Tag Archives: environmental factors for pregnancy

Is She Pregnant? Check her gums!

Well I’ll be!  Here’s a new (at least to me it’s new) old trick from the breeders of yesteryear and I’m simply tripping over myself wanting to try it. I’ve never heard this one before, it sounds nifty and I’m wondering if any of you have ever tried (or heard of) this pregnancy predictor? Arlene Czech writes about the “Gum Check” in her article for this month’s column in ShowSight Magazine.

How to perform the test:  exactly 21 days after the FIRST tie mating start looking at the gums on your bitch by lifting her lips as though you are checking her bite. If she is pregnant the gum will appear very white, much whiter than their normal red color. (see photo below) This color change will occur between the 21 to 24 days after that first mating. It would be ideal for you to begin checking the gums earlier than the 21 days so you have a good picture in your mind of her normal gum color. If she is not pregnant the gum tissue will not change color.

Why it works:  According to Arlene’s article, this is the time when the fetus implants itself on the uterine walls. During this process a good deal of the blood flow is redirected from the body of the bitch and focused on her uterus instead.

We’d sure like to hear back from those of you who may have already been aware of this trick and have used it, as well as those who give it a try on your next breeding. Simply send us an email at gordonsetterexpert@gmail.com or leave a comment at the end of this article.

For information about medical methods to determine pregnancy click this link to our article “Is she…or isn’t she?”

Thank you to our reader Carol Wilson for sending the following email and photos:

I recently read your article about checking a bitches gums to see if she was pregnant. I must admit I had never heard of if before, but as I had just mated my long coat Chihuahua I thought why not try the test.
The first pic was taken about 2 weeks after mating and the second pic 22 days after the first tie. You can see how much paler her gums are. I was fascinated when I saw the change in her gums, but the article did make a lot of sense.
My girl is definitely in whelp she is 5 weeks along now, so the test worked for us. I will definitely be using this method again future.
Thanks for sharing
Carol Wilson


These photos were shared from one of our readers (thank you Shelley Ellison) who reported   …my images of my Labrador Retriever girl Katy when I bred her last year. The darker image was taken on day 21 after ovulation, and the brighter gum color was taken on day 24 after ovulation. I did progesterone timing for shipped chilled semen and she had 9 beautiful puppies.

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Gordon Puppy Photograph courtesy of Debbie Bjerkestrand

(Read Arlene Czech’s article by clicking the blue link below). I’ve included a brief excerpt and photos from the article here.

This is what he told me, and I would like to pass it on to others. No need for a visit to the vet, just a simple check. He demonstrated with his dog as to how to tell if a bitch is pregnant. He simply held her head while he lifted her lip, as if checking the bite when judging. He said the gums will be very white at this time. The time? Exactly 21 days from the first tie in breeding. Actually, you need to start a few days before to become used to the gum color. Just a quick look is all you need. The only problem is that it does not stay white forever. Why it is white is that this is the time that the little fetus/egg implants itself on the uterus? In doing so, blood is drained from the bitches’ body and goes to the uterus. You need to check for several days after since some aren’t ready to implant. Recently I have taken pictures of my recent bitch on her 21st day had white gums, and then several days later I took another picture showing her red gums. Breeders do not believe me until they try it themselves and then say “they did turn white!” And if it is not a success then the gums stay red.

In all the intervening years, I have had success with this over 55 times. I missed once because I didn’t catch her on the 21-24th day. Then I take my bitch to my vet to palpate on the 28th day to see how many.

 I understand from several breeders of farm animals that they too check the same way to see if the breeding took. I didn’t ask how many days they use, but the method was white gums.

by Arlene Czech

Causes of Infertility and Puppy Deaths

Photo by Bob Segal

It seems like it should be so easy, creating a gorgeous litter of Gordon Setter puppies. But, as many experienced breeders will tell you, it’s not simple, and sometimes our dream of those future winners and fabulous family pets becomes nothing more than wishful thinking as the reality of a failed breeding hits home. When this reality becomes the norm rather than a one time event, breeders often seek the advice of canine reproductive experts to help unravel the mystery. Having some knowledge and a basic understanding of what can and does go wrong with our bitch during breeding is imperative for the serious breeder.

So let’s spend some time talking about what could be amiss with our bitch by starting with the assumption that our male was fertile and the sperm quality was near perfection. In the bitch we learn that finding a cause may be very difficult as there can be many different situations that are very hard to determine, for example being able to tell if the eggs were actually fertilized by the sperm or if instead there was early death of the embryos.  We’re going to explore the causes of infertility in the bitch in general terms to give you an idea of what your reproductive expert may find.

Mistimed Breeding

The majority of missed breedings are due to mistimed matings. We now have many fantastic tools at our disposal to tell us the optimal time to breed our bitch, which means that by working with a veterinarian who is knowledgeable about canine reproduction we can confidently eliminate this as an issue early on in the game. To determine the proper timing of the breeding we can employ techniques like vaginal cytology, endoscopic appearance of vaginal folds and progesterone testing which are the most commonly used and accurate methods.

  • Photo by Bob Segal
    Photo by Bob Segal

    Ovarian Ultrasonography is the most accurate method to determine the precise ovulation date and can help to develop the number of growing follicules as well as the follicules that are undergoing ovulation thus assisting in the complete evaluation of the fertility of the bitch. You will find photos and an explanation of this procedure in the article Ovarian Ultrasonography and Follow up of Estrus in the Bitches.

Infertility and Prolonged Interestrous Intervals

The interestrous (simply put this is time in between the seasons) is normally between 4 and 13 months with 7 months being the average. There are many variations in the interestrus time period and this may not be abnormal, however, once the heat cycle is established, most bitches will maintain a fairly consistent cycle throughout their lives varying little from year to year, cycle to cycle. Prolonged interestrous in the bitch may cause infertility and can be caused by:

  • The silent heat occurs when ovarian activity takes place within the bitch without the outward appearance of the physical and behavioral changes that are characteristic of a bitch in season.
  • Hypothyroidism – the 2004 GSCA Health Survey reported an 8% incidence of Hypothyroid in our breed. Your vet will recommend a thyroid panel when addressing any fertility issue and you should ask for this even if the cycle of the bitch is normal and not prolonged. I found a reference chart sharing the ideal thyroid levels for breeding bitches and have included that information for your review along with a link to the article John Cargill on Thyroid. …”following the guidance of , Dr. Priscilla Stockner, MS, MBA DVM, Veterinary Management Services/Canine Cryobank and W. Jean Dodds, Director, Veterinary Hematology Laboratory, New York State Department of Health…The Normal ranges and Ideals for breeding  purposes are as follows:”
Test Normal Ideal
TT4 22-54 >38
TT3 1.2-3.1 >2.2
FT4 12-39 >25
FT3 2.2-4.8 >3.5
T4A <25 <10
T3A <10 <5
  • Other hormonal diseases such as Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushings Disease) or Hyperprolactinem
  • Bitches treated with hormonal compounds such as progestogens, androgens (racing dogs) or anabolic steroid
  • Ovarian cysts that secrete progesterone.
  • Environmental – A final cause of the prolonged cycle could be found in bitches who are housed in very bad conditions such as in high numbers or overcrowded. Those with limited or no access to sun or day light or housed in very low lighting, bitches fed a low quality food and similar restrictive conditions.

Infertility and Shortened Interestrous

  • Follicular cysts or Granulosa cells tumor causing over stimulation of the ovaries. There are various treatments for these issues that may return your Gordon Setter to fertility.
  • A premature decline in progesterone during diestrus causing an inability to carry the pregnancy to term. Early embryonic or fetal death is nearly impossible to detect and may be caused by endometritis, cystic endometrial hyperplasia and embryonic defects or possibly inbreeding. These deaths are often associated with a drop in the blood progesterone level.
Photo by Bob Segal

Infertility due to Infectious Diseases

  • Canine Herpes Virus (CHV) – causes fatal infections in newborn puppies and vaginitis in the bitch. It can cross the  placenta and infect puppies resulting in fetal death, mummification, abortion, premature birth or the delivery of weak, nonviable pups. Exposure to CHV is very common and generally results in few if any symptoms for the adult. As a virus however, it does go dormant in the dog and may flare during times of stress such as pregnancy. It is very important for all breeders to realize the complexity and the severity of this virus as it relates to pregnancy, fetal health and newborn puppies. There are several excellent sites hosting articles relating to CHV infection and I am providing you a link to click for Stress, Infertility and Herpes Infection by Mary C. Wakeman DVM, Ashford Animal Clinic and Canine Fertility Center.
  • Canine Distemper Virus – may cause spontaneous abortion from the stress of the disease with or without infection of the fetus.
  • Canine Brucellosis – The most common bacterial cause of abortion in bitches occurring between 45-55 days. Infertility generally follows the infection, vaginal discharges and aborted fetus tissues are highly infectious and extreme care should be taken to prevent transmission to other dogs and bitches.
  • Specified bacterial diseases such as E. Coli, S. aureus, and Strep are suspected in the case of infertility. B-hemolytic Streptococcus has been reported in fetal infection resulting in the abortion of the puppies or the birth of weak non-viable puppies. Several studies have given indication of some slight difference in the composition of the vaginal flora between fertile and infertile bitches, however it has been shown that with the presence of vaginitis there are significant variations in that flora and strong evidence that the bacteria causing the vaginitis may lead to infertility. It is considered possible that the role of vaginal bacterial as it concerns infertility may be underestimated as it lacks clinical signs and is difficult to determine under normal clinical examination of the vaginal tract. These bacteria are frequently cultured from vaginal discharges or fetal tissues after abortion and may be associated not only with infertility but also persistent vaginal discharge and repeat abortion especially in older bitches.
  • Parasitic infections can cause of infertility.
  • Mycoplasma and Ureaplasma – these are opportunistic organisms that are normally found in the vaginal canal, however heavy infections may cause infertility, early embryonic death, resorption, abortion, stillbirths or the birth of weak and nonviable puppies.
  • Neospora Caninum – may cause early fetal death. Neospora are protozoan parasites also infecting wolves, coyotes, dingos and other wild dogs. Dogs may become infected by eating infected cattle, deer, chickens (especially barnyard chickens), or any of a variety of wild animals. Infections may be transmitted through raw meat diets. Once infected the dam may pass the infection to the litter and should they survive birth, some puppies may develop progressive hind-limb weakness and muscle atrophy. Adult dogs may show symptoms of inflammation of the brain and/or spinal cord, nodules or ulcers on skin or mouth, pneumonia, or myocarditis. A Neospora infection can also be present with no signs or symptoms in the host.
  • Toxoplasma gondii – Another protozoal parasite that may cause mild disease in adult dogs but most commonly persists as an unrecognized infection causing few if any symptoms. T. gondii when present may cause fetal infection and death or abortion and, if the puppies survive birth, it should be noted that T. gondii has been found in the milk of lactating bitches. T. gondii is most commonly passed through the fecal matter of cats who are the primary host.

Other causes of Infertility include:

  • Drugs and induced infertility –  steroid hormones or anti-fungal drugs may create hormonal defects in bitches. Obviously, one would want to avoid abortive drugs such as prostglandinsm, antiprogestins and antiprolactinic substances during pregnancy.
  • Anatomical abnormalities of the vulva, vagina, vestibule may prevent a natural breeding for a bitch. These could be congenital or acquired diseases of the genital tract like scar tissue.
  • Endometritis – difficult to diagnose in the bitch this is a common cause of infertility in horses. An Endoscopic canulation to obtain cervical smear may be the best option to identify this disease.
  • Cystic endometrial hyperplasia (CEH) prevents implantation after conception and often leads to pyometra. There is a successful therapy to treat CEH and it may be identified by skilled ultrasound.
 Links to additional reference material:

Now you all should know I’m not a medical expert, nor am I a veterinarian, so what appears here is my layman’s interpretation from research I conducted in order to write this article for you. I do hope that those who are experts will let us know if there are errors or additional information that should be included here by leaving comments or sending me an email at gordonsetterexpert@gmail.com. Additionally, we encourage everyone to share their thoughts, questions, experience or knowledge with our readers by adding comments.

The Estrous Cycle and Fertile Period