Small Animal Reproductive Frequently Asked Questions
At what age should an animal be evaluated if they are going to be used for breeding?
Each breed of dog or cat has its own group of important health concerns that are regularly screened for before breeding. Some of these tests are genetic tests and can be evaluated at a young age, while others require the animal to be 1-2 years old for evaluation. It is important to have your dog or cat examined for any of these concerns before breeding plans commence. Although most of our animals are fertile at between six and twelve months of age, we also recommend that female animals have a mature body frame, which is especially important when considering that she will carry a pregnancy.
What is involved in ovulation timing for planning a breeding?
For most dogs, we recommend coming in 5-7 days after signs of heat begin. A physical exam is performed during the initial exam, and a plan formed based on the type of insemination and availability of the stud dog. Vaginal cytology, vaginoscopy (looking at the vaginal wall visually), and progesterone levels are parameters we use to evaluate her cycle, and recommend a window of optimum fertility. Progesterone tests are submitted to a local lab for interpretation, Monday through Saturday. Appointments for ovulation timing are recommended in the morning, so that progesterone results can be reported on the same day. It is possible to submit them in the afternoon as well, but the results will not be returned until the following day.
What is the best time to breed my dog to increase conception and litter size?
Conception rates and litter size will be optimized with ovulation timing. Her cycle can vary greatly. Some dogs will have a fertile window as soon as 6 days after her heat cycle begins, while others will not be ready for a month! Both the male and female are involved in a successful conception, so it is important for us to evaluate both her cycle and his semen before insemination occurs. Selecting a stud dog with recent history of good conception rates and litter sizes is an excellent choice to increase reproductive efficiency of your program. Trans-cervical insemination will result in the highest pregnancy rates and litter sizes of the modalities we use commonly. Natural breeding in reproductively healthy animals also has excellent conception rates when the option is available.
How is vaginal artificial insemination performed?
The vaginal AI is a procedure in which a small catheter is passed into the vagina close to the cervical opening, where semen is deposited. This procedure simulates where semen would be placed in a natural breeding. It is a good choice for two dogs of excellent fertility that cannot be bred naturally due to temperament, size, or location of the stud dog, although it does not carry as high of a success rate as TCI.
How is trans-cervical insemination (TCI) performed?
Trans-cervical insemination is a procedure in which a rigid endoscope is placed into the vagina and the cervix is visualized using a camera. The cervix is catheterized, and the semen is placed into the uterus. The animal is fully awake during the procedure. Fresh, fresh chilled, or frozen semen can be successfully used by this method, and it carries the highest conception rate among the available techniques.
Do you perform surgical inseminations?
Yes, although TCI has largely replaced the need. Because it has been shown that trans-cervical methods yield comparable results to surgical implantation, it is unusual that we recommend this procedure. On occasion, we will recommend it for certain cases, in which it is useful to see the uterus or ovaries at the time of breeding. This type of insemination is more expensive than other alternatives, and the dog is under general anesthesia for insemination.
When should pregnancy evaluation occur?
If ovulation timing was performed, we recommend pregnancy ultrasound 26 days after the ovulation. If dogs were bred naturally without any ovulation timing, we recommend seeing these dogs at around 4 weeks after the last breeding. Heartbeats and fetal health can be evaluated at this time, and a rough idea of litter size can be estimated. Litter size is important when considering feeding recommendations in mid to late pregnancy.
Why should I get a pregnancy x-ray if I already know she’s pregnant?
We recommend radiographs during the last week of pregnancy. This is recommended for getting a more specific puppy count, as well as evaluating the birth canal width in relation to puppy size. If puppies are too large, a caesarian section may be indicated. If you have a clear idea of how many puppies she should have, you can make better decisions at home before deciding she needs veterinary help. If she delivers 6 puppies (and you saw 8 on radiograph), then stops pushing and seems “done”, you know that she will need assistance to complete her delivery. For owners that are planning elective c-sections, it is an optional test. Our estimation of count at ultrasound can often give us enough information to have adequate hands for delivering puppies.
I heard that x-ray radiation can be harmful to my pregnant dog and her litter. Is that true?
X-rays at near term are safe for puppies, kittens, and their dams. The fear of radiation’s effects on unborn litters are unfounded rumors. The literature often quoted looked at pregnant dogs exposed to the chemotherapeutic level of radiation, which is many, MANY times more concentrated and potentially harmful than our standard radiology equipment. There have been no reports to date of any negative effects of radiographs taken for pregnancy evaluation in bitches or their puppies, or in queens or kittens. Our modern-day digital radiography equipment uses minimal radiation, and often enables us to take fewer films overall. Pregnancy radiographs are routinely recommended in our hospital, and can most importantly protect her from serious complications to her or her litter’s health during the whelping process.
What is your protocol for preparing a dog for elective c-sections?
Ideally, an accurate due date range can be established based on proper ovulation timing at the time of breeding. Close to her due date, we will evaluate her puppies with ultrasound; it is possible to evaluate the fetuses with ultrasound to determine how “ready” they are, as well as evaluate for any fetal stress. During induction and surgery, your dog is monitored by a skilled technician to ensure her safety and progress is a priority. Puppies are generally delivered within 10 minutes of anesthesia beginning, which benefits their vigor after delivery. Owners are welcome to be present with us for delivery of her puppies, if they would like to be.
Do you perform emergency c-sections?
Dr. Hesser will often be available to provide weekend, holiday, or emergency c-section service for loyal clients that have followed our instruction and recommendations leading up to the procedure. Dr. Hesser is also available most days for after-hours call during labor, and can assist in guiding you to help your dog whelp successfully at home. If she fails to whelp effectively, we will recommend coming into our clinic for emergency care. If your bitch is due in a timeframe where we expect Dr. Hesser to be unavailable for personal or other reasons, we will help to find alternatives for you in advance, either with another doctor in our hospital or at an emergency care facility. Dogs whelp in a finite window of time if ovulation timing is performed, and this is helpful in having a clear emergency plan for her. If your dog at any time is experiencing problems and you are unable to contact Dr. Hesser or someone from our staff immediately, please seek care ASAP at a local emergency clinic.
Does your practice provide semen freezing?
Yes. Semen collection and subsequent freezing is a regular service we provide. We provide freezing for normal, healthy animals on special days (generally once/week). This is ideal so that we can book only freezing appointments and focus all of our attention on the freezing process throughout the day. If your dog has a more emergent concern regarding his overall or reproductive health, we understand, and can arrange an appointment on a more immediate basis. We recommend all frozen semen be stored with Zoetis. This is an ideal place for storage for multiple reasons: maximum care and security of your investment, minimal shipping costs to ours or another Zoetis freeze center for use, and quick ability to ship or move semen as needed. They also can provide up-to-date logs online with your current inventory for any of the dog semen you have in storage. When it comes down to it, a busy private practice is just not as streamlined or well-suited for time-sensitive shipping needs as a dedicated storage center can offer, such as Zoetis. See the Zoetis website for more details (https://www.zoetisus.com/solutions/pages/canine_frozen_semen_storage_and_shipment/canine-home.aspx), or contact Dr. Hesser at ACVH or Kim Hesler at Zoetis for any questions about this process.
What do I need to bring for my semen freezing appointment?
It is important to bring AKC or other club registry information for the dog and a copy of his DNA test, if the dog has had semen frozen before. All AKC registered dogs are required to have a DNA registry number. This is a cheek swab sample which can be acquired and submitted at the time of the freeze at our facility. We also recommend a brucella test be acquired within 6 months of the collection appointment. If your dog is brucella negative within the timeframe, we may be able to provide a teaser female to help us acquire the best collection possible. If you anticipate shipment of the collection internationally, it is important to let us know ahead of time. Many countries require a list of tests performed at specific timeframes prior to the semen collection and freezing.
Do you perform any genetic or routine health testing for dogs?
Yes. OFA orthopedic evaluations (hips, elbows, etc) are available. OFA dentition and thyroid testing are also available. Genetic testing requirements vary between breeds, but often requires a blood or cheek swab sample that we can acquire for you. Additional testing, such as cardiac, BAER (hearing) testing, and CERF (eye) evaluations can be performed with area specialists. We are happy to recommend or help to arrange these appointments for your dog. Local shows and clinics may be available for these special tests as well.
What diets are optimal for breeding animals?
For female dogs, “all life stages” diets are appropriate for early and late pregnancy, as well as during lactation. For stud dogs and non-pregnant or lactating females, most adult formulations are adequate. Well-made foods with complete AAFCO certifications (both an analysis of the ingredients and a feeding trial) are excellent choices. Supplementation of minerals, vitamins, and other additions is not necessary if the dog is on a high quality food, and it is not generally recommended. Raw diets (including “freeze dried raw”), just as in people, can carry risks for pregnancy and lactation, making pregnancy loss and infection more likely than in cooked diets or commercial kibbles.
When should a female be evaluated if infertility is suspected?
Even with ovulation timing and good breeding management, pregnancy does not always result. The #1 reason for perceived “infertility” is improper timing for natural breeding or other insemination technique. After two attempts with good timing without diagnosed pregnancy, further evaluation is often indicated. There are many things that can result in poor conception rates, which include uterine problems, contagious disease, stress, issues with the stud dog, and others. Diagnostics such as physical examination, discussion of at-home care, uterine cultures, or uterine biopsy may help to further understand a cause for infertility.
What can be done if an accidental breeding occurs?
If an animal is bred accidentally and conceives, a few options exist for treatment. In the case of animals that do not have future breeding plans, ovariohysterectomy (spay) is an excellent solution. If the animal is involved in a breeding program or needs to remain intact for other reasons, the pregnancy can be terminated medically. If performed properly, this should not impair her future fertility, and she can be bred successfully at a later date. Some owners will choose to have them carry the pregnancy, and pregnancy monitoring would commence at that time.
Will you come in on the weekend? After hours?
Yes. We understand that breeding is time sensitive, and we will often recommend weekend procedures if it is best for optimizing conception rates. Dr. Hesser will in general be available for weekends and holidays, or can help to make arrangements if it is clear she will be unavailable. There is no additional cost for clients we are currently managing for breeding. If you are not a regular client, we may be available to come in for your dog, but an additional emergency doctor fee will be included for the appointment.
What resources are available for client education about breeding?
Handbooks helpful in understanding the basic concepts of husbandry, breeding, and management are available. Some are more helpful than others, and they vary from being beginner to expert in content. Having a reputable author is important to select for, as there are many books with great claims, but poor contents and incorrect data. We often provide handouts in the clinic for our clients regarding their individual needs, and are available for questions at any time. If you are new to your breed, it is an excellent idea to build a relationship with an experienced mentor who can help guide you during the breeding process and share their experiences. The national breed club website is often a wonderful source of information for your breed’s unique health needs, and the same is true for the OFA website for many breeds (www.ofa.org).