Artificial Insemination for Dogs

Artificial insemination (AI) is a reproductive technology that involves collecting male semen, maintaining it for a variable time and, finally, depositing in the female reproductive system a sufficient number of viable male dog sperm at the appropriate time in the female dog’s estrous cycle.

When its use is indicated, artificial insemination is used in those situations in which natural breeding is not possible, either due to physical problems in the male or female, or due to behavioural problems in the case of female dogs that reject the male or, in some cases, infertility.

In addition, thanks to the dog semen trade, it allows the bridging of distances between dog breeders or access to certain stud dog options.

There is a long history of canine artificial insemination. The first artificial insemination in dogs was carried out by Lázaro Spallanzani in 1780 in a Spaniel breed dog from which two puppies were born, a male and a female. In the United States, in 1956, Harrop obtained the first birth in a female after being inseminated with dog semen collected in Great Britain. In 1969, Seager, in the United States, obtained the first litter born after artificial insemination of a female dog with frozen semen.

Innovations in artificial insemination in dogs

Dog artificial insemination (AI) with fresh semen has been the most widely used type of artificial insemination in the canine species. It consists of the extraction of semen from the male and its introduction with a probe, at the appropriate time, into the bottom of the vagina of the female dog. The continuous advances in the investigation of the techniques and diluents used to refrigerate and freeze canine semen have caused an increasing demand in recent years among dog breeders, dog owners in general, and veterinarians for this technology and also an increased improvement in the fertility rates and litter size that are obtained using artificial insemination with dogs.

Thanks to the ability to refrigerate and freeze semen dog breeders or dog owners can have access to male semen from a stud dog that is very far from where the female dog lives and save time and money on long journeys. Another advantage of these semen collection techniques is that they allow experts to improve semen quality and increase the average number of puppies per litter.

Refrigerated semen

It requires perfect coordination between the owner of the female dog and that of the male dog, since once refrigerated, its useful life is only a few days. Once it is known that the female dog is at the right moment of the estrous cycle, thanks to the progesterone quantification, semen is collected from the male dog, mixed with diluents that will protect the sperm cells from temperature changes and which are going to nourish them, and it is refrigerated and then introduced into special kits that will keep it at that temperature during its transport by urgent courier service. Once it reaches its destination, it is tempered and inserted with a probe into the bottom of the female’s vagina.

Frozen semen

It has the advantage that it allows experts to store male dog semen for a practically indefinite time and, therefore, to have it at their disposal whenever they need it, in addition to allowing it to be sent anywhere in the world for surgical insemination.

As an anecdote, it should be noted that in 2010 the American company ICSB (International Canine Semen Bank), with its techniques and diluents, obtained a litter of four beagles from semen that had been frozen for 38 years. The process begins when the semen is collected from the male, it is then analysed to verify that it meets the necessary characteristics for freezing before it is mixed with special diluents that will protect it from temperature changes and nourish it while it undergoes a progressive decrease in temperature down to -196º C. It is then kept in liquid nitrogen.

Male dog semen mixed with diluents can be stored in liquid nitrogen tanks in two ways. One of the systems, which has been copied from its use in livestock, is by means of thin and elongated plastic tubes, called straws, which contain between 0.25 and 0.5 millilitres of semen and diluent. The other system, more adapted to the canine species and which has shown higher fertility rates, is in the form of small granules or pellets, which are deposited inside plastic tubes.

Both vials and straws must be identified with all the data of the collection of sperm from the donor male dog. When you want to inseminate a female dog with frozen semen, you must determine with great precision the moment in which it will ovulate through the quantification of progesterone levels, thaw the semen and introduce it into the uterus of the female dog.

Another recent development, which is of interest in cases where an owner wishes to freeze the semen of a male dog but cannot travel to a semen bank, is the creation of kits that allow the collection and shipment of refrigerated semen to a semen bank for subsequent processing, freezing and storage or shipping.

Extraction of semen from recently deceased animals

This is a technique developed by the ICSB company and consists of the collection of semen directly from the testicles in the first 36 hours after the death of the male dog. This is of interest in cases where dogs have died suddenly, either from an acute illness or an accident. It is also a useful collection method for male dogs from which semen cannot be extracted in any other way. Once the semen is extracted, it will be processed in the same way as a normal ejaculate.

How successful is artificial insemination in dogs?

Intravaginal insemination is the most commonly carried out and consists of depositing the previously chilled semen at the bottom of the vagina as close to the cervix as possible, in the same place that is it normally ejaculated by the dog.

Intrauterine insemination is done via a catheter through the cervix to avoid the natural barrier function of the cervix against impurities, but the cervix also limits the passage of a good number of sperm cells. For this, a special catheter is required, which is guided by abdominal palpation or by means of a fibre-optic endoscopic camera.

This is one technique which is unfeasible without the proper material or by someone who does not know exactly what they are doing, as it may result in permanent damage to the cervix.

Intrauterine insemination is imperative when using frozen or chilled semen. With fresh semen, it is optional, although whenever possible it is better since it increases the chances of success both to obtain a litter and to obtain larger litter sizes.

What are the success rates of artificial insemination?

Performed under the appropriate non-surgical conditions (fertile male and female, inseminated during the optimal fertility moment), the success rate of artificial inseminations with fresh semen ranges from 80 to 95%, depending on whether intravaginal or intrauterine inseminations are performed. The success rate with refrigerated semen is 80% whenever intrauterine inseminations are done. On the other hand, when frozen semen is used, there is a 50-70% chance of obtaining a litter despite doing everything right.

This reduction in success rate is due to the fact that the semen has undergone a process of freezing at -196ºC and thawing and heating at 37ºC. Furthermore, the doses used are lower due to the cost of the straws. The success rate increases the more sperm are inoculated.

Are there risks to artificial insemination dogs?

Artificial insemination is not risky for dogs. It has been shown that the risk of pyometra (which can lead to pus forming if the cervix is closed) does not increase as long as sterile material is used and the “inseminator” technique is appropriate. However, it is necessary to know the anatomy of the vagina, the location of the clitoral fossa, the urinary meatus, the depth of the vagina and the shape of the cervix. Failure to do so may result in vaginal injuries and even perforations.

To achieve an optimal result, it is better to be advised by a specialist veterinary in reproduction. The economic investment will be translated into reliability and a higher percentage of success, both for the female to be pregnant and for obtaining a greater number of puppies. This advice is even more important when talking about inseminations with chilled or frozen semen. There are too many variables (freezing or refrigeration process, semen collection and delivery, accompanying documentation, transport, storage management, determination of the optimal time for insemination during the heat cycle, the practice of intrauterine inseminations, among others.

How much does it cost to artificially inseminate a dog?

In the United Kingdom, prices for artificial insemination for a dog can vary depending on the service provider, breed and gene pool of the dog. A sample of semen or sperm cells can vary in price based on the pedigree and heritage of the dog. But as a guide, typical stud fees for a one-on-one mating session can easily range from £500 to £1,000. There are also charges for sperm testing, certification, and freezing, so it is important to consider the total cost of all the services you might require. It is normal to enquire about the cost of your specific case from the chosen breeder or supplier.

How much sperm does it take to get a dog pregnant?

A male dog, in order to be fertile, must have its reproductive system in perfect working order, both in the production of hormones and in the formation of sperm.

In dogs, the testicles must leave the abdominal cavity since the sperm formation process is affected by body temperature; if this does not happen, the male may become infertile and this anomaly is called a bilateral cryptorchid. If only one testicle descends, it is called a unilateral cryptorchid, which is enough for the animal to be fertile.

Apart from being healthy and fertile, a male dog’s semen must have certain characteristics that make it capable of fertilizing a female dog:

  • Volume (ml) 5,0
  • Semen concentration (109/ ml) 0,3
  • Total sperm (109) 1,5
  • Motility sperm (%) 85
  • Normal morphology (%) 80
  • Ejaculations / week 3

Artificial insemination is a common act in dog breeding and the UK Kennel Club maintains a register of approved practitioners and can put you in contact with experts in artificial insemination. While some breeders undertake semen collection by arousing a male dog using cotton swabs from a female in heat and then conducting the insemination of female dogs themselves, most prefer to go to their vet. Some dog owners have doubts regarding artificial insemination, therefore it is important to try and address some of the common ones.

What are the indications for artificial insemination?

Artificial insemination with fresh semen is an option from the moment the male fails to mount the female dog. This is usually because the female dog is dominant or fearful either from past emotional trauma (being attacked or bitten by another dog, attempted painful penetration) or physically (vulva too narrow, third-level posterior pain, or disproportionately large male, etc.).

The male may also have physical limitations, such as pain in the hind limbs in the hip or spine and even at the level of the penis (phimosis, fractures of the penile bone, etc.). Finally, there are inexperienced or very shy males who do not participate in natural mating.

What is the optimal time limit on refrigerated or frozen semen?

Refrigerated semen saves time and money by avoiding displacement of the stud dog. A reasonable limit for semen exchanges is, for example, within the European Union since semen must arrive within 48 hours after the extraction; preferably within 24 hours, as this is the time limit that the transport box can hold the temperature at 4-6ºC.

On the other hand, frozen semen is received in advance and kept in liquid nitrogen until the female dog is ready. Unlike refrigerated or chilled semen, frozen semen may be stored for a much longer time and still remain viable. It is convenient when the dog lives too far away to send refrigerated semen or to take advantage of the genetics of a dead dog. For hunting dogs such as the Pointer, semen collection is often done off-season, frozen, and then used during the season when the dog is not available.

Are there any other benefits to artificial insemination?

Artificial insemination also reduces the risk of transmission of diseases such as the herpes virus and is a good way to increase the success rate in subfertile dogs that have poor quality semen.

Also, the veterinary clinic can be considered neutral ground between the owners of the male and the female dog. The veterinarian is not only responsible for inseminating, but also determining the optimal fertility time and evaluating the quality of the semen just the semen is collected, avoiding potential conflicts between both parties.

What is preferable, artificial insemination or natural mating?

According to various studies, the mounting of a fertile female by a male with good quality semen at the optimal fertility moment has the same success rate as intravaginal insemination. Therefore, the key to success is not so much artificial intravaginal insemination but the exact determination of the optimal moment of fertility.

How do you determine the best time to practice insemination?

Currently, one of the most accurate methods is the detection of ovulation by serial measurement of blood progesterone in the female. There are female dogs that accept the male for many days, while others do not accept it at any time. Paradoxically, the moment of greatest acceptance does not necessarily correspond to the moment of greatest fertility. On the other hand, many veterinarians still use vaginal cytology to decide when to practice insemination. Vaginal cytology is used to determine the state of the bitch’s cycle (anestrus, proestrus, oestrus rest, the onset of heat, heat, and the 2 months after heat), but is not a precise indicator of fertility.

To monitor the female heat cycle or fertility cycle, blood samples can be drawn from the 7th day after the start of vaginal bleeding. Depending on the level of progesterone in the blood, blood may be drawn several times (generally 1 to 3 times) every 1 to 4 days depending on the progesterone levels until ovulation is determined.

The female dog is the only species whose eggs need to mature for about 48 hours inside the oviducts to be fertile. While sperm can survive up to a week in the genital tract (most die within 2 days), the eggs are only fertilizable for 2 days. So, inseminating between 1 and 3 days (or 4) after ovulation creates an environment rich in sperm so that the eggs are fertilized as soon as possible after maturation.

How many inseminations are necessary?

When it is unknown if the dog is going to be covered, the most common thing is to test the mount the day after ovulation. If not left, the 2nd and the 3rd or 4th day are inseminated. When inseminations are decided in advance, they are performed on the 1st and 3rd post-ovulation days.

One insemination on the 2nd post-ovulation day may be more than sufficient as long as the semen is of good quality.

Further considerations

Approved practitioners: Artificial insemination is an assisted reproductive technique that can be used to compensate for the cause of infertility in dogs. Many reasons can lead to the use of artificial insemination in dogs, but successful artificial insemination can lead to pregnancy, especially in dogs with infertility or other reproductive problems related to their heat cycle. However, it is essential to seek advice from a qualified veterinary to ensure that all potential causes of infertility have been considered. In the UK, the Kennel Club has a register of approved practitioners for artificial insemination, which you can easily consult.

The importance of health: Only healthy dogs without genetic defects should be considered for artificial insemination. It is important that an expert conduct a pre-breeding assessment of the general health of the mother and father, as it is important that they are both healthy in order to obtain the optimal results when using artificial insemination.

Information about possible hereditary diseases should be obtained by questioning the stud dog owner, and a general physical examination of the female dog should also be carried out to identify any potential problems before undertaking the procedure. As previously mentioned, the quality of the male dog’s sperm should also be determined to avoid disappointment.

Expected results: Poor-quality sperm can contribute to small litters or lead to unsuccessful pregnancies. The success rate for artificial insemination is greatest when the male dog’s sperm is of good quality and meets all the optimal characteristics. This normally results in a large and healthy litter.

The results can be influenced by the person performing the procedure, the technique used and the quality of the sperm. Therefore, the owner should be informed before treatment of all factors involved in artificial insemination, including the time commitment and the financial cost of this procedure. It can’t be overstated that the quality and quantity of sperm available from the desired stud male is the most important aspect of artificial elimination.

The procedure: If discouragement is not justified, the owner must understand the process well and be aware of the probability of success or failure. This checklist can serve as a guide to inform owners about the importance of artificial insemination and the risks and benefits of the procedure.

Artificial insemination is performed during the estrogen period, i.e. at the stage in which ovulation takes place. The estrogen cycle of a female dog is divided into three stages: 1, 2 and 3 estrogen (1 – 3), which can last between 3 and 21 days (the average duration is 9 days). The most fertile phase of the oestrogen cycle (2-4 days) and the hormonal changes associated with it (3-5 days) are the two most important stages for the development of the reproductive system.

During proestrus, the development and growth of the ovarian follicles are induced by follicle-stimulating hormones released by the pituitary gland. If oestrogen levels rise, the vaginal mucosa begins to swell and the uterus triggers a sanguine discharge. During ovulation (3-5 days), oestrogen is excreted from the uterus through the cervix by ovarian hair and faeces. Vulva swelling is caused by the proliferation of vaginal mucosa, and when it increases, it leads to vaginal swelling and vaginal ulcers.

The vaginal epithelial cell types also change in preparation for copulation, and changes and elevations in the vaginal folds can be observed in endoscopy. The detection of these cell types in vaginal cotton swabs indicates an increase in estrogen.

During the early oestrogen phase, the ovarian follicles continue to grow and excrete estrogen, and ovulation occurs. When estrogen levels rise, they start to fall, as luteinized follicular cells begin to produce progesterone. During the late estrogen period, luteinizing hormones are triggered by declining estrogen levels and rising progesterone levels.

At this point the vulva becomes cloudy and less swollen, the vaginal mucosa becomes less edematous and the discharge from the uterus via the cervix stops completely and becomes serosanguineous. The female is considered susceptible to the effects of luteinizing hormones during the late estrogen phase of the menstrual cycle.

The most fertile days are the 3-6 days when the egg falls most into the uterus and is ready and capable of fertilization. During this time, artificial insemination can be initiated and the released egg is fertilized as if it were at the beginning of the uterus.

Is DIY artificial insemination possible?

The short answer is, yes. Although it is possible, it is not as easy as it might seem. And even though there are DIY artificial insemination kits available for dogs, many owners prefer to leave the procedure to experts.

But if you want to know what is involved, here are the basic steps you will need to follow:

  • First, you will need to make sure the male is aroused, this can be achieved using the technique previously mentioned (vaginal swabs). You will then need to massage the dog’s penis to simulate the narrowing of the vagina during normal breeding before ejaculation occurs.
  • Once the dog has become accustomed to the help, you can collect the semen in the receptacle provided in the kit. From there, you can draw it into the syringe, ready for insertion.
  • It is important to avoid temperature fluctuations and cold shocks to the sperm before it is introduced into the female dog.
  • For dogs weighing less than 10 pounds, you should try to collect 1-3ml of sperm, and for dogs weighing up to 50 pounds, collect between 3-5ml of sperm. If the dog is heavier than 50 pounds, 5-8ml of sperm should be sufficient.
  • It is best to inseminate the female dog as soon after collecting the male semen as possible. You should deposit the semen as close to the cervix as you can. Normally, pipettes used for this come in various sizes to suit different breeds and sizes of dogs. Make sure you purchase the correct one.
  • Stand the female with her hind legs further back than her pelvis. This is similar to the ‘show stance’ used by owners when showing their dog in competition or at exhibitions. This stance is recommended because it helps to elongate the vaginal vault, making it flatter, which in turn makes inserting the pipette and locating the cervix much easier. The vaginal vault of a female dog has the greatest length to body weight ratio of any mammal. So anything that makes the insemination easier should be welcome.
  • To arrive at the cervix, you will need to manoeuvre the pipette up, over and down, so this is why having the dog adopt the show stance will help things, as the route of the pipette will be more direct when the dog stand in this position.
  • Next, you need to fix the syringe to the pipette and then insert the opposite end of the pipette into the vagina of the dog. Be careful when guiding the pipette, to avoid entering the urethra. Carefully guide the pipette up, then horizontally, and then downwards. When the pipette is in place, press the plunger on the syringe to deposit the semen.
  • After, you should ensure the dog remains standing for a minimum of 10 minutes. Prevent the dog from sitting or urinating, as this can result in the semen dislodging within the vagina. The first 10 minutes following insemination are critical in the process, but even after you should restrain the dog to prevent her from jumping around, preferably for around an hour or so.
  • As we already recommended, it is best to use the fresh semen to inseminate the female dog immediately following the semen collection procedure. If this is not possible and you need to store the semen, for whatever reason, it should be refrigerated immediately to maintain its viability. You can keep it refrigerated for up to 24 hours without any adverse effects on the sperm.

If you do not plan to use the collected sperm within 24 hours, then you need to freeze it. This is not something you do at home. The freezing procedure is one that requires a specialist veterinarian who will use liquid nitrogen to slowly freeze the collected sperm. Correctly freezing the sperm will guarantee its long-term viability.

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