I want to breed my female dog. How do I decide what type of breeding to do?
Several factors need to be considered when choosing your options for breeding procedures. Once you have chosen a stud dog for your bitch, his age, location, availability and sperm count will help you determine the best way to proceed.
There are basically four choices: natural breeding, sometimes referred to as “live cover”; artificial insemination, or “side by side”; transcervical insemination, or surgical insemination. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Your options may be limited if the stud dog is across the country, having fertility issues, or unavailable due to show commitments or illness.
Timing is an important factor for any breeding. The sperm needs to be in the uterus when the eggs are ready to be fertilized. Samples can be taken of cells from the bitch’s vaginal tract and rolled onto a slide for examination. This will give an approximate idea of where the bitch is in her cycle. Blood testing of progesterone or luteinizing hormone (LH) levels pinpoints the fertile days more accurately. Mating is usually carried out when the progesterone level is between 15 to 25 ng/ml and the vaginal smear shows 100% cornified cells, or four to seven days from the LH peak.
Natural breeding is when the male mounts and ties with the female. Many breeders feel this is the preferred method. One advantage of this method is that the stimulation of the tie on the uterus causes contractions that pull the semen from the vagina toward the cervix, placing it close to the uterus. Another advantage is that the semen is not handled or manipulated so there is no danger of affecting its quality.
On the other hand, with a natural breeding, there is not the opportunity to evaluate the semen. If the breeding doesn’t take, there can be questions as to whether the dog or the bitch was the reason. A breeding tie can last from five minutes to an hour. Both dogs should be held in place, and uncooperative females may need to be muzzled to avoid trauma to either party. Some males may not be physically capable of mounting a bitch or lining up adequately to tie. Bitches with small vulvas are difficult for the males to breed.
The next option is artificial insemination, also known as an “AI,” or side-by-side breeding. This is the process by which the sperm is collected manually from a stud dog and deposited into the female using a flexible rod. Some insemination pipettes have an inflatable cuff that stimulates the vagina much like a natural breeding. The bitch’s rear is elevated for five to 20 minutes, using gravity to let the semen flow toward the cervix.
This process allows the semen to be examined and evaluated for fertility and possible abnormalities. An AI also avoids the stress and exertion of a natural breeding, especially in the cases of aggressive males or uncooperative bitches.
Chilled or frozen semen can be inserted vaginally, although, especially in the case of frozen semen, a transcervical or surgical insemination is recommended. Using chilled or frozen semen greatly expands the number of sires available to your breeding program. It also avoids the possibility of disease transmission and trauma of sending your bitch to the male for breeding.
One disadvantage of having the bitch artificially inseminated is the potential for mishandling of the semen. If the semen is not collected correctly or inseminated properly, the breeding will fail. There is a small risk of perforating the vagina if the pipette is forcefully inserted.
I came across a fun fact in my research. The very first animal artificial insemination was performed in 1780 by Italian Catholic priest, biologist and physiologist Lazzaro Spallanzani. He was researching animal reproduction and developed the canine artificial-insemination technique.
Fresh, normal healthy sperm has a lifespan of four to seven days. Chilled semen and frozen semen do not live as long. The expected lifespan of chilled semen is 48 hours, and frozen semen only lives for 12 to 24 hours after it is thawed. If you are planning a breeding using chilled or frozen semen, accurate ovulation timing is crucial for success.
The insemination technique used for chilled and frozen semen breeding is also important. If chilled or frozen semen is deposited in the vagina, the sperm may not survive long enough to complete the journey through the cervix into the uterus, where the eggs are waiting.
Surgical insemination (SI) is the most common method of insemination with frozen semen. Many clients prefer it for chilled semen as well, since the semen is injected directly into the uterus. In addition, this technique can be utilized when fresh semen of lower motility or concentration is used, or when the female has fertility problems related to the cervix.
The bitch is anesthetized and an abdominal incision is made. The uterus is located, then brought to the surface. Half of the semen is injected into each uterine horn with a small needle. The abdominal incision is then sutured closed. Bitches recover quickly and seldom experience complications following this procedure, but it does require anesthesia and they should be kept quiet for 10 to 14 days.
Because of the expense and sedation involved in surgical insemination, often only a single breeding is performed. To maximize conception rates and litter sizes with a single insemination, careful planning and accurate ovulation timing are necessary for success.
Transcervical insemination (TCI) allows the semen to be placed into the uterus without a surgical procedure. It involves the passing of a catheter through the cervix and into the uterus. This may be performed with a special catheter and deep abdominal palpation or by using an endoscope to visualize the cervical opening.
Endoscopic transcervical insemination requires specialized equipment and training for the veterinarian. Anesthesia is usually not needed for transcervical insemination. It is done while the bitch is awake and standing. When performed by an experienced veterinarian, this technique has high conception rates with minimal risk to the bitch’s reproductive tract. In some cases, the insemination cannot be completed due to anatomical variations and the bitch would then need to be sedated and surgically inseminated.
Before you choose which method to complete the ovulation timing and insemination process, you and your veterinarian should discuss the advantages and risks, costs and chances of success with each option. In most cases, the quality of the semen will determine which insemination technique will be best to ensure your bitch delivers lots of healthy puppies.