Progesterone Testing | Progesterone Testing For Dogs, Tips for 99% Successful Breeding

By: Danielle Harris

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If you’re new to breeding, you may be wondering what “progesterone testing” is and why it matters. 

It’s important to know your frenchie progesterone levels. Let us explain why!

Progesterone Testing
Progesterone test results

What is Progesterone?

Progesterone is a steroid hormone produced by the female dog during her heat cycle.

This hormone is measured throughout heat AND pregnancy. This hormone is tested via a blood test. 

How is Progesterone Measured?

Blood is taken from the female and put into a centrifuge.

The centrifuge splits the blood into 3 components. Plasma, Platelets, and Red Blood Cells.

The plasma is then measured with a pipette and inserted to the base. Our machine does it all. Once put in the machine, the machine mixes, incubates, and measures the hormone levels.

Why Is Progesterone Testing Important?

Progesterone testing is important because the levels of progesterone will tell you when your female is ovulating, when the eggs are ready for insemination- which is known as maturation, when ovulation is over, and when she’s in active labor. 

Also, Her Progesterone level needs to be monitored so you know how she rises, if it’s drastic or subtle. Since ovulation occurs between a 3.5 and 5 this will give you insight on when the bitch ovulates. Some dogs’ progesterone rises slowly.

If she was slow to rise then most likely she ovulates on the ovulation high number. This will help to know when to reverse progesterone test and estimate the due date.

This test is necessary when breeding your French bulldog. Proper timing is imperative. Both for the purpose of artificial insemination and for timing of the due date. 

Even if you plan a natural breeding, still progesterone test to know your timing. If your stud is unable to mount successfully you can inseminate knowing it’ll still be successful.

We use the Cube Vet Progesterone Machine but there are many varieties available.

Progesterone Test for Dogs

Behaviors can be misleading, too early or too late. In this case, they’re wayyyy too early

Most breeders ONLY offer artificial insemination and allow natural breeding within their own stock.

This is exactly what we do. Some studs can’t “get it in”, they may be too tall, too short, or have bad aim. 

The MAIN reason we don’t offer natural breedings is because just like in humans, dogs too, can contract sexually transmitted infections and diseases. These diseases can cause infertility, birth defects, and death of puppies. Brucellosis is the nastiest one in dogs and will destroy your whole program.

Progesterone testing
Bacteria Brucella Microscopic photo (AKC)

If you’ve watched Yellowstone, there’s an episode where a whole herd of cattle was lost to it.

Therefore, we require all dams who breed with our studs to progesterone test in order to guarantee a litter.

Proper timing is key for a successful litter. You wouldn’t artificially inseminate a dog that’s not in heat, that would be a waste, just as much as inseminating before she has proper levels, inseminating after levels have gone too high and missing it entirely.

With proper progesterone testing, given the female is in good breeding health, we can guarantee a litter. One litter constitutes as 2 or more puppies. 

Progesterone Testing
Poor Aim – but he did eventually get it after 3 ai.
Progesterone Testing
Dogs naturally breeding

Another reason for progesterone testing is knowing when the litter is due.

90% of the time French Bulldogs require C-sections.

I know of some breeders who have done natural birth, but it’s risky. Puppies have large heads that can get stuck in the canal. This can cause death of the pup, death of the litter, and even death of the dam.

Knowing the due date of your litter is imperative to know when to look for labor signs and when to start the reverse progesterone testing. 

Minimizing all complications.

The Process – pg test for dogs

Once you notice your female is in heat, test 7 days after the first sight of blood. All females are different, and all heats are different.

If you have males in your home, you may notice interest in the dam about a month before heats start. They can sense hormonal changes. The female might get picky with food as well before her heat cycle begins. 

The first time Elsa was bred, it took her 22 days until she was ready to breed – we did 11 progesterone tests. 

This past heat, we tested at day 7 she was at a 2.2, day 8 she doubled to a 4.5. Since she doubled over night, it is expected the progesterone would double every day from then on, probably ovulating that night.  

We bred on days: 9, 11, 12(unintended natural tie), 13, and 14(unintended natural tie) she was bred. 

Progesterone Ovulation Timing Chart
Progesterone Ovulation Timing Chart

Ovulation Timing

Ovulation takes place at between 5- 6nl. The eggs will then need two days to mature before sperm can fertilize. 

I like to inseminate when the female is at or above a 4.5-6(ovulation numbers) and repeat every 36 hours for a total of 3 breedings. 

But once the dog hits an 8, it’s time to breed.

Anything over 25 (without knowing ovulation), the fertile period is over and you’ve missed the window.

As soon as you notice your female in heat, plan to take her to be tested early in the morning on day 7.

If you’re using an outside stud, you’ll want to keep the owner informed so the owner of the stud can plan around your females levels.

Keep in mind, if you plan on shipping, most vet offices close around 4 or 5 pm, over night shipping may not be available should the results come back too late.

At Pepite, we offer local in house breedings. If someone comes to us at 10pm, I will do the artificial insemination. Shipping isn’t that flexible! Fresh semen is the best semen!

If you choose to do a natural breeding. The male most times ties with the female 2 days after ovulation when the eggs are ripe. You can guess when her due date is from the date of first tie, or him trying hard to tie (sometimes young studs miss the first few times). However ai is gentler on the reproductive tract.

Some breeders swear they always breed on days 13-18. But this isn’t a fool proof method. Some dogs may ovulate only a few days after heat begins, others may take a very long time.

Elsa for example, started heat in January of 2022 and wasn’t ready to breed until late late February.

I suspected a split heat.

Here is a chart of her progesterone levels from both my home tests and Idexx results

progesterone testing
Including the initial bleeding days in January, it took 33 days for her to be ready to breed.

Had they not naturally bred, Ai breeding days would have been as follows: 20, 22, 24, and 26

progesterone testing
breeding french bulldogs
Here are Dahlias Results From her last heat September/October 2023

Had dahlia not bred naturally breeding days would have been: 13, 15, 17, and 19

At ovulation confirmation based on the natural breeding and timing of the natural breeding, the specialist told me not to worry about further breeding and that 1 additional Ai would be more than enough but not necessary.

As you can see we did add in that additional Ai on day 15.

When stated that additional breeding would not be necessary she said: “you’d be surprised how long it can last in there”

progesterone testing
Portias Progesterone testing July 2023

One last Ai on the 18th day (7/17/2023) would have been good too.

To estimate due date

Count 63 days from ovulation. If you’d like to do an ultrasound, count 28-32 days from ovulation, and Xray is usually done at 55- 58 days post ovulation or later. 

Since you’ve done the progesterone testing and you know when her due date is, you’ll know when to start looking for labor signs. 

Keep in mind the “due date” is just like any other due date. It’s an educated guess. Some dogs, if they’re carrying a large litter, they may go a couple of days early. Other dogs may go 2-3 days later than expected. Any pups born before 58 day usually have poor survival rates.

Starting at 7 days prior to the due date you’ll start taking the dams rectal temperature 3x daily. 

Normal canine temperature is 100-102. 

The temperature will start to drop slowly, even bounce up and down. Her temperature will drop below 98 degrees 24 hours before she starts to push. 

You’ll also start to notice behavioral changes like nesting (digging and building a nest), sleeping, restlessness, lack of appetite, possible vomiting and diarrhea the night before labor starts. This is to clear out the system, and the biggest sign -right when labor starts- is heavy panting. 

Once the temperature drops below 98, allow the dog to use the bathroom, wait 30 min to an hour and take the temperature again, if it’s still low or in the low 98s, take the dam to the vet. More than likely, it’s go time! 

Reverse Progesterone

Once you get to the vet, a reverse progesterone test will be done.

Reverse progesterone testing is the same exact test as the initial progesterone test. The only difference is that, instead of the progesterone rising like while in heat, the progesterone levels on the reading will have dropped.

When the progesterone drops, it induces labor and starts milk production. Once progesterone levels are at 2nl or below, it is then safe to perform the c-section.

NEVER TAKE A LITTER BEFORE HORMONES ARE AT THE CORRECT LEVEL, however if they’re past due and levels aren’t dropping check gut motility via ultrasound. 

Levels that don’t drop is a rare occurrence but it does happen.

Your vet will consider all labor symptoms and behavior in combination with timing to determine if its safe for pups to be born.

There are also other benefits to progesterone testing. 

You can monitor split heats, delayed puberty, and silent heats. 

Split heats are exactly what they sound like. Happening more often on first heats than anything, the dog may come into heat, it’ll drop off, and then come back. This process could take up to a month should the dog be experiencing it.

Delayed Puberty is when the dam hasn’t had a heat by the time she becomes 2 years of age. Other testing will be done to rule out silent heats.

Silent heats happen when there is minimal discharge and no swelling at all. Progesterone testing must be run on the first day the owner notices to determine if the breeding season has been missed or not. This is a very frustrating heat cycle.

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