by Treyton (Jai) Diggs, DVM
I recently wrote an article interviewing Richard “Dickie” Beyl, in that conversation he spoke of his great hound FC JR’ S TJ. He then stated that if he had known about artificial insemination and freezing semen he would have definitely have had TJ’s semen frozen. I have always wondered why our sport doesn’t take advantage of this technology/ service more often. I know a lot of other hound sports utilize this service quite often i.e. coonhounds and bird dogs. So I figured that I would write an article that would hopefully educate, familiarize, and enlighten beaglers on artificial insemination.
Before I ponder into great depth of this article, I would like to say that Artificial Insemination is not an easy process in dogs and it takes a great deal of education and appropriate timing to be successful. So finding a veterinarian that has an interest in this science is going to be integral.
As much as I promote my fellow houndsman to utilize this technology, I strongly recommend that the bitch be proven. When I say “proven” I mean a bitch that has successfully conceived at least once or twice recently and is a good mother to her pups. I often have clients that want to use artificial insemination in a maiden or problematic bitch. I have found that despite the efforts and attempts in these bitches, artificial insemination is often unsuccessful. Another recommendation is to collect semen from your stud when he is young. I encounter houndsmen that want to freeze their studs semen but they wait until their hound is too old to give a quality semen specimen. It is a common finding for semen potency to decrease with age so collecting from your hound early increases the likelihood of obtaining quality specimens. From my experience, it best to collect between the ages of 2-5 years. Of course, they can be collected later but semen quality begins to decrease and so does the stud’s libido. I typically recommend to my clients to collect semen in the breeding off season (any period where your male is not being used regularly to naturally service bitches). This is a lot less stressful on the stud owner, he or she doesn’t have to worry about trying to successfully breed a bitch and schedule a semen collection at the same time. It also increases the likelihood of achieving a successful breeding and obtaining a quality collection sample. By collecting in the breeding off season, this also decreases the chances that your hound will get reproductively stressed. I don’t typically recommend breeding a dog more than 3-4 times a week. Breeding more than this often affects semen concentration and quality, resulting in smaller litters or bitches that fail to conceive or “miss”.
There are 3 ways in which artificial insemination can be achieved: Vaginal Insemination, Transcervical Insemination (TCI), and Surgical Insemination
- Vaginal Insemination is a method by which semen is implanted into the vagina of the bitch by means other than natural breeding. This is the most common type of artificial insemination, because it is non-invasive, it doesn’t require special equipment, no anesthesia or sedation is required, and it is fairly inexpensive.
- Transcervical Insemination (TCI) is a procedure by which a camera is placed inside the vagina of the bitch to gain visualization of the cervix. Once the cervix is observed semen is implanted into the uterus by way of the open cervix. This method is probably the least common because the camera is very expensive and it also requires a great deal of technique and training to utilize the equipment successfully. With the expense of the equipment comes a larger expense for the service. This procedure is not often offered by most general practitioners, but it may be offered by a theriogenologist (a veterinarian that specializes in reproduction).
- Surgical Insemination is a method by which the bitch is placed under general anesthesia and by way of surgery, semen of some type (fresh, chilled, or frozen) is implanted directly into the uterus. This method can be expensive depending on the type of anesthesia that your veterinarian uses and the pre-operative measures that he or she implements.
Now that I have discussed the types of artificial insemination, I will speak about the 3 types of semen used for artificial insemination: freshly collected semen, chilled semen, and frozen semen that can be used for artificial insemination.
- Fresh Collected Semen is semen that does not contain any type of preservative media to keep it living longer than its expected life, which depends on several environmental factors. This is semen that is collected from the male immediately before the bitch is to be bred and then implanted into her by one of the previously mentioned methods. This semen has a very short life outside of the body, however when implanted directly into the bitch it can live for up to 72 hours, longer than other types of semen.
- Chilled Semen is a type of semen that is extended (life prolonged) by adding some type life prolonging media. This semen is then chilled for a short period of time until breeding is desired. The maximum length of time that semen can be chilled depends on the media and the quality of semen. Given that semen quality and the media are optimally compatible it may live an average of 3-5 days while chilled. When it has been determined that the bitch is ready to be bred the semen is then warmed and implanted into the bitch. This semen, typically only lives inside the bitch for 24-36 hours. The process of extending and chilling semen is not very complicated and is typically not that expensive. However, one must try several extenders initially before it is determined which one works best for their stud dog’s semen.
- Frozen Semen is semen that is placed in a media then it is supercooled typically in liquid nitrogen. This is not something that most general veterinary practices will do however; most veterinary institutions do provide this service. Frozen semen comes in two forms: semen pellets and semen straws. This semen can be preserved for up to 99 years. Before the semen is frozen it is evaluated and it is also evaluated after it has been thawed. Doing both of these is very important because this will make the owner and veterinarian aware of the quality of semen before freezing and after freezing. The closer the percentage of quality semen after thawing it to that of quality semen before it was frozen, the better the semen is. One of the most common misconceptions about freezing semen is that it takes 1 straw or 1 vial of semen pellets for one breeding, however this is solely dependent on the quality of the semen. The poorer the quality of semen the more semen straws or vials of semen pellets that are going to be required for a successful breeding. Another misconception is that one collection is one breeding. A collection again is dependent on the quality and concentration of the semen obtained in a collection. One collection may produce 1 straw/ vials or 8 straws/ vials. Lastly, when dealing with frozen semen litter sizes aren’t typically as large as with other types of semen. From my experience, an average litter size is 1-5 pups using frozen semen, but I have seen larger litters. Of the types of semen preservation frozen semen takes the most skill to handle. It also has the shortest life in utero (inside the uterus) 12-24 hours, meaning that timing is very important when using this method.
These are the techniques I offer/ recommend to my clients
-Fresh Collected Semen
Transcervical Insemination (TCI)
-Fresh Collected Semen
– Chilled Semen
-Fresh Collected Semen
We beaglers invest a lot of time, energy, and money into our hounds and breeding programs. This is why I feel that it is very important for us to begin preserving those efforts and energies through utilization of artificial insemination and semen preservation.
Treyton (Jai) Diggs, DVM