Artificial Insemination (AI)
AI, it seems like a really easy term to use. But we have discovered that there is a lot more to it than just getting some semen and a turkey baster. In 2011 Kassey's litter was the product of AI. And we were hoping for the same success in 2016. However, we tried twice and Maggie did not take either time. I guess it is time in 2017 to go back to the old fashioned way.
Two things made our adventure into AI possible in 2011. One was the discovery of Sweet Retrievers Drake. Drake's owner Scott Spalding generously interrupted his Thanksgiving evening to discuss the possibility of using Drake as a semen donor for our Canadian girl. Because Kassey went into Heat the week before Christmas, we had to make arrangements with Scott to get Drake's collection into the International Canine Semen Bank and then get the ICSB to send the semen here during the holiday rush.
The other was the discovery of Dr. Hubbard at the Cedarwood Veterinary Hospital. Our regular vet, Dr. Cindy Nowle, recommended Dr. Hubbard as he does the AI for the RCMP canine unit. With all this experience, it did not seem to matter that we did not know what we were doing.
There are three methods of insemination. One is basically inserting semen into the vagina and hoping for the best. The other two methods involve inserting the semen directly into the uterus. Of these two methods, we were hoping to use the trans-cervical method. In that method the semen is directed through the cervix using endoscopy. It is as effective as the the next method which is the surgical method. In the surgical method, the bitch is put under, cut open, and then the semen is inserted into the horns of the uterus.
Wait, did I mention there are three forms that semen can come in? Fresh, fresh-chilled, and frozen. Due to disease, or conditions that make it impossible physically for mounting, some semen is taken from the male, and then this fresh semen is implanted. Some fresh semen can be chilled, for transportation, and then implanted. These two methods have the advantage over frozen semen as sperm numbers can be drastically reduced during freezing and thawing, and viability of frozen sperm is 12 hrs versus 3 to 4 days for fresh.
We picked frozen semen because we were not sure what effect the holiday rush would have on transport or that fresh chilled would arrive without freezing during transit (ie coming to Canada in December!). This option meant that we were now forced to find the best 12 hour window for insemination. Luckily there is a way to find that window: progesterone testing.
Kassey went into heat on Dec. 17, the semen arrived on the 21, and now all we had to do was find that window. So we began progesterone testing on Dec. 22 and Dec. 23. It was very early in Kassey's cycle but we wanted to find out before Christmas if we were looking at a possible breeding early in the next week (like in the text books most bitches are fertile on days 11 and 13 of their cycles). Kassey's levels were low both times. As the clinic was closed for Christmas, we took Kassey in on Dec. 24 just for blood collection, and then after Christmas on Dec. 27 for further testing (the idea being that if it was high on the 27 we would send the 24th sample off for testing to better pinpoint the progesterone peak). We took her back in on the 28th for more blood. However her levels on the 27th were still low (test results come in late in the day so always a day behind blood sampling). On the 30th we took her in not only for more progesterone but also for an endoscopy so Dr. Hubbard could have a look around (the vagina is suppose to become very folded once ovulation takes place). On the 30th Kassey's vagina was still smooth, however Dr. Hubbard saw signs of an infection.
The good news was that Kassey's progesterone levels had almost peaked in the Thursday , Dec. 30 sampling. So ovulation would be two days later on Jan. 1 (Approximately day 15 of her cycle). Once ovulation occurs, it takes the eggs two to three days to mature and be released. So back we went on Jan. 3 for a second endosopy and possible AI. Kassey's vagina continued to show signs of infection so the idea to do two transcervical inseminations was now not an option. Going in through that infection could possible push it into the uterus and result in pyrometra. Our only choice now was to do a surgical AI or nothing. Dr. Hubbard was prepared to do a surgical AI but suggested we wait until Jan.4.
I went home and we discussed it. I phoned Scott Spalding and discussed our Kassey's problem. He gave his permission to hold onto the semen for a possible breeding during Kassey's next cycle or to destroy it in the event we decided not to precede or only do just one surgical AI (using just one of the two vials that we had). On Jan. 4, I took Kassey in for her surgical AI. It all went well, and because we were not planning to save the semen for a future date, both vials went into Kassey.
The problems were: the thaw out rate was not as high as Dr. Hubbard would have liked, therefore the use of the two vials; Kassey still had a major vaginal infection that could potentially develop into pyometra; and her uterus turned out to still be very small, almost immature. The later may not be a problem unless there are many puppies. The good things are: Kassey is on an antibiotic for thirty days, so hopefully this will prevent pyrometra from developing; we did have two vials of semen available so perhaps that was enough; she healed up nicely from her surgery; and perhaps by having a surgical AI and not a natural breeding we have prevented her from developing pyrometra.
And so we waited until Feb. 3 for an ultrasound, to see if she took or not. In the meantime we kept a very close eye on her for obvious signs of distress that could have meant pyrometra.
Wow, who knew that breeding could become so complicated. And pyrometra is not something to take lightly. It can kill an unspayed female dog, generally occurring in older girls (over five years of age). Whether you are planning on breeding or not, have your girls spayed early or once their breeding days are over. We had Koko spayed the year after her litter, and it may have saved her life.
At least Kassey recovered nicely from the surgery. Except it was hard to take walks on -20 C or lower days.