The Berger Picard 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 Picards 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 Picards 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 worse 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 labor 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 labor, 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 cesarean section should be done and quickly to save the pups.
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 labor. 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 Picard involve mainly two issues. One problem is what the French call “Vulve Barree” which translates into a locked vulva 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.
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 Picard. 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 small number of males in the US 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.
If your Picard has had any of these issues please take the breed survey
(http://picards.us/?page_id=65) to help keep tract of the incidence of these problems. Also if you are breeding your Picard, please bank your Picards DNA with OFA so future markers may be found.