What is Artificial Insemination?
Artificial insemination refers to the procedure of artificially introducing dog semen into the vagina or cervix of a female dog in order to bring about pregnancy.
Artificial insemination (AI) has been widely used in cattle for decades, but only in recent years has it found a niche amongst dog breeders. It is most frequently carried out by experienced inseminators or by vets in practice.
In the US, it is a useful way of decreasing the stress on parent stock who are separated by large geographical distances. In the UK, it is becoming popular as a way of widening the gene pool of breeds where low numbers of dogs exist in the country.
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Artificial Insemination Procedure in Dogs
First, semen is collected from the male dog. This is done by exposing the male to a female in heat. When he goes to mount her, his penis is diverted into a false vagina which collects the ejaculated semen.
If a female in heat is not available, swabs which have previously collected pheromones from the vulva of a female in estrus, can be rubbed onto the rear of a female dog. This is usually sufficient to engage the male's interest.
The semen is checked under a microscope to ensure healthy numbers of active sperm. The semen is either used straight away, chilled (used within 24 hours), or frozen in liquid nitrogen (viable for months to years).
The female recipient must be in heat (which occurs roughly twice a year) and about to or recently ovulated. This stage of her reproductive cycle can be gauged from blood tests monitoring her progesterone levels or by looking at slides of her vaginal cytology.
A plastic or glass straw containing the sperm is then introduced into her vagina, and the sperm released. More sophisticated methods of insemination involve passing a fine endoscope into the vagina and using it to guide the straw through the cervix and into the womb.
Efficacy of Artificial Insemination in Dogs
AI has been used in cattle for a long time and is highly successful. The success rate in dogs is lower, largely because canine semen is less stable when frozen. In addition, cattle that do not fall pregnant readily are usually culled from the herd, whereas this is not the case with breeding bitches. Therefore, there could be issues on the female side which mean she fails to conceive despite a viable straw of semen.
Artificial Insemination Recovery in Dogs
With the usual forms of insemination, there is no recovery time, as the female is fully conscious. Some experts advise preventing her from squatting to pass urine for half an hour after insemination, to stop the semen being washed out of the vagina.
Endoscopic placement of semen tubes is slightly more invasive and requires sedation. The welfare costs and benefits to the female should be considered before going ahead with this method. The UK Kennel Club uphold the right to decline to register the litter if they feel the female's welfare was compromised in any way.
Cost of Artificial Insemination in Dogs
A typical stud fee for a one-to-one mating is $500 to $1,000.
A straw of semen varies in price depending on the heritage and pedigree of the dog. For this reason, the cost is usually available "on request" from each specific breeder.
Dog Artificial Insemination Considerations
Artificial insemination is becoming increasingly popular, but is not without controversy. There is some concern that it overlooks the natural mating process and could eventually select for dogs that don't know how to mate naturally.
As the parents never actually meet, there are additional concerns about concealing that one of the dogs is aggressive. This matters because to some extent aggression can be genetic and passed on from parent to pup. Responsible breeding means only selecting dogs of exceptional conformation and character, to produce future generations.
Also, AI does not eliminate the risk of cross infection from the male dog to the female. Conditions such as brucellosis can be transferred via the semen, although obviously the risk to the male of infection from the female is eliminated.
Artificial Insemination Prevention in Dogs
AI becomes unnecessary when there is a good genetic diversity (unrelated individuals) living within easy travelling distance of each other. Also, the need for AI is reduced when female dogs are bred when fully in heat and about to ovulate. Many female dogs that are forcibly restrained for one-to-one mating, and become labelled as 'poor breeders' are not actually in full heat.