Breeding Your Bitch by Artificial Insemination

By Bette Reese


In the past, canine breeders depended on physiological signs of ovulation in their bitch.  Breeders watched for signs such as flagging, softness of the vulva and color of the discharge. These signals vary in bitches and some will have stronger responses than others to the male, also the amount of discharge and swelling can vary.  The success in conception was primarily because fresh semen lives for many days in the bitch. The signs or signals breeders took for ovulation were “rough guesses”, but since multiple live breedings covered a wide range of time, exact timing of ovulation wasn’t vital.

With breeders shipping semen rather than their bitch, pin pointing the actual time of ovulation is much more critical.  Breeding to canines in other countries and using semen from deceased top sires has become more common with the use of frozen semen.  If this is the case, usually only one insemination takes place and timing this breeding is extremely important to obtain conception.

Ideally, progesterone tests begin by the fifth day of the bitch’s heat and depending on the results, she is retested every 24 to 72 hours. When the progesterone tests rise to 5.0 nanograms (ng), your bitch will ovulate.  The insemination should be done in two days when the eggs are mature. If you plan to use fresh chilled semen and do two inseminations, plan to do the inseminations on the second day and on the third day from the 5.0 ng reading.  A surgical insemination should be planned late on the second day or early on the third day following the 5.0 ng because these procedures are done only once in the bitch’s cycle.

An insemination when the bitch’s progesterone level is at 10 ng is ideal. One lab suggests inseminations at 15 ng with high conception rates only if this number is two days after ovulation.

The reason for waiting two days after ovulation is the eggs must ripen before getting fertilized and all of the eggs will ripen in two days and all will be fertilized in 16 to 20 hours.

Progesterone tests are usually done in conjunction with a vaginal cytology. The epithelial cells change as the estrogen levels rise. Observing these changes aids in finding the bitch’s peak fertile period, but because the cells stay in a cornified state for several days, vaginal smears do not pin point ovulation.

Serum testing for the luteinizing hormone (LH) has been successful in anticipating the release of the ova, but can be expensive and time consuming for the bitch owner and uncomfortable for the patient. This test is done daily if no other tests are being conducted because of the short duration of the LH in the bloodstream.  Otherwise, it is done in conjunction with the progesterone tests around the anticipated time of ovulation.

If you are planning to use frozen semen, ask the owner if the semen is in straws, ampules or in a pellet form. Also ask when it was collected and what the motility was when it was processed. This information will help you decide whether your bitch should have a surgical insemination or can have a vaginal insemination.

In the early years, freezing canine semen was based on the technique of processing bovine semen in straws or ampules. The first results were unsuccessful. In 1969, a technique to freeze canine semen in a pellet form proved to be highly successful.  This technique allowed rapid temperature changes to occur without damaging the sperm cells. Conception rates of over 90% are claimed with vaginal inseminations using the pelleted semen.

Straws or ampules are still being used for freezing canine semen with improved success rates claiming to be between 70% and 85%, depending on the insemination procedure.  If the dog you plan to use had semen processed in straws or ampules, a surgical procedure could result in a higher conception rate.

Bottom line is, frozen semen will be of better quality if in the pellet form and has a higher percentage of live, progressively mobile sperm.

If the dog that you would like to breed your bitch to is alive and is producing viable sperm, a fresh collection of semen can be shipped with excellent results, providing that the necessary tests have targeted the bitch’s ovulation. This method has become very popular because semen can be sent by air, arrive within hours of being collected from the stud and the bitch inseminated the same day. The cooled semen is extended with a special media and usually sent by overnight carrier and can easily survive 48 hours. This fresh chilled semen must be checked for bent or curled tails and other deformities that would limit sperm motility, the same is true with frozen semen.

At times it is necessary to help a breeding take place by ejaculating the dog and using the fresh semen to inseminate the bitch. Often this is done when a stud dog is compromised with low sperm count, injury or anatomical barriers. For example, in breeding giant breeds, some toy dogs or bulldogs. Another reason to collect the semen and do a fresh semen insemination is to avoid infection.  It is also an ideal time to check the stud’s semen for motility and deformities that could prevent conception.

Canine Artificial Insemination Techniques:

Non-Surgical – Depositing of semen in the anterior vaginal canal at the cervical os. 

                        No anesthetic is required.

                        If semen is frozen from the pellet process, and the bitch is bred at the right time   

                        in her cycle, conception should occur.

                        Extended-fresh chilled semen or a fresh collection of semen is commonly used.


Surgical -         Depositing of semen by injection directly into the uterus.

                        Requires surgical anesthetic plane.

                        Requires abdominal incision and exteriorizing the uterus to inject the semen.

                        Injection is usually made with a 3cc syringe and 25 gauge needle.

                        Usually frozen semen is used.


Non-Surgical Cervical Deposition – Depositing the semen into the cervical canal.

                        Requires tranquilization or anesthetization.

                        Cervix is cannulated and a small volume of semen is injected into the cervical

                        canal.   Fresh, cooled or frozen semen can be used. 

When deciding to breed your bitch by artificial insemination, you can avoid problems by having everyone connected with shipping the semen notified of your plans prior to your bitch’s heat cycle.  If you are planning to ship your stud’s semen, have supplies available, so shipment won’t be delayed by having to order them at the last moment. Decide on which local overnight shipping office to use and know what the pick up time is. Many of the shipping companies do not have overnight service on weekends and you should have a back-up plan.

Work closely with your veterinarian or fertility specialist and keep everyone updated with your bitch’s the test results.  You want everyone involved ready to do their part when you need to have your bitch inseminated. These recommendations will stack the odds of conception in your favor.            

Bette Reese is a technician for the International Canine Semen Bank working with Dr. Keesling at the San Martin Veterinarian Hospital and Dr Wallace at G bar N Veterinary Clinic assisting with surgical implants using fresh, fresh extended and frozen semen, vaginal inseminations and collecting and shipping canine semen.    

References: Notes from ICSB, Prof. Carol Platz, Sandy, Ore.;

                    “Frozen Semen” by Daniel J. Martin, DVM; 

                    “Maximizing Conception Rate” by Robert Van Hutchinson, DVM

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