Frequently Asked Questions

Photo: Frequently Asked Questions

Select image to enlarge

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 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. Our progesterone machine is on-site, and we receive same day results.

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 previous 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 will have excellent conception rates.

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 an excellent choice for two dogs of excellent fertility that cannot be bred naturally due to temperament, size, or location of the stud dog. 

How is trans-cervical insemination 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 awake during the procedure. Fresh, fresh chilled, or frozen semen can be successfully used by this method.

Do you perform surgical inseminations?
We work in conjunction with the surgery and anesthesia staff to accomplish surgical inseminations for our clients. Because it has been shown that trans-cervical methods yield comparable results to surgical implantation, it is unusual that we recommend this procedure. We are happy to accommodate clients requesting the service. 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 28 days after the LH surge. If dogs were bred naturally without any ovulation timing, we recommend seeing these dogs at 28 days 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 may need assistance to complete her delivery.

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 monitor the drop in her progesterone concentrations to determine whether she is fully term. It is also possible to evaluate the fetuses with ultrasound to determine how “ready” they are.

Do you perform emergency c-sections?
Yes. We work in conjunction with the surgeons and anesthesia service to move emergency c-sections as quickly to surgery as possible. There are always staff members on-call and available to handle your emergent situations.

Does the service perform semen freezing?
Yes. Semen collection and subsequent freezing is a regular service we provide. We provide freezing for normal, healthy animals one day a month. 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, an appointment can be arranged on a more immediate basis. We store semen on site, and can facilitate use of the semen here or shipment for use at other veterinary facilities.

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 the DNA test, if the dog has had semen frozen before. All AKC registered dogs are required to have a DNA registry number. We 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.

Can male cats be evaluated for fertility?
Yes. Male cats can be collected while under general anesthesia. By using a rectal probe that stimulates the nervous system, the cat is stimulated to ejaculate. The sperm collected can then be evaluated for abnormalities. Some cats can be trained to collect voluntarily into an artificial vagina; however the majority of cats are evaluated using the rectal probe technique under anesthesia.

Do you perform any genetic or routine health testing for dogs?
Yes. OFA hips, elbows, and shoulder, evaluations can be performed with the help of the radiology staff. OFA dentition and thyroid testing are also available. Genetic testing varies between tests, 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 at UC Davis as well, but are seen individually on the cardiology, neurology, and ophthalmology departments, respectively. We can often arrange “back-to-back” appointments between our departments to accommodate multiple tests during one visit.

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.

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, 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. 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 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.