Canine ‘fertility clinics’ are on the rise across the globe. ‘Artificial insemination,’ also known as ‘AI’ is also becoming more popular amongst the breeding world. When it comes to dog breeding today, one of the main questions asked is ‘via which method? In 2017, the Kennel Club figures showed approximately 1,152 puppies were born by AI. Exact up-to-date figures are difficult to obtain, but one can only assume that this number has continued to rise significantly. This article aims to dive into the world of canine AI and will explore the reasons why dog breeders are utilising this more and more.
Table of contents
What is AI?
Many dog breeders aim to increase conception rates and litter sizes and some breeders utilise AI to try to achieve this. Artificial insemination is a method of introducing semen (which has been previously collected from a male stud dog) and depositing it into a female’s vagina or uterus during the most fertile time of her oestrous cycle with an aim to conceive a pregnancy. Chilled and frozen semen can be used. But this article will not dive into the collection or special storage/transport methods required. AI is not necessarily more successful than the natural mating method as success is still very much dependent on targeting the ideal stage of ovulation during the oestrous cycle.
Practicalities of canine AI
There are some practical reasons why dog breeders may prefer to use AI as a breeding method instead of natural mating methods (this list is not exhaustive):
- AI allows the use of semen from stud dogs worldwide. And eliminates the need to transport stud dogs across the globe to mate a bitch. As the stud dog would not need to travel, this would eliminate transport-associated stress.
- AI is sometimes elected as a conception method when there have been unsuccessful natural matings, failure to conceive naturally, or if the bitch or stud dog is inexperienced.
- Frozen semen provides an opportunity to pass on ‘superior’ genetic traits from stud dogs who are no longer with us; allowing their desirable traits to be passed on to future litters.
- AI reduces (although does not completely eliminate) the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Because the AI method eliminates physical contact, it will prevent the spread of infections and devastating diseases; such as Brucellosis, canine herpes virus (CHV) and canine transmissible venereal tumour (CTVF).
- Practically, AI can lead to widening of gene pools as genetic traits are no longer restricted to narrow geographical regions.
Weaknesses/disadvantages of canine AI
There are also many welfare and ethical concerns with canine AI; and there are disadvantages with this method of breeding (this list is also not exhaustive!):
- There is a risk of direct physical or psychological trauma from the AI process. Inexperienced or incorrect AI methods may lead to complications and infection. Surgical AI in particular poses a high surgical procedure risk. Some argue that this procedure does not consider their best interest.
- Given that semen can be frozen and used to pass on certain genetics for many years, there is a risk of passing on undesirable traits and genetic disorders for a very long time.
- AI is sometimes a chosen method of breeding in bitches who are unable to conceive naturally due to anatomical or breed conformational reasons. Breeding these dogs with suspected hereditary traits using AI is a major welfare and ethical concern as there are clearly undesirable traits that are likely to be passed onto their offspring, potentially affecting their health in the future.
- Animal welfare remains hugely topical because AI poses risks of the transmission of hereditary diseases and conditions.
You may be wondering what exactly is surgical AI? During surgical AI, the breeding bitch would undergo a full general anaesthesia and a wound/incision is made to access her abdomen/tummy. The semen is then inserted directly into the uterus. Surgical AI can only be conducted by a Veterinary Surgeon.
For many years, surgical AI has raised many ethical concerns. Since 2019, surgical methods of artificial insemination have been banned (except for very limited exceptional reasons) by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RVCS). Surgical AI is now considered prohibited in dogs by the animal welfare legislation (Animal Welfare Act 2006).
The surgical AI method is described by many Veterinary professionals as being unethical, traumatic and it now falls into the group of banned procedures within the category of a ‘mutilation procedure.’ The kennel club will no longer register litters produced from this method.
There are two non-surgical methods of AI:
Trans-vaginal or intra-vaginal – this is where fresh or chilled semen is directly placed into the vaginal canal just in front of the cervix using an insemination pipette. This is the most common method of AI in dogs and (apart from natural mating) is the least invasive method.
Trans-cervical – this is where the fresh or frozen semen is deposited directly into the uterus using specialised equipment via palpation or the use of an endoscope. Often this procedure is carried out with no sedation.
Out of the two non-surgical methods of AI, trans-cervical is a more invasive method carried out only by a Veterinary Surgeon, but the literature suggests it has a higher success rate than the trans-vaginal method.
So, is artificial insemination in dogs legal in the UK? Yes but only the non-surgical methods are legal.
Who can legally carry out artificial insemination procedures in dogs?
Only a Veterinary surgeon can legally carry out the surgical AI method and the trans-cervical method as they are classed as ‘acts of Veterinary Surgery.’ Furthermore, the RCVS advises that trans-vaginal insemination ‘does not amount to the practice of Veterinary Surgery and may be undertaken by suitably competent lay persons.’
To conclude, global demands for artificial insemination is a growing trade and there is an expanding demand for chilled and frozen semen. I hope this article has appropriately summarised the various methods of AI along with some pros and cons. If you are aiming to or are already involved with canine AI methods, please ensure that the AI services are offered by professionals, as from my understanding there are a lot of inexperienced people inappropriately offering fertility services and animal welfare needs to remain the priority.