Clinical Activities and Procedures

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Reproductive Examination

A complete examination of the reproductive organs, as well as an overall examination of physical health, is performed on all of our patients during their initial visit. Physical exam findings can help us to support the presence of good fertility, as well as give us clues as to possible causes for infertility in female and male dogs. At most appointments, a resident and faculty clinician will evaluate your pet and provide recommendations. Occasionally, we will have students or other visiting staff present during appointments, who may observe the procedures with your permission.

If your dog is here for subsequent ovulation timing appointments, a technician will acquire the samples for doctors to evaluate subsequently. Generally, it will involve drawing blood for progesterone, evaluation of a vaginal swab on a microscope slide, and looking at the vaginal wall with a small vaginoscope. All of these parameters are important in evaluating her cycle. After they have been reviewed and any blood work returned, a plan will be recommended by the veterinarian working with you via the contact method you prefer.

Consultation for Breeding Management

During your appointment, a detailed discussion of the dog’s or cat’s health history will be acquired – both general health and reproductive health. Each animal and breeding program is individual in its potential needs and goals, and we will do our best to accommodate these.

For both female and male dogs in your program, it is a good idea to keep a journal of records including vaccine history, deworming (or fecal exam) history, details of their diet, medications they have been on, and when they’ve been traveling to shows and other events. For female dogs, any attempts at breeding should be documented, as well as outcomes of pregnancy. You should also keep track of when she has been in estrus, and how long those estrus signs are seen. For male dogs, any previous collections and evaluations should be catalogued to monitor for trends. Keep track of his success rates using different methods (natural, artificial insemination, etc.). 

Genetic Screening Tests

Any animal that has a future as a breeding dog should be assessed for diseases that affect his or her breed. Some of these tests can be performed at a young age (BAER testing for hearing, DNA test, etc.), while others require the dog to be a young adult before evaluation is accepted (OFA orthopedics, OFA cardio, CERF eye testing, etc.). Your breed’s national club should have information on their website regarding the diseases that they recommend screening for in breeding animals. Also, www.offa.org is an excellent resource for breed-specific recommendations in dogs.

Tests that the Theriogenology Service can assist you with include OFA orthopedic evaluation (hips, elbows, or shoulders), OFA patella evaluation, OFA dentition, and OFA thyroid. We also can acquire samples for additional DNA tests that are appropriate for certain breeds and submit the samples to the appropriate laboratories. Any veterinarian can complete these tests, but many do not have experience in sending samples properly, and positioning correctly for orthopedic radiographs.

Evaluation of some diseases requires a consultation with a specialist. Our Cardiology, Neurology, and Ophthalmology Services regularly see our breeding patients for pre-breeding screening testing, including OFA cardiology evaluation, BAER hearing testing, and CERF or OFA eye testing, respectively. Please consult directly with those services if you require those tests. They can all be reached through the Small Animal Clinic at 530-752-1393.

Female Procedures:

  • Ovulation Timing

Ovulation timing combines several techniques to determine a window of fertility to breed within during a heat cycle. Accurate timing will optimize her conception rate and litter size.

Three main diagnostics are used to determine this when your dog is here for this service:

    • Vaginal cytology is used to evaluate the cells of the vagina on a slide under a microscope. A long cotton tipped swab is used to obtain cells in the vagina, and a special stain is used to see the outlines of the cells. This modality helps us determine whether she is approaching her fertile window, and also indicate to us when she is too far along in the cycle to breed successfully.
    • Progesterone testing is used to estimate the time of ovulation, and subsequent fertile breeding days. This involves drawing a blood sample, which is submitted to our in-house laboratory. Usually we receive results within 2-3 hours of submission.
    • Vaginoscopy, or looking at the vaginal wall with a vaginoscope, is another component of our estimation of her fertile window. The vaginal wall will look “crenulated” (dehydrated) during her progesterone rise, and become maximally so during her most fertile days.

Generally, we will begin seeing dogs for ovulation timing on around the 5th day after heat for a cycle in which the owners wish to breed her. Every 2-3 days we will evaluate her, until she reaches the optimal window for breeding.

  • Insemination
    • Assisted Natural Breeding: This method is great for reproductively healthy patients that just need a bit of “help.” Sometimes the experience or size different of the animals can affect their ability to breed unassisted. This can oftentimes be accomplished at home by an experienced breeder, but some owners prefer veterinary assistance.
    • Vaginal Artificial Insemination: This method simulates the deposition of semen in the cranial vagina, as in a natural breeding. This is ideal for a male and female of good fertility, and is appropriate for fresh collected or fresh chilled (shipped) semen.
    • Trans-cervical Insemination: This method will place the semen into the uterus, resulting in the highest conception results for the animal. A small endoscope with a camera is guided into the standing dog, and her cervix is catheterized. The semen is deposited through the catheter into the uterus. This method is appropriate for subfertile dogs and frozen semen, but can be utilized to optimize success in our fertile patients as well.
    • Surgical Insemination: This method is equivalent to trans-cervical in the location of semen placement. It is a full surgical event, with general anesthesia, shaving of the abdominal area, and incision into the abdomen. The semen is placed into the uterus using a small catheter. Although this procedure can carry success, in most cases we do not recommend the surgical option for insemination due to its invasiveness.
  • Pregnancy Diagnosis and Monitoring

Pregnancy diagnosis for our canine patients can be performed at around 28 days after the LH surge, which is a day determined during ovulation timing. If ovulation timing was not performed, we recommend checking her 28 days post breeding or AI. This initial evaluation will confirm her pregnant, and allow us to see heart beats and overall fetal health. This is not an ideal way to count the number of fetuses, but we can often give an estimation to help to guide you in her care in the latter part of her pregnancy.

Pregnancy radiographs can also be diagnostic in the few weeks of her pregnancy. The most common request for this procedure is for a “puppy count.” We also recommend pregnancy x-ray for evaluating the size and development of the fetuses, and make sure they are not too large to be delivered naturally. For best evaluation of size, we recommend radiographs 3-5 days prior to her due date based on ovulation timing.

Additional monitoring can be applied to special animals that have difficulty carrying their pregnancy. An at-home uterine monitoring system can be implemented for regular monitoring. In some cases, we recommend serial progesterone tests to ensure progesterone levels are adequate. Ultrasound can be utilized throughout of pregnancy in order to evaluate fetal health.

  • Planned and Emergent C-sections

C-sections can be elective or emergency. Most commonly, the need for an emergency C-section is due to oversized puppies, very small or very large litters, or uterine inertia.

Elective C-sections are commonly appropriate for brachycephalic breeds, and dogs with a familial history of complicated deliveries. With proper ovulation timing and daily evaluation when she is nearing her due date, C-sections can be a safe alternative to natural delivery.

Emergency C-sections can be performed during regular hours or after hours. Our team, as well as the surgery and anesthesia teams, will work swiftly to perform the procedure to optimize the viability of her litter and her health.

Male procedures:

  • Semen Collection

For dogs, semen collection is routinely performed as a regular evaluation tool for the stud dog. Manual stimulation for most animals is a successful means of acquiring a sample. The semen can be evaluated for sperm motility (motion), speed, morphology (structure), and other parameters. If the patient has a negative brucella test within six months of the appointment, a teaser female can be provided if requested.

For cats, general anesthesia is required unless the animal has been specially trained to collect into an artificial vagina. For most of our patients, after anesthesia has been administered, we can stimulate the ejaculation rectally with a probe to collect a sample.

  • Semen Shipments

Many of our stud dog patients are on request for shipment of chilled semen to a bitch in another location. A collection is performed, and the semen is diluted in a commercial semen extender for transport via FedEx. The shipments are generally sent overnight to the veterinarian of the female to receive the semen. Evaluation is performed prior to packaging, and is provided for both the stud and bitch owner.

  • Semen Freezing

Semen freezing can be performed here, and we can store semen on site long-term for use or later shipment. For elective freezing of healthy animals, one day per month is designated. Freezing of semen can be performed if there is more emergent need an alternate day. As with the general semen evaluation appointments, the semen will be collected and evaluated for quality, and if deemed of good quality, could be diluted and chilled in special extenders prior to freezing. We evaluate all samples after freezing, as they vary in quality after the processing. Frozen semen is predicted to last hundreds of years if maintained properly. Successful litters have been produced in the dog after 40 years of cryopreservation.

The freezing process from start to finish takes 4-6 hours, so we schedule all semen freeze appointments for the day in the morning. We recommend a brucella test within six months for any frozen semen patient. Also, be sure to bring your dog’s registration paperwork (if associated with a club) to your appointment. Some clubs also require DNA registry, which we can acquire at the time of the first freezing appointment if he has not had his DNA registered. DNA registry is a requirement for all AKC canine frozen semen.