift towards free whelping. However, I see Norwich terriers heading in that same precipitous direction for avoidable reasons and I know it is not too late to change this dangerous course. I also know Norwich are not alone on that path, and other breeds experience similar shift towards compounding reproductive problems by more and more breeders opting for scheduled c-sections.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating throwing the baby out with a bath water. You have every right to choose breeding your otherwise virtuous female who cannot deliver puppies naturally. And if you do, she needs an elective c-section. But please truly learn to distinguish between problems that require medical assistance and those easily addressed with proper birthing assistance. Often just understanding the process correctly solves the imagined problem. If the bitch is indeed unable to give birth, consider her inability to free whelp as a trait to improve on and choose a stud accordingly, the one who was born through a natural birth, ideally with most of his family and cousins born that way.

And finally, let us not put perfectly capable bitches through unnecessary surgery that carries its own set of risks and considerable post-op discomfort.

How To Maximize The Chances of A Natural and Smooth Whelping?

Assisting in whelping is an art that combines knowledge of the process, intuition and a set of skills to address common challenges. Showing up and “winging it” only works when no assistance is needed and the dog would have had puppies with or without the breeder in the room. Education is key and nowadays breeders have many courses and workshops available to them, but assisting a few times in a natural birth before attempting going solo or having a mentor with you in the room is invaluable.

I decided to write this blog post to encourage a goal of a natural birth. It is not meant as a substitute for hands-on mentoring, nor to cover every aspect of a canine birth. You should start with seeking out a mentor and witnessing natural whelps. I free whelped 21 puppies of my own, after assisting in the births of 12 puppies whelped by other breeders (breeds other than Norwich). Twenty one puppies might not seem like a lot but it is all litters I have had ever since I decided to attempt free whelping in spite of fearful advice against it from other Norwich breeders. I had plenty of Cesarean whelps prior to investigating why Norfolk terriers whelped more easily than their close cousins Norwich. I found that a breeder culture was partly responsible, and I wanted to make a meaningful change. I am sharing what works for me.

Last Week of Pregnancy

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

This is true for the breeder and it is true for the bitch. A mama dog will have her nesting instinct kicked into a high gear. She will look for safe places to whelp her pups. Do not under-appreciate this important part of the process. I take this time as a chance to communicate to my dog my understanding of her emotional needs. I am not going to agree to prepare a nest behind a sofa, or in the bushes but I will keep offering spending quiet time together in a future whelping room. Sometimes, as in this case I am going to use as an illustration, I listen to my girl’s comfort and adjust. I would prefer to whelp a litter in my tiled basement all set up as a dog room but Kiwi made a point of constantly getting away from the basement level and seeking comfort upstairs in our house. Luckily I had a chance to use my adult daughter’s room, as she recently moved out to her own place. Once I allowed Kiwi to hang in that room she settled immediately.

I address a pregnant dog’s need to feel safe by setting up a whelping box about a week before whelp date and by making it den-like. At this point I will have layers of towels and blankets in the box, its side open for constant access and a covering over the box. Some dogs accept a roomier den with a foldable table over the whelping box and sheets draped over it, which is easier for me, while others much prefer a tighter den with a fitted sheet wrapped right over the box’s sides. If the box with a table above it is not inviting enough, usually a box with a fitted sheet over it answers all of the nesting needs of a little Norwich Terrier.








I call it a success when the girl starts hanging out in the box on her own choosing. This is very important because it is a sign of her emotional comfort, which I consider my top responsibility towards her.

Knowing the due date, based on progesterone testing that determined precise day of ovulation, prepares me to have a back up plan with my veterinarian, and informs me to expect premature pups if the labor starts early. It also helps beyond logistics. I am quite relaxed knowing that we have a few days more of just waiting and letting the pups grow and develop their lungs, which happens at the very end of canine gestation. This is a wonderful bonding time with the mama dog, when we listen to soft music, sleep in the whelping room at night and I work there on my laptop during the day. As the whelp day nears we take more frequent and shorter walks. I pet the pregnant belly a lot, and massage the girl, to offset unpleasantness of twice daily temperature readings. Lots of positive, enjoyable contact. I also cook Mother’s Pudding. You can find the recipe in this earlier post.

By now I also have everything in place that I will need at hand during delivery: a huge stack of clean towels, a warming box for the newborns, a large garbage bag for dirty towels and another one for the placenta, puppy scale, warming bottles, a notebook, disinfectants, paper towels, cotton balls (to stimulate puppies to poop), sterile lubricant, sterile hemostats and scissors, heating unit, room thermometer and a change of den bedding ( I also use a concave insert) for after delivery. Charged phone with the vet’s mobile number programmed is in my pocket at all times.

The mama dog is even more busy. Her body is getting ready by producing hormones responsible for dilating the cervix, contractions and lactating. She is producing lubricants for her birth canal and relaxants for her joints. Trust me, she works harder than I do, even though her efforts happen away from view. A lot of what is going on within her is controlled by parts of the brain that respond to feeling safety. My box with a sheet over it is not as crazy as it may appear. I have science on my side.

This last week of preparation is when I bring the pregnant dog for x-rays. I know that some breeders of large breeds object to taking x-rays to count the puppies. To which I say this. Walk in my shoes for one dog pregnancy of a Norwich Terrier. There is a reason why in my breed most puppies are delivered through a c-section, and it is not all due to breeders shying away from free-whelp. Some serious problems can be predicted based on a radiograph and sometimes scheduling a c-section in response to what we find is the kindest thing we do for our girls. What I’m looking for is the fetal count, yes, but more importantly I want each head measured and compared to the pelvic opening. It is critical to work with an experienced veterinarian who can interpret that ratio taking into account continuous growth of puppy heads till delivery.


The x-ray provides additional details. I have posted above the image we got on the left, and the same image with my markings on the right. What we learned here is that we were expecting 4 puppies, all heads sized for the safe passage through Kiwi’s pelvic opening, and the most likely order of birth marked with numbers 1 through 4. Puppy number 1, positioned closest to the birth canal has the smallest head, a most natural and ideal scenario. Puppies that have a benefit of their placentas attached higher up, and so descending into a birth canal later, usually have bigger heads but they can conveniently fit into a birth canal easier after it had been primed by a delivery of a sibling that grew lower within a uterine horn. The way we predict birth order is this. Puppy number 1 is the closest to the birth canal. Pretty obvious. That puppy’s head is seen here on his mom’s right side but the puppy is clearly growing in the left uterine horn. The head just moved to the left on the image (dam’s right side: think mirror) but the rest of the pup is on the right.

Puppies get born the way traffic works, the zipper effect, one from each side merging into the canal before the sibling from the opposite side. At least that is how it is supposed to work. So if we marked the puppy closest to the birth canal number 1 then a puppy closest to the birth canal from the opposite side is now marked 2, and so a puppy number 3 is now again from a left uterine horn and finally 4 from the right horn. Why is it important to know? Because the puppy number 3 is a breach. Its head is up, the rest of the body down. This puppy will be born feet first and will need assistance in getting born. Breach is not a big deal and pretty common but it helps me to know and be ready to help with the right grasp and pull.

Stage 1 Labor

This is the beginning of the show. What happens inside the pregnant girl is lots of small myometrial uterine contractions not visible to you. Also, the cervix dilates. Everything else is secondary to the uterus bringing the puppies towards the birth canal and its gates opening.

What you will see is the dog panting, digging, maybe even trembling or spitting up. She may do that and then rest for a long time. That’s a good thing, rest is actually a great thing. All the digging, panting, and so on, is not as important as what is going on inside. And the more of what is going on happens during seaming rest, the more energy will be left for stage 2 labor, when pups are born. I find inexperienced breeders panic over the length of stage 1 labor and rush completely prematurely to a hospital, the worst thing to do when they are supposed to create a feeling of safety. In my experience stage 1 labor can last a very long time, usually over 10 hours for Norwich, but as long as there is plenty of rest and no visible signs of distress I know everything is going well. I encourage my girls to rest a lot. If I’m totally relaxed, they are too. Remember, myometrial contractions are not visible. You should not “expect” any particular behavior, or “thing” happening. Just chill and help your dog feel calm and safe. She might enjoy her Mother’s Pudding at this time. I love it when my girl is relaxed, even as a maiden bitch, and is giving me kisses for keeping her invulnerable.

IMG_0009During stage 1 we might go for a couple of very brief walks in the back yard, on a leash because mama dog might decide at that moment to find herself a den under a tree root, and believe me she might not come out once she makes that decision. It is better for both of us to stick to my plan. We might move around a couple of rooms. We often take short naps, on a bed. I’m OK with that because I know the difference between stage 1 and stage 2 labor. I don’t need to worry about a nice comforter or knitted blankets.


Below are photos of Kiwi surveying the room through a mirror while resting between fervent digging through stage 1.

Kiwi was constantly deciding between spending time on a bed or in a whelping box. I let her do whatever she pleased, adding more towels for digging. My job is only to make her feel SAFE!  I need to exude calm and be her rock. I might talk to her softly assuring her that what is happening is perfectly on track.

Stage 2 ( and 3 ) Labor

This is when stuff happens. Now the gates to the birth canal opened (cervix dilated completely) and the first puppy is descending though the birth canal. The contractions are now visible and the bitch posture shows straining. My job now is to help. I take off the sheet that was cocooning the whelping box and climb in there next to my dog. I had washed and disinfected my hands or I might wear sterile gloves. With a maiden bitch I cue off her whether I can examine her, or leave her alone till she needs my help. All my girls that whelped puppies before literally stick their butts towards me expecting help. I find that Norwich terriers sometimes pause through stage 2 labor but usually offering Mother’s Pudding gives them enough energy and calcium boost to resume contractions immediately. As soon as a puppy is crowning I grab the head and hold it lightly till a next contraction when it is time for me to gently pull following an arc of the birth canal. Imagine drawing a semi-circle with the puppy’s head from where it is crowning towards his dam’s feet. I am calm and measured and I do not exert much force. If another person is in the room with me our conversations are soft and the tone of the entire experience is calm and confident. I work with the contractions, and not pull between them. An actual birth takes a few to several seconds after the head has crowned.

I have not experienced stage 2 labor to last more than an hour till the first puppy is born, and usually much shorter. However, I believe that inexperienced breeders confuse furious digging behavior of stage 1 labor for active stage 2.

A couple of things that I find important to share. The entire process should be unhurried. Any signs of anxiety would send a wrong signal to the bitch in whelp, and she can shut down in response. For example a newborn puppy does not need to be separated from its placenta right away, or to start breathing immediately. I usually do not even open the sac till I pull the placenta still attached to the puppy with a next contraction. If I was to first get the puppy to breathe and not attend to the placenta, then the bitch would have to birth that placenta in a separate effort. Only after I have both the puppy and its placenta in my hands, I start opening the sac and getting a puppy to breathe. After I get the puppy to utter first squeals I separate it from the placenta. Till then the pup still gets oxygenated blood from it.

After birth of a puppy, the dam might take a rest. Sometimes that rest might be for over an hour, or even a couple of hours. As long as the stage 2 labor for the next puppy has not resumed and stopped mid-way, a rest is not a cause for any concern. That is another misunderstood fact. Active strenuous labor should not last more than about 15 minutes but a rest is perfectly normal.

Kiwi gave birth to the puppies in the order as the x-rays indicated, which meant that the third puppy had breach presentation. I have a rare chance to share a video of that birth, because Kiwi’s co-owner was there to offer her emotional support for Kiwi and recorded the whelping. During breach whelp it is especially important to not hurry and not try to grab at the puppy prematurely. We all heard of torn puppy toes during whelp. Instead, I either wait till the puppy’s legs are completely out, or if I need to help getting them out I would gently hook my finger over a knee bend on both legs.

In this particular instance I actually fished the puppy’s legs out. Gently! And then I discovered at the same time that the puppy was also facing towards the dam’s spine, and not down, which is less ideal.  You will witness me making faces, as I’m turning the puppy’s body, working with a contraction, to get the shoulders and the head out. Kiwi utters a single cry when I get the puppy out. The entire birth happens within 20 seconds. Once the baby is born I wait a few seconds longer for the next contraction to pull the entire placenta. This video shows the only birth within this particular whelping of 4 puppies where there was any challenge. Please trust me that this is representative of how all whelps happen at my house. Norwich Terriers can deliver puppies naturally. What they need is a breeder’s understanding of the process, knowledge of the exact due date, well interpreted x-rays and understanding of the pregnant dog’s overwhelming need for feeling secure during entire labor, but especially its very early stages. Additionally, you must allow those early stages to take their time. There is such a thing as an optimum environment for a natural birth and you might be surprised how much it affects an emotionally sensitive breed.

Watch a video of Kiwi giving birth to Ruby here.

And here are all four pups after birth.IMG_0059










Posted in Dog Breeding, whelping, whelping box | 2 Comments

video shared with the owner’s permission

Breeders of Norwich Terriers have been long aware of a seizure disorder in the breed. Some feverishly insist on calling it epilepsy, while others cling to the word “cramp”. The first published mention of the condition in the veterinary literature was in 1984 in a letter by R.M. Furber published in the Veterinary Record (UK), entitled “Cramp in Norwich Terriers”. The name “cramp” bore close resemblance to a disorder found in Scottish Terriers.

In referring to the Norwich seizure disorder as either “epilepsy” or “Norwich cramp” breeders have been pronouncing their opinion not so much about the pathology but about the inheritability of the disorder. The “cramp camp” has been implying an environmentally triggered disease, not necessarily inherited, speculated to be metabolic in nature and addressed by diet alongside Vitamin E and Selenium regimen. The “epilepsy camp” has been pouring over pedigrees of seizure prone dogs, mapping clear genetic ties between affected Norwich Terriers and focusing on the apparent genetic component. A nomenclature war has been raging, to the point that some breeders have refused to participate in recent research into the condition in the UK, because the words used to describe the proposed study did not say “epilepsy”. It is a real pity, because science has a way of revealing the truth.

As for the words to use, we might need to learn some new ones. The first scientific paper on Norwich seizure disorder, penned as the result of the aforementioned recent study in England calls it Paroxysmal Dyskinesia. I will add my own preference here to call it Atypical Seizure Disorder, a name used interchangeably with Paroxysmal Dyskinesia when describing the disorder in other breeds.


1. The Norwich seizure disorder is not the Scotty cramp

What Norwich Terriers suffer from is not a Norwich version of the “Scotty cramp”. The condition affecting Scottish Terriers is a hereditary neurotransmitter defect: a problem in serotonin metabolism causing its deficiency. The fact that both Scotties and Norwiches remain conscious through an episode is the only similarity. The Scotty disorder, which has a recessive mode of inheritance, can be verified in a diagnostic test.

Pharmacological experiments found decreased levels of serotonin in the central nervous system in affected Scottish Terriers following an episode. When amphetamine or parachlorophenyalanine was administered, the severity of the clinical signs increased. Also, a serotonin receptor blocker methysergide increased the clinical signs in a dose-dependent manner and has been used as a test to diagnose the condition. It is a reliable test, even though the method of using a drug to increase severity of symptoms in order to diagnose the condition is controversial.

2. We have no genetic breakthroughs so far

Immediately after the separation of the Norwich and Norfolk Terrier Club into two separate breed clubs in 2009, the new Norwich Terrier Club of America (NTCA) focused on addressing the seizure disorder in the breed. We teamed up with Dr. Gary Johnson’s lab at University of Missouri collecting samples of affected dogs for their Canine Epilepsy Network (CEN). In spite of several announcements of incremental breakthroughs in mapping epilepsy in other breeds, the Norwich Terrier genome did not yield progress in mapping epilepsy.

Then, the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation (CHF) announced a major research project of canine epilepsy co-funded with a number of European institutions and with a very large government funding from European Union. We threw our wholehearted support behind the project, led by Dr. Hannes Lohi at the University of Helsinki in Finland. The NTCA donated generously to the study. We arranged for a collection of Norwich Terrier samples and for sample-sharing between CEN and the European project. Dr. Lohi’s team worked with DNA samples from several breeds alongside those from the Norwich Terrier: Lagotto Romagnolo, Australian Shepherd, Vizsla, and Finnish Spitz, among others, and they found mutation LGI2 responsible for canine epilepsy in Lagotto Romagnolo dogs. So far no correlation has been found in genetic studies comparing any of the suspect regions in other breeds of dogs suffering from epilepsy with the Norwich Terrier genome.

3. A diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy is a catchall description, not a positive diagnosis

Many Norwich terriers suffering from seizure episodes have been diagnosed by veterinarians and veterinary neurologists as having “idiopathic epilepsy”. Idiopathic means there is no underlying cause, while “epilepsy” is a general term for neurological disorders that are characterized by recurrent seizures.

A diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy does not answer the question of the causes of the disease, nor its pathology. When we say that the Scotty cramp is not a form of epilepsy we are referring to the fact that Scotty cramp has been proven to be a metabolic defect of serotonin. What we know so far is that Norwich seizures are completely distinct from the “Scotty cramp”, and so the use of the word “cramp” to describe the Norwich seizure condition is fallacious. However, DNA analysis has not yet identified a gene or complex of genes associated with seizures in the Norwich Terrier. Thus, when a Norwich is diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy, it means that the precise nature of the disorder has not been well described and classified in the veterinary literature, and therefore the dog is diagnosed as having a recurrent seizure disorder (epilepsy) of unknown causes (idiopathic).


1. British study on Paroxysmal Dyskinesia

The first scientific paper on the seizure condition affecting Norwich Terriers was a result of data compilation based on owners’ questionnaires and other records submitted by the owners of affected Norwich Terriers. The owners of Norwich terriers born since January 1, 2000 were invited to complete a questionnaire aimed at identifying affected and unaffected dogs and investigating the clinical characteristics of their seizures. Additionally, pedigrees were studied.

To quote the study results:

‘The questionnaire was returned for 198 Norwich terrier dogs. Of these, 26 (13%) were classified as affected by paroxysmal dyskinesia after revision of the questionnaires and after obtaining videos of the episodes, veterinary medical records, and telephone interviews with the owners. All dogs were neurologically normal between episodes. No significant abnormalities were detected on diagnostic investigations. Mean age at the first episode was 3 years. The episodes were characterized by sustained muscular hypertonicity in the pelvic limbs, lumbar region, and thoracic limbs, impairing posture and locomotion without loss of consciousness. Episode frequency varied both between and within individuals. Stress, anxiety, excitement, and variation in daily routine were recognized as episode triggers in 13 dogs. Episode duration generally was from 2 to 5 minutes (range, from < 2 to 30 minutes). The majority of affected dogs were related.
Conclusions: Paroxysmal dyskinesia segregates in an extended pedigree of Norwich terrier dogs and thus is potentially an inherited disorder in this breed.” [De Risio L., Forman O.P., Mellersh C.S. and Freeman J. (2016), Paroxysmal Dyskinesia in Norwich Terrier Dogs. Movmnt Disords Clncl Practice, 3:573-579. Doi:10.1002/mdc3.12334.]

For the first time ever, this recently published study by Dr. Luisa De Risio and her coinvestigators offers us a classification of the disorder by calling it Paroxysmal Dyskinesia and confirms a genetic component suspicion.

2. Labrador study at University of Minnesota

A study at Canine Genetics Lab at University of Minnesota might be helpful to us in understanding what Paroxysmal Dyskinesia is. After 20 years of compiling medical records for Labrador Retrievers and Retriever/ Poodle crosses diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy, the researchers have recognized that a significant proportion of Labrador retrievers present with atypical events where the dogs remain conscious and the seizure is focal movement rather than convulsions. They labelled them Paroxysmal Dyskinesia or Atypical Seizure Disorder.

“Some Labradors with these atypical seizures simply stagger and look dazed or confused for a few seconds or minutes and then recover, without ever falling over. Others have a 2 to 5 minute episode (occasionally longer) where they appear anxious and are unable to stand erect and walk but they will attempt to crawl to their desired location. Some dogs will experience either uncontrollable trembling or increased muscle tone during an episode and a few simply develop a head tremor or trembling while they remain abnormally quiet and recumbent. Affected dogs maintain consciousness and appear to be visual, able to recognize their owners […] Affected dogs are normal between these episodes which occur suddenly, without warning. Systemic evaluation for metabolic, neoplastic and infectious causes of seizures is negative and repeated toxin exposure is unlikely. Related dogs may be similarly affected.” 

Where it gets really interesting is the data on the efficacy of various treatment protocols and the progression of the disease over time. Those two factors favor the nomenclature of Atypical Seizure Disorder.

“In support of this Labrador disorder being a seizure disorder, we have determined that many affected dogs will have a dramatic decrease in their episode frequency when treated with chronic oral anticonvulsant therapy and some affected dogs also develop more classical generalized tonic-clonic seizures later in life.” [study’s webpage]

3. Reports on successful treatment protocols and seizure presentation in a voluntary data submission by owners of affected Norwich Terriers in America

After publication of the British paper, which was based on owner reports, I embarked on a similar, much smaller scale project of my own. I asked owners of affected Norwich Terriers in America to voluntarily submit a list of treatments and their efficacy as perceived by the dog’s owner. I made my request on two online yahoo groups for Norwich owners with combined membership of 972 dog owners. I received 26 responses from the owners of affected dogs, three of them being from owners of dogs known to be Norwich Terrier mixes. Some respondents answered my question about treatment protocol used, while others supplemented that information with extensive descriptions of the seizure history, videos and pedigrees.

The affected dogs whose pedigrees were sent to me (unsolicited) all showed common ancestry. The most common type of seizure reported was a movement seizure with the dog remaining conscious, however there were 4 dogs reporting seizures that involved the whole body, eye rolling, bowel movement and loss of consciousness. One of those dogs was a Norwich mix with a Cairn Terrier confirmed through a Wisdom Panel test, a DNA test showing breed genome.

The treatments varied from diet change to anticonvulsants. Diet change involved either refraining from certain kind of protein, or protein rotation between single-protein foods. 14 dogs responded to Vitamin E and Selenium supplements. The regime varied greatly from the lowest dose being Vitamin E, 50 units and Selenium, 12.5mcg every 4 days to a protocol of Vitamin E 400 units twice daily and Selenium 50 mg twice daily. All owners noticed a reduction in seizure frequency and sometimes in severity as well. All owners used a limited protein diet or protein rotation alongside the vitamin/ mineral protocol. One owner was giving her dog a high dose of Vitamin E only and noticed a reduction in episodes before learning of Selenium being a part of the protocol as well.

Treatments with anticonvulsant drugs included Phenobarbital and Bromide, Levetiracetam, Valproic acid and Zonisamide. The drug reported by the dogs’ owners as having most notable decrease in seizure severity and frequency was Zonisamide. Dogs with a movement seizure (twitching, stiffening, wobbly walk or paddling while the dog remains conscious) responded well to anticonvulsants, as did the dogs with a more severe presentation of seizures, including consciousness loss. This is very important information because it confirms epilepsy as an underlying pathology.

Therefore, we might be dealing with two seizure disorders, one being convulsive form of epilepsy with tonic-clonic seizures and the other one Atypical Seizure Disorder (Paroxysmal Dyskinesia). However, it is more probable that we are observing varying degrees of dogs being affected with the same Atypical Seizure Disorder, just as it is found in the Labrador Retriever, where some dogs with Atypical Seizure Disorder develop tonic-clonic seizures.

The time has come to put one thing to bed: inheritability. The disorder is genetic. I hope that we can move towards organizing a study of Atypical Seizure Disorder, shift our attention away from hoping that the idiopathic epilepsy studies will give us a DNA test, and concentrate on further study of the atypical characteristics of the seizure disorder in Norwich Terriers that puts it in the paroxysmal dyskinesia category. And finally, let’s stop breeding dogs with any concentration of affected ancestors in their pedigrees, or a cluster of ancestors that have been proven to carry the disease (as they may produce affected progeny).

Note: If you have a video illustrating a seizure episode in a Norwich Terrier and would like to share it in my blog I would be very grateful. Visual representation of various seizures would be most illustrative.

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Why We Need To Pay Attention To Calcium In Dog Diets


Dinner prep assistants in my kitchen (photo credit: Vanessa Andrews)

Dog Food Industry Is Revising Calcium Requirements

From Pet Industry blog post by David A. Dzanis, DVM, PhD, DACVN: “After eight years of deliberation and somewhat contentious debate, the revisions to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles have almost made it through all the hoops. Assuming the recommendations of the expert panel (having now passed out of the Pet Food Committee and the Model Bills and Regulations Committee) are accepted by the board and approved by the full AAFCO membership at its annual meeting in August, the revised Profiles will appear in the 2016 AAFCO Official Publication”.

What is the change Dr. Dzanis is taking about? Minimum calcium requirements in dog food have been adjusted up. Before you panic about how badly your dog might be calcium deficient, let me remind you that there is a very wide range of quality in dog food. Chances are that readers of this blog are not using low grade pet food that barely meets the skimpy minimum requirements. Even as the current calcium profile is understood as inadequate, hopefully your dog’s food exceeds that failing minimum standard.

Still, there is a legitimate concern over snowballing effect on generations of dogs. Over the years, has the dog population fed commercial food been receiving inadequate calcium? And more to the point was the form of calcium used easily absorbed, or just passing through the dog? Wouldn’t bio-availability of calcium be something we also have standards for? Let’s take a look at the facts.

How Is Dog Food Industry Regulated?

Actually, it isn’t. Not the way you expect it to be, with legal regulations. In the USA, the only regulatory body for pet industry is voluntary and is formed by the industry itself. You heard it right. AAFCO is a voluntary member association of pet food industry. From AAFCO website: “AAFCO does not regulate, test, approve or certify pet foods in any way. AAFCO establishes the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods, and it is the pet food company’s responsibility to formulate their products according to the appropriate AAFCO standard.” (emphasis by the author)

The pet food industry created an organization to set standards, to provide in their own words “a level playing field of orderly commerce for the animal feed industry”. Forming industry standards is not a bad thing, but having them be the only rules is bad. You can easily see the steepness and glistening of that slippery slope, where quality is destined to slide down under the weight of profit goals.

AFFCO voluntary industry standards are being perceived by the public as solidly fact based and enforceable. They are not. The nutritional profiles have been deficient (pun intended), and there is zero compliance enforcement. I am not even going to start discussing fillers and questionable ingredients. What is in your dog’s bag of kibble depends on the manufacturer’s voluntary honesty, while the nutritional value of the food is set to less than ideal requirements. Even with loosey-goosey accountability , AFFCO felt compelled to revise the calcium minimum.

How important is calcium anyway?

Calcium Is A Big Deal


Truman (Dignpop True Gentleman), a pup fed fresh balanced diet

You know about the bones, the teeth, the nails, the whole skeletal thing. If you are a breeder you know about calcium’s role in pregnancy and whelping. But did you realize there is no heartbeat without calcium? Muscles cannot contract without it, cells cannot communicate, blood cannot clot, nerves cannot function. Indeed, calcium is a big deal and keeping its levels within optimum range affects the functioning of the entire tail wagging engine.

When the only organization that establishes pet food standards  revises calcium requirements, which they set among friends,  we’d better pay attention. Those of us who prepare our dogs’ meals need to pay attention as well.  Were we told our dogs need less calcium than they really do? The simple answer is yes.

I am not the type to be attracted to conspiracy theories, and I certainly do not want to create one. But I am asking myself whether inadequate calcium intake has been at least partially responsible for higher rates of difficult whelping (especially uterine inertia), rampant dental disease  and increase in skeletal issues in dogs. Of course we have a stronger culture of seeking  specialist veterinary care for our dogs’ illnesses than decades ago, and so we have more reported cases of various diseases that could be linked to chronic calcium deficiency. Still, even if you take that cultural shift into account, there is an exploding number of cases of skeletal, dental  and whelping problems. The trend is eerily coinciding with the switch to commercially prepared dog food in the last decades. Food that over years might have been shortchanging our dogs on calcium, among other things.

Calcium and Phosphorous – The Perfect Match

Before you rush to buy calcium supplements, consider this. Too much calcium is as dangerous as too little. Kidney stones, heart problems, hip dysplasia, you don’t want to go there.

What your dog needs is the sufficient calcium intake and the perfect balance of calcium and phosphorous (C:P). The perfect ratio of those two minerals regulates the absorption of calcium. Guess what? The perfect C:P ratio is the one found in diet with animal bones, animal cartilage, egg shells, whole small animals, in other words calcium sources our dogs evolved on. What the food industry is learning from research is that calcium derived from sources foreign to natural dog diets throw the calcium/ phosphorous balance off. It is not enough to provide calcium to our dogs but to provide the right, bio-available calcium source that includes phosphorous.

When comparing foods, or calcium supplements, do not look just for calcium content. Look for both calcium and phosphorous, and their ideal ratio of 1.2 calcium to 1 phosphorous in the overall diet, or close to it. For example, Bone Meal has that ideal mineral pairing. Beware of heavy metals in Bone Meal though, and look for products tested for lead and other heavy metals.

I should add a disclaimer that the ideal C:P ratio is slightly different for puppies and aging dogs, but for the purpose of this article I am talking about an adult dog’s nutritional needs)


Typical dog meal I prepare includes cartilage, ground egg shells and is supplemented with Bone Meal

Natural Calcium Sources

I had mentioned in my earlier articles Dr.Pitcairn’s Healthy Powder, as my supplement of choice. One of the ingredients is calcium derived from ground egg shells, a wonderful source of C:P perfect dance. Raw meaty bones, chicken necks, whole fish, are other examples of a match made in heaven for C:P balance in canine nutrition.

Milk products have also both calcium and phosphorous but cow’s milk products are less ideal for another reason. In their book Canine Nutrogenomics – The New Science Of Feeding Your Dog For Optimum Health,  the authors Dr. Jean Dodds and Diana Laverdure warn against protein in cow’s milk, beta-casein A1, which some dogs do not tolerate. Instead, use goat’s milk and goat’s milk products.

Incidentally, an NIH study published in September 2015  (Sebely Pal et al) also linked cow milk intolerance in people to A1 beta-casein, widening our understanding of cow’s milk intolerance syndrome in addition to the usual suspect – lactose.

I believe that optimum nutrition is paramount, which means constant learning and improving my dog food prep skills. And who knows, maybe the fact that my girls consistently have smooth natural births in a breed plagued with uterine inertia is in some part connected to my obsession with proper nutrition. In this case calcium that is absorbed and utilized in the body. “Bio-available” is the word of the day.


Posted in Puppy rearing | 4 Comments

Early Scent Introduction

DSC_7328I got an interesting question from a prospective puppy buyer. Do I use Early Scent Introduction (ESI) protocol with my litters? I never have but heard lots about it and am truly excited to experiment with it.

ESI was developed by Gayle Watkins, a long time breeder of Golden Retrievers and co-founder of Avidog, a breeder education forum. The long term results of ESI were studied in a 7-year breeding test. Success of puppies trained in ESI compared to a control group was remarkable! In their adult life they achieved scenting titles much earlier ( years earlier!), accumulated more titles overall and their abilities were more complex. ESI has since been used widely by breeder enthusiasts involved in scenting disciplines and the protocol has been endorsed by the American Kennel Club.

ESI is used in conjunction with Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS), a protocol I described in detail in my earlier post from last year. I have been using ENS for years, ever since my very first litter. However, this is my first litter trained with Early Scent Introduction concurrently with Early Neurological Stimulation.

A puppy is introduced to a stimulus of a strong smell for about 5 seconds. The puppy is unrestrained and allowed to move freely. Its reaction is recorded as neutral, positive or negative.

The photos above show a clear positive response to a fresh basil leaf. This was the first time (day 4 of the exercise) when I recorded a response in all puppies of this litter and it was unmistakable. Watson reacted to the scent here by moving closer and sniffing it.

Meanwhile, Hudson clearly showed a negative reaction to the basil leaf.

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What was thrilling that day was that the reactions were apparent. The first 2 days of the ESI the puppies showed no response at all, marked as neutral response in the records. On day 3 Holmes responded positive to a flowering cherry branch, while his siblings remained neutral.

So far the puppies have been introduced to the following scents:

Day 1 (day 5 of life) pine needles           all neutral

Day 2 (day 6 of life) orange peel            all neutral

Day 3 (day 7 of life) cherry blossoms    Homes positive, Watson and Hudson neutral

Day 4 (day 8 of life) fresh basil leaf       Holmes and Watson positive, Hudson negative

Day 5 (day 9 of life) garlic                          all negative

Day 6 (day 10 of life) rich dirt                   all positive (very positive!) – TERRIERS!!!

Day 7 (day 11 of life) rat bedding              all positive (very positive, including the dam!) –                                                                                      TERRIERS, TERRIERS, TERRIERS!!!

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All three puppies were  very interested in rat bedding (photos above). You see my hand in one photo as I was spotting Watson not to fall off the blanket stretchered across on my lap when racing to the rat bedding. Can you tell they are terriers?

So is ESI intended for dogs that are going to have careers in tracking or hunting? No, this is for any puppy! The idea behind these exercises is to stimulate the areas of the brain primed for development spurt.

Canines perceive the world predominantly by scent and scent memory. Our human perception of the world around us is predominantly visual. Very much the way we introduce mobiles in our babies’ cribs to stimulate their development, strong scents offered to puppies in neonatal period stimulate their brains and form neural connections for scent memories.

But hey, priming these pups for future success in tracking, barn hunt and earthdog will be a lovely bonus.

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Hip Dysplasia: Can a Shape and Surface of Whelping Box Prevent It?

Hip Dysplasia – Nature/Nurture Side of Things

Hip dysplasia is one of those conditions that all dog breeders are very well aware of and have been making considerable efforts to eliminate. Almost every breed’s parent club recommends screening breeding stock for hip dysplasia. HD is the reason why Orthopedic Foundation For Animals (OFA) was founded.

However, with all the effort that went into monitoring the inheritance of the disease, with incredible accumulation of data spanning over 50 years, the consensus is now emerging that the causes of  hip dysplasia are only about 20% genetic and 80% environmental. You can mate two parents with excellent hips and get dysplastic offspring, or mate two dysplastic parents and get pups with normal hips. Some scientists go as far as to say that hip dysplasia is predominantly a bio-mechanical process, with genes playing a very limited part.

Theories that describe HD as mostly a bio-mechanical condition point to the fact that HD affects breeds with higher ratio of weight to height, and secondly that research has shown overweight individuals within the same breed to be twice as likely to develop the condition.

OFA data lists Bulldog and Pug as the two most affected breeds and Italian Greyhound and Whippet as least affected. Talk about compact weight juxtaposed to light, lean body!

In a study that compared Lab puppies on restricted diet to those on control diet, the results were striking  (Vanden Berg-Foels et al 2006). By the age of 6 years puppies fed a restricted diet had 40% less evidence of HD than the controls, with heaviest dogs affected the most.

Chubby puppies are very cute, however their risk of developing orthopedic problems is almost twice as big (pun intended) as for lean puppies. But before you measure out perfectly controlled portions of food for little gremlins you can do something else to reduce environmental risk for hip dysplasia.

The Whelping Box and HD?

Indeed, there might be another environmental factor we are overlooking- the whelping box! When you have a chance to watch some videos of wild canines, you will notice how the den is shaped like a bowl. Its surface is compact dirt. When the pups are nursing they have great traction under their feet. They do not use knees and bellies to crawl as much as pups in a flat whelping box are forced to do. The concave shape informs blind and deaf newborns where “up” and “down” is, and they all pile at the bottom of the den, forming a thermally efficient little gathering.

What is remarkable about the differences between a natural den and a man-made whelping box is that it just may explain why all puppies are born with normal hips and develop dysplasia afterwards, and why wild canines do not suffer from hip dysplasia. Does the damage happen sometime after birth in a man-made environment?

In multiple studies puppies were shown to have normal hips at birth and show signs of laxity in hip joint by the age of 2 weeks (the head of the femur does not fit tightly into the acetabulum). Joint laxity is a key risk factor for developing hip dysplasia. So what happens in those 2 weeks? Now if you look at newborn puppies nursing in a whelping box you will see feet flaring about looking for traction, or puppies putting their weight on knees and hips. Both over-flexing the legs and putting weight directly on knees and hips put undue stress on the hip joint and can result in luxating that joint.

Can some easy adjustments to a whelping box make a difference? Here is a simple experiment I did. The first photo shows my litter nursing in a flat whelping box lined with a Sherpa blanket. The next photo was taken after I put a rug pad under the blanket. The pad changed the traction on the bottom of the whelping box. Notice how the weight distribution changed from knees and hips to feet.



Again, same two images side by side. I could not believe the difference!

To go a step further in creating traction I put a rug pad over the blankets and all of a sudden the puppies no longer looked like cute blobs we are used to seeing but more like their wild cousins, lifting weight up on all their limbs.

Hudson on rug pad

I also videotaped the result in how the puppies moved. Watch this video here.

Are we on to something here? After sharing this experiment with friends on facebook I got some great tips on the surfaces with traction. One can buy Sherpa pads with rubberized backing! Who knew? Or use a bathroom rug that has rubber grips on the bottom.

I am also experimenting with creating a concave den. For now I’m using my whelping box. I have padded the outer rim with towels and once I got the shape curved inwards from all directions I laid a rug pad and then a Sherpa blanket over it.

Here is what my typical whelping box environment looked like prior to this experiment.



And here are the same puppies after I made the concave den for them.DSC_7343

I believe that a den curved inwards, with surface that has good traction might be a very good idea. I am going to design something more permanent than a pile of towels for my next litter, but I think that this trio likes their new makeshift nest.

Posted in Hip Dysplasia, Puppy rearing, whelping box | 106 Comments

The Right Home for A Puppy is EVERYTHING

After a few months long hiatus from writing this blog I am sitting again at a whelping box hovering over newborns and receiving many requests to document this new litter. I am going to do that, especially as I am adding some new protocols and polishing the old ones. However, before I can embark on that journey I feel that I need to put my work in perspective.

This is a shout out to a loving dog owner!

A puppy spends a very short time at a breeder’s place. Most of the dog’s life will be shaped elsewhere. Yes, science tells us that the early weeks of life have life-long effects, making the breeder’s influence disproportional  to the time spent with the puppy. Still the point remains that majority of the dog’s life is shaped by its owners.

There is a distinction between a predisposition/ temperament and character. A character is a result of the interplay between the puppy’s temperament and its environment. The environment being in the most part the dog’s owners, because they shape every minute of the dog’s life. No matter its inborn predispositions, the character of a dog left alone for long hours each day and interacted with as an afterthought will be markedly different than a character of a dog that has a clearly spelled out role in the family and whose emotional as well as physical needs are considered daily.

One of the most difficult and yet one of the most rewarding aspects of breeder’s work is choosing the right family for each pup. Puppy buyers have different ideas on what their day to day life with a dog will be. They have different emotional expectations that will affect how they raise their dog. And the dog’s entire life will be doomed, blessed, or fall somewhere in between. No reprieve. A choice of the right puppy buyer is everything.

There is no overstating the gratitude that great dog owners deserve. I would go as far as to say that a successful breeding program relies on collaboration with wonderful owners. I cannot say enough about the caring, loving effort that buyers of my puppies have shown. I feel deep gratitude for knowing that all the pups I brought into this world have full, emotionally rich lives.

I thank each and every one of you with a Dignpop dog! I think of you as my extended family and I love you! So many of you became close friends sharing other aspects of our lives in addition to our shared passion for dogs. Each owner of a puppy that was born at Dignpop kennel has been a stellar example of a great owner.  You bring out the best in canine-human relationship and are a shining example for others. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

I do my best to give the puppies a great start. Where they end up is a credit to their owners.

For those who have followed my last year’s litter featured in this blog here is an update on the lives of those four boys. Their lives are fabulous, because they have wonderful owners.

Rolo (formerly Nugget)







They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Photos and updates of Rolo’s life are always depicting fun: learning, exploring, playing. Rolo is being trained for an agility career to follow in the footsteps of Ace, the other Norwich in the family.

He is IMG_0412also attending an obedience class and already skipped ahead a level. I always feel so pumped up with pride when I hear how easily Rolo learns, how enthusiastic he is to try new things.

I can’t say which of Rolo’s photos are my favorite because I love them all, but probably if I was to use one photo to show confidence in a young pup it would be this one. It is showing a 7 months old Rolo holding a fabulous sit-stay next to a giant blow up dog, in a place new to him. This was taken at Eukanuba national in December.

A little pup looking confident and poised while holding a stay, with the whole big world round him!

Such a visual metaphor for where he is headed. Watch out the world!

Digby (formerly Banzo)

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The red pup we called Banzo, our Garbanzo Bean, a poster pup for cuteness, was renamed as Digby.

Digby moved to picturesque Alberta in Canada, where he enjoys a charmed life. All the descriptions of his adventures bring to life the confident pup I knew him to be through and through from the beginning.

His owners reported on Digby’s successes in puppy kindergarten classes,  Puppy Obedience and Intermediate. I’m told he passed each course with flying colors and is now attending Advanced Obedience classes. unnamed

These are such thrilling news for a breeder.  I love receiving colorful stories about his friendly interaction with all humans and animals he meets.

In his spare time Digby’s hobbies include greeting everyone he sees, finding every sunny spot to claim as his own, digging in his very own sandbox (yes, you heard me!) and helping with house chores, especially laundry.

I smile every time I get an email from Digby’s owners in anticipation of joy that reading of it is sure to bring.



Derby is my buddy. He goes to work with me and is my constant companion.

We are playing with some puppy steps in dog sports. Derby in the office1Derby has been learning some basic obedience, without a formal class yet, and we have started nosework. We took one outdoor nosework class together in the fall and trained at home in the winter. I also plan to show Derby in conformation in a little while.

Occasionally, while in the office with me Derby takes his work duties  a bit too seriously as architectural critic…

He brightens my every day.

Pete (formerly Primo)




Pete went to live with his dam’s breeder in Michigan, with a show and stud career planned for him.

I am told that he is the sunshine personality I saw in him as a pup. He loves everyone and is unfazed by anything, the consummate optimist.

Pete is lucky to train for a show ring with  junior handlers. He is crazy for his young trainers.

He will debut in the show ring later in the summer, probably about the same time when Derby will be ready to take his first steps in the show ring.


A little post scriptum story about the name Digby

This is the third pup born here that was named Digby. The first one was named so by me and registered as Dignpop Digby. The “original” Digby is owned by a lovely couple of dog sport enthusiasts from Virginia. Their Digby has accumulated a super impressive list of advanced performance titles in three dog sport disciplines in his 8 years of life. His name now reads Dignpop Digby CD BN RE MX AXJ NF. The letters after the name stand for titles in Rally, Agility and Obedience. Imagine the dedication of his fabulous owners.

The “second” Digby was named by me Big B. His registered name is Dignpop Big Bang. His owner renamed him to a similar sounding name Digby. Because it was a second Digby from Dignpop, she calls him Dig for short. Again, this Digby was born under the lucky stars. Dig is only 3 years old and is walking in the footsteps of the “original” Digby. So far, although still very young he is already Dignpop Big Bang BN RA. BN is an obedience title and RA is Rally Advanced, his second title in Rally (more advanced titles replace the lower ones in the official title used after the registered name).

When Banzo’s owners told me that they loved the name Digby and would want to rename their pup I told them he will have a lot to live up to. And guess what? They had already planned to train him in Obedience! 

To distinguish between the three Digby boys when my husband and I refer to them we say “Digby”, “Dig” and “Digby-eh” (our Canadian Digby).



Posted in Puppy rearing | 2 Comments

2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,800 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Dear Readers,

Thank you very much for taking this journey with me! Wishing you and your human and canine family members good health and much happiness in 2016!

Hugs to All,

Magda Chiarella

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