What is Infertility (Female)?
Ovulation cycles in female dogs are regulated by specific events in the brain, nervous system, and sexual organs. Infertility (the failure to produce offspring) in females may be the result of breeding at improper times—which is most common, the absence of the estrus cycle (the recurring reproductive cycle in female mammals that includes estrus, ovulation, and changes in the lining of the uterus), irregular ovulation, failure to conceive, or prenatal death. It is important to seek veterinarian assistance after the female’s first reproductive failure in order to avoid false assessment, misguided treatment, and potential harm. Treatment depends largely on the symptoms and cause of the condition, but may include hormone administration, antibiotics, or surgery. Depending on the cause prognosis can range from good to bad. If a cause other than improper breed management is determined, the prognosis worsens. If surgery is required for treatment, prognosis worsens further.
Infertility in female dogs is most commonly the result of improper breed management or male infertility, but can be the result of something more serious, such as ovarian cysts or tumors, hormonal problems, and infectious diseases. Possible symptoms include refusal to breed, failure to cycle, split heats, and uterine infections.
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Symptoms of Infertility (Female) in Dogs
- False pregnancy due to an ovarian cyst
- Metabolic hypothyroidism
- Uterine infections
- Increased swelling of vulva
- Decreased bleeding of the genital tract at the time of ovulation
- Irregular ovarian cycles
- Split heats
- Hypoluteoidism (insufficient progesterone secretion)
- Failure to cycle
- Refusal to breed
Infertility can be broken down into the following causes, in order by which your veterinarian will likely proceed to determine diagnosis:
- Poor breeding management
- Male infertility
- Other causes – determined if ovarian cycles are irregular or interestrus (menstruation) intervals are regular
- Infertility with prolonged interestrus intervals
- Infertility with shortened interestrus intervals
- Ovarian cysts or tumors
- Follicular cysts
- Premature decline in progesteroneInfertility with normal interestrus intervals
- Hormonal problems
- Infectious diseases, such as Canine Herpes Virus, Canine Distemper Virus, Minute Virus of Canines, and Canine Brucellosis
- Infertility caused by drugs
- Abnormalities in the anatomy of the vulva, vestibule, or vagina
- Uterine problems
- Abnormal sexual behavior
- Systemic diseases, such as diabetes mellitus, hyperadrenocorticism, or renal insufficiency
Causes of Infertility (Female) in Dogs
- Breeding at improper times
- Absence of the estrus cycle (the recurring productive cycle in female mammals that includes estrus, ovulation, and changes in the lining of the uterus)
- Irregular ovulation
- Failure to conceive
- Prenatal death
- Hormone antibody imbalances
- If you’ve acquired your dog as an adult it’s possible that they have been spayed
- Chromosomal abnormalities
- Uterine infection
- Thyroid gland insufficiency
- Hyperadrenocorticism/Cushing’s disease (overproduction of adrenal hormones by the adrenal gland)
- Infection with Brucella canis
- Male infertility
- Early embryotic death
- Follicular cysts
Diagnosis of Infertility (Female) in Dogs
It is important to seek veterinarian assistance after the female’s first reproductive failure in order to avoid false assessment, misguided treatment, and potential harm. Your veterinarian will ask you to provide your pet’s medical history and a description of observed symptoms. It is important to note if the dog has successfully birthed before. If this is the case, it’s possible that the male is infertile as opposed to the female. Be sure to list any medications that the dog is currently on, as certain medications may affect reproduction. In addition, the following tests may be used to diagnose infertility:
- Physical exam
- Complete blood count
- Serum biochemistry profile
- Semen evaluation of the male may be required to rule out male infertility
- Measurement of the serum progesterone concentration, which is a female hormone that helps to prepare the uterus for pregnancy and maintain pregnancy. Measurement of this serum during pre-estrus and estrus cycles can determine ovulation time and optimize the management of breeding.
- Serologic test for Brucella canis
- Bacteria cultures of the reproductive tract
- Adrenal gland hormone or thyroid hormone testing for symptoms suggesting hyperadrenocorticism or hypothyroidism
- Serologic testing for herpes virus
- Serologic testing for Toxoplasma (a diseased caused by a parasite)
- Exploratory surgery if the reproductive tract requires further examination or to obtain a biopsy of the uterus or ovaries
Treatment of Infertility (Female) in Dogs
Before any course of treatment is decided, your veterinarian will rule out improper breeding management as the cause of the perceived infertility. In many cases, this is done by having the male mate with another female to determine if he is capable of impregnation.
- Administration of hormones that influence the functions of the ovaries
- Administration of hormones that help maintain pregnancy
- Antibiotics to treat infections in the reproductive tracts
- Artificial insemination may be an option that can be considered, depending on the cause of the infertility
- If the dog has hypothyroidism, a thyroid hormone will be administered
- Ovariectomy (surgical removal of ovaries) or ovariohysterectomy (complete removal of reproductive organs, usually done if the uterus is damaged)
- A hormone called gonadotropin can be used to induce ovulation
- Surgery may be a course of treatment. Possible surgeries include corrections of vaginal abnormalities, repair of an obstructed reproductive tract, drainage of ovarian cysts, and removal of a cancerous ovary. If an ovarian cyst or tumor is the cause, it’s important that it is removed quickly so that the fertility can be restored and because secretion of excess estrogens may cause cystic endometrial hyperplasia-pyometra complex and non-regenerative anemia.
Recovery of Infertility (Female) in Dogs
Recovery and management depend largely on the underlying cause of the problem. Because improper breeding management is the most likely cause, many cases have a good prognosis. However, if improper breeding management is ruled out, the prognosis worsens. Further, if a surgical treatment is required, prognosis is even less positive. If improper breeding management is the cause, there are certain techniques available to avoid this, such as vaginal cytology (a test used to understand how the cells in the vagina function), endoscopic appearance of vaginal folds, and progesterone assays.
Infertility (Female) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My female lab had one litter of 4. Since then I have done progesterone testing during her heat cycle and it rises to about 11-12 but never spikes. Vet says she is not ovulating. What can be done?
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My bitch has been mated on 3 seasons to different dogs but no pups, she only goes 4 months between seasons, could this be a factor? also she has been premate tested and was ovulating. I asked my vet if I could give her antibiotics and he said no!!!
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