As with many things, “timing is everything”, especially when it comes to canine reproduction. VMC is available for patients
7 days a week
(excluding holidays) when reproductive procedures cannot wait, such as artificial inseminations, TCIs, semen collection for fresh-chilled shipments and emergency caesarean sections. (Please Note: VMC offers scheduled caesarian sections and dystocia’s (during business hours only) to patients that have been bred by us. For these patients, VMC will assemble a team to respond appropriately. All after hours dystocia’s or caesarian sections will be referred to the nearest emergency center.)
Please click on the below female reproduction sections for more information about a particular topic. If you are ready to get started on a breeding program, please call us to schedule a pre-breeding examination.
The Pre-Breeding Examination
A pre-breeding exam is required in order to optimize pregnancy chances. It is especially important when planning to breed a female dog that has a history of unsuccessful or problematic breedings, pregnancy or whelping.
For female dogs that have been bred in the past, any information about those breedings is helpful. This includes breeding dates, progesterone results, other lab data, ultrasound reports, and information regarding the semen or dog used.
An evaluation of medical and reproductive history. A general examination and reproductive examination. This may include vaginoscopy to be certain the vaginal canal is normal anatomically as well as a brucellosis test if not performed in the last 6 months.
Ideally schedule an appointment prior to the beginning of proestrus (bleeding). Whenever possible, to improve communication and allow adequate time for questions and decisions, schedule a pre-breeding appointment several weeks in advance of an upcoming breeding when chilled or frozen semen is planned. Due to situations, we understand and accept pre-breeding appointments to coincide with the beginning of progesterone testing–usually about day 5 of the cycle. It is especially important when planning any type of assisted breeding ( transported, chilled or frozen semen).
We are available for patients 7 days a week when reproductive procedures cannot wait, such as artificial inseminations, TCIs, semen collection for fresh-chilled shipments and emergency caesarean sections. If you are ready to begin a breeding program for your dog, please call us for a pre-breeding exam appointment.
Ovulation Timing Information
The first day of the estrous cycle is defined as the first day of vaginal bleeding, designated day one of proestrus. There is a tremendous variation between female dogs as to the length of proestrus and estrus, sexual receptivity, and ovulation. It is not possible to predict ovulation from evaluation of the color of discharge, firmness of the vulva, behavior of the female dog or stud dog, vaginal smear or the number of days since the onset of proestrus. After natural breeding, sperm can survive in the female tract for 3-6 days. After artificial insemination with fresh, chilled or frozen semen or when breeding a sub-fertile female dog or stud dog, this time of sperm longevity can be greatly reduced. Ovulation timing is done to ensure sperm are present when ova are ready for fertilization. Ovulation timing is also VERY helpful to more accurately predict whelping dates!
The evaluation of serial blood progesterone levels prior to ovulation (during proestrus and early estrus) allow us to most accurately predict ovulation. Rather than wait until a specific level is reached, we evaluate the baseline, first rise, and rate of rise to determine ovulation. In general, values less than 1.0 are baseline, and increases to 1.5-2.5 are consistent with an initial rise, but this can vary greatly. Many female dogs have progesterone levels that go up and down before completely rising. After ovulation, progesterone will continue to rise and will maintain high levels (>10) for approximately two months regardless of pregnancy status.
Progesterone testing can be done anytime during regular office hours at VMC. Please do schedule a drop in appointment for the technician to draw the blood sample. Currently, all progesterone tests are sent to Antech and results are usually available within 24 hours. We do require an examination before the first sample is drawn so that we can know what your preference for the breeding is (natural, side by side A/I, fresh chilled or frozen semen), and plan accordingly. Begin progesterone testing by day 5-7 of proestrus (day 1 = the first day blood is seen). If any doubt, you can start sooner. Food does not need to be withheld. Once the progesterone values are changing, in some cases we may ask you to start daily timing to be more specific.
Please have your DVM follow these instructions: Submit whole blood (plain RTT) to Antech lab only. We cannot compare results from different laboratories, so using Idexx or another lab will not allow us to compare values correctly. Do not use a serum separator tube. If obtaining serum for another reason, transfer serum to a plain RTT for progesterone submission.
If testing at your local hospital, please have your DVM contact you with the results as soon as they are available. Then call us as soon as you have them. Please do not rely on faxes or copies of lab reports to be sent.
Planning a Breeding with Fresh Chilled Semen
Fresh chilled semen is used when the dog is not local or available for a side by side artificial insemination or a natural breeding. It is an excellent alternative to fresh semen with an equal conception rate if done properly.
We require a pre-breeding exam to plan the breeding and to be sure insemination with chilled semen is a reasonable option for this female dog. We will also review instructions for ovulation timing (please read handouts on ovulation timing and progesterone testing protocols).
Two inseminations 24-48 hours apart are planned on the basis of ovulation timing results. This will require two separate semen collections and shipments for delivery within 24-48 hours (usually Fed Ex).
If this procedure is new to either the stud dog or the collecting veterinarian, a test-collection is recommended. Semen is collected and packaged, as if for a chilled semen breeding, but held at the veterinary office and evaluated after 24 and 48 hours for viability. This will ensure the dog’s semen is of sufficient quality for chilling, the dog can be collected without a teaser female dog, and that the veterinarian is familiar with the process.
It is most efficient for VMC to deal with the female dog owner directly and have you contact the stud dog owner regarding timing for shipment, sending kits, etc. It is usually not necessary for us to communicate with the collecting veterinarian directly.
Transcervical insemination (TCI) is the preferred method of insemination because it delivers the highest dose of semen into the reproductive tract beyond the cervix. In some situations, surgical insemination is requested. This requires general anesthesia, an abdominal; incision , and a 10-14 dayrecovery period.
VMC is available 7 days a week for inseminations and breeding management.
Trans-cervical insemination is a method to deliver sperm directly into the uterus, bypassing the cervix. The advantage is the same as the surgical intrauterine method of insemination (commonly called an implant). Most of the sperm may not penetrate the cervix after a routine vaginal insemination—this can be especially true for frozen or chilled semen, or in cases of female dog or stud dog decreased fertility.
Female dogs are inseminated in a standing position without sedation in most cases. The owner is encouraged to observe the procedure. We can use a video display to visualize the procedure. The procedure is painless and usually takes 15-30 minutes.
We require an appointment in advance of the date for TCI (i.e., prebreeding exam) either before estrus or at the beginning of the cycle. Our goal is to inseminate twice by TCI within 24-48 hours. The decision of when to perform TCI is based on ovulation timing.
If shipping chilled semen, please indicate to the stud dog owner that we need the semen to be centrifuged after collection (gentle centrifugation at urine setting). The extraneous seminal fluids are discarded and the sperm pellet is mixed with an extender. We request no more than 2.0-2.5 ml total volume. This highly concentrated semen is necessary for intrauterine insemination to prevent backflow after the TCI is performed.
When the stud dog is present, the semen is processed after collection by centrifugation and an extender is added. This is different than semen handled for routine vaginal insemination and is necessary prior to insemination directly into the uterus by either TCI or surgery.
The semen is not thawed until the insemination catheter is placed by TCI. This will allow for a back up plan of performing a surgical insemination in the unlikely event that TCI cannot be achieved.
Planning a Breeding with Frozen Semen
Whenever possible chilled semen is preferred due to a better conception rate and lower cost overall. The success of frozen semen breedings depends on three things; 1) quality of the frozen semen 2) timing of the insemination 3) fertility of the female dog.
Frozen semen can be sent to VMC several weeks prior to the breeding; we can store the semen until it is needed. The semen owner will need to order the shipment and the female dog owner can coordinate shipment payment. If semen is stored at Zoetis in Kansas City, MO please contact them to complete the paperwork to request the transfer. We accept frozen semen shipments routinely on Mon-Sat 8am-5pm. Please call to let us know the tracking number and when it was shipped.
It is required to schedule a pre-breeding exam to allow us to evaluate the female dog, her breeding history and to appropriately plan the insemination dose and route.
We always request enough semen to inseminate the female dog twice, however, often only one breeding is available to us. Whenever possible, we would like a minimum of 100-150 million live sperm for a single insemination. In certain situations double this amount may be advised. The amount of semen offered from the stud dog or freezing center may be less than this recommendation; we will work with what is provided but these recommendations are ideal.This can be discussed during a pre-breeding examination.
Semen is injected into the uterus directly with either method. Transcervical Insemination (TCI)will achieve this without the risks of anesthesia and surgery (please see the TCI handout) by using a scope to visualize the cervix. The surgical method (called an “implant” by some breeders) is major surgery requiring full anesthesia, a small abdominal incision, and closure similar to a spay. Approximate recovery time from the surgical method is 10-14 days. There is no restriction in activity after a TCI.
Breeding by two TCI’s approximately 24 hours apart is the best plan whenever possible. If TCI is not achieved, surgical insemination is recommended as a back up plan, but the female dog is only bred once by the surgical method. Surgical insemination may be considered as the optimal first choice in some situations or if only one dose of semen is supplied.
Ovulation timing is the key to success with frozen semen. Once thawed, frozen semen has a limited longevity—probably less than 24 hours. See the ovulation timing handout.
VMC is available 7 days a week for inseminations and breeding management.
Early Pregnancy and Pregnancy Diagnosis
After breeding, your female dog can resume her normal routine. Exercise is encouraged, so long as not excessive (hard road-work, jumps at maximal heights, dock-diving). We highly recommend avoiding events where a large number of dogs will congregate, such as dog shows. Attending the usual training classes, in a controlled environment of healthy dogs, is not usually a problem. Boarding is not recommended. We are concerned that if a potentially pregnant female dog contracts an infectious disease, she could lose her litter.
New information has led to the recommendation to change her diet either before or at least by the time of breeding to one that is AAFCO tested and is composed of: 27-34% protein, at least 18% fat, and 20-30% carbohydrate. Royal Canin HT42 is one such diet. After day 42, she should be transitioned to a Puppy food diet. Heartguard and Frontline are both safe for pregnant and nursing female dogs.
Ultrasound to detect pregnancy is 100% safe and is the very best method to determine fetal well-being. We usually conduct ultrasound exams 25-32 days after the last breeding day. This allows the best opportunity to estimate litter size and detect fetal heartbeats. After day 35, the fetal sacs enlarge and can over-lap, making an accurate count less likely. Other advantages of ultrasonography include diagnosis of fetal resorption, uterine disease, ovarian disease and urinary tract health.
Although fetal skeletons start to become apparent by day 45, an accurate head-count can only be performed during the last week of gestation. In some cases (especially very large litters) accuracy is not 100%. If not doing whelpwise, I highly recommend a late term x-ray to confirm head count and determine if any problems are apparent prior to whelping.
This service provides equipment to monitor uterine contractions, fetal heart beats and is an excellent method to monitor whelping. Owners using this service can take advantage of the opportunity to have calcium and oxytocin on hand for safe use at home under the supervision of the Whelpwise staff (available 24/7). For more information: www.whelpwise.com or call 1-888-281-4867.
We are available 7 days per week for C-sections They can be scheduled at the ultrasound appointment. We request advance notice if possible so that a team can be called in if after hours.
Our Purpose “To passionately advocate for every animal through our commitment to improve their lives.”
Pregnancy Information – Resources
If you are relatively inexperienced with the whelping/puppy rearing process, purchasing a book or two on the subject is highly recommended. The best current book is available on Amazon – Canine Reproduction and Neonatology by Dr Marty Greer.
Most female dogs need a higher intake of protein and calories during pregnancy and throughout lactation. As mentioned before, using a breeding diet such as Royal Canin HT42 form the start of proestrus until Day 42 of gestation and then switching to a high quality puppy food after day 42 is the best strategy. Frequent smaller meals may be needed toward the end of gestation. If the female dog is fed a high quality food, and has a good appetite, additional supplements during gestation are not necessary.
It is important for the female dog to maintain her normal level of exercise throughout pregnancy. The female dog will usually have an easier time with whelping if she is fit and not too fat! You will have to judge the normal level of exercise, based on the breed and current level of fitness. Certainly, leash-walking is fine as is some swimming. Running after an object (i.e., fetch) may be OK early on, but decrease that activity later—some female dogs won’t know when to quit!
Most breeders will set up a whelping box in a designated room of the house. It is important to control the ambient temperature of the box once the pups are born, it should be kept around 80 degrees. You can construct a whelping box with a rail. This prevents a pup from getting crushed between the female dog and the wall. Child’s wading pools work well – no corners and easily disinfected.
If you have done ovulation timing, we will be able to give you a pretty reliable whelping date. Predicting a whelping date based on breeding alone is more difficult, but ranges from 58-65 days from each breeding.
You can monitor the rectal temperature of a female dog prior to whelping. Many female dogs will have a significant drop in temperature to below 99 degrees 24 hours prior to whelping. The temp won’t necessarily stay down after the initial drop; it can come back up. Monitor the temp first thing in the am and in the evening daily during the last week of gestation. The temp drop doesn’t occur in all female dogs or if there is a singleton.
We often will do a late-gestational X-ray to count fetal skeletons. This information can be very helpful when up all night with a female dog in labor. For large litters and in some cases, X-rays are not 100% reliable. In some situations, we can’t count accurately but can still give a reasonable estimate. We can also learn some important information regarding pup size and if any signs of problems are present.
Labor monitoring service and equipment can be leased through the Whelpwise company (Veterinary Perinatal Specialties; 1-888-281-4867, www.whelpwise.com). This equipment must be reserved well in advance! With this system you can monitor uterine contractions and detect fetal heart-beats. Most people can use this equipment easily, but it is an intensive monitoring system. It is very helpful and reliable for detecting problems before they become serious. We can also dispense pre-drawn syringes of oxytocin and calcium that can be properly administered with this system. These medications can only be prescribed to Whelpwise users and need to be given under direction of the Whelpwise staff or by our doctors.
While we can’t list every possible trouble-sign possible, here is a list of some of the more common problems. If any of these situations occur, please call us for assistance:
1. More that 24-48 hours after a significant temperature drop and no signs of labor in a term female dog.
2. Presence of a dark green to black vaginal discharge at any time during gestation, including preceding labor. This discharge is normally passed with the puppy or placenta (it comes from the placental attachment to the uterus), but if seen prior to actual delivery, could represent a problem.
3. Presence of any part of a pup for more than several minutes, without progression to complete delivery of that pup (i.e., a stuck pup). You can try to lubricate around the pup with some K-Y type of lubricant.
4. Active, hard labor with visible contractions or groans from the female dog for more than 15-30 minutes without delivery of a pup.
5. Delivery of a dead pup—especially if it is the first pup after a prolonged effort from the female dog. Sometimes after this, the rest of the pups will deliver easily, but if more than 1-2 hours pass and no further labor, you should call the hospital.
The delivery time between pups is quite variable. Some female dogs will go no more than 20-30 minutes between pups, while others can take several hours. The standard rule is no more than 2-4 hours between pups, but this is a wide range and may not be appropriate for all situations. Walking the female dog, getting her to eat a little something or drink water can help. Feeding a small amount of ice cream may help with some calcium input, as can a Tums. A little break here and there in a large litter can be very normal. Some female dogs, though, will wear out (termed uterine inertia) and not be able to deliver the remainder of a large litter without veterinary intervention.
VMC is available 24/7 for questions or problems. Just call the office number at (410) 822-8505.