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Surgical artificial insemination in dogs

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Ratification Date: 08 Dec 2022

Policy

  1. Surgical artificial insemination (AI) must not be performed in dogs. Welfare considerations indicate that only non-surgical artificial insemination may be performed.
  2. All states and territories in Australia should adopt the prohibition of surgical AI in dogs, in their respective Animal Welfare Acts.

Background

Artificial insemination (AI) plays a large role in the dog breeding industry, allowing genetics to be transferred effectively over large distances, as well as being preserved indefinitely for future use in breeding programs. AI is also indicated when natural breeding is not possible due to male unavailability, receptivity, or physical impairment. AI facilitates the assessment of semen prior to insemination, dilution of semen with extender to promote the length of sperm survival, and control of semen placement in the female’s reproductive tract.

Deposition of semen in the female during AI can occur into the vagina (‘intravaginal’) or uterus (‘intrauterine’). Insemination directly into the uterus typically results in better pregnancy results and litter sizes when utilising compromised semen, be it of reduced quality, or low in sperm numbers. Effective use of frozen-thawed semen requires intrauterine insemination.

Surgical AI has been used in dogs for many years as an intrauterine insemination technique. It involves general anaesthesia of the animal, laparotomy, exteriorisation of the uterus and transuterine wall introduction of (typically) frozen thawed semen into the uterine lumen. This is then followed by replacement of the uterus into the abdomen, and closure of the laparotomy site.

Using the appropriate technologies and expertise for the correct timing of insemination, and handling of the semen, surgical AI was the previously accepted way of impregnating dogs with frozen thawed semen. However, disadvantages of surgical AI in the dog include

  • The requirement of hospitalisation and general anaesthesia
  • It is an invasive surgical procedure with increased patient morbidity
  • Unnecessary pain and discomfort associated with laparotomy
  • Consecutive surgical inseminations are not possible without multiple anaesthetic procedures
  • Ethical concerns

Transcervical artificial insemination (TCI) is an alternative method of achieving intrauterine insemination in the dog. The technique was reported from Scandinavia in 1989 and 19911 via catheterisation – and New Zealand in 19932 – via endoscopy; cited by Romagnoli et al. in 20123, the TCI procedure was reported by Lopate4, and it has subsequently become a relatively common procedure in veterinary clinical dog breeding practice.

Australian (Mason et al.)5 and New Zealand (Hollinshead et al.)6 reports have illustrated that the fertility of TCI is the same as, or better than, surgical AI in the dog, especially when using frozen–thawed semen.

In the study by Hollinshead et al., only seven of 1103 (<0.6%) intrauterine inseminations were not possible via TCI. When performed by trained operators, TCI is usually completed within 10 min, without the risks associated with anaesthesia and surgery, and is typically performed with no need for sedation.

The advantages of TCI compared to SAI include:

  • No requirement for hospitalisation or general anaesthesia
  • Eliminates the risks associated with anaesthesia and surgery
  • It is a safe, nonpainful procedure when performed by trained operators
  • Results in the same or improved conception rates when compared with surgical AI using frozen-thawed semen
  • Can be completed within 10 minutes by trained operators
  • Decreased patient morbidity

The disadvantages of TCI include

  • Expertise and training of operators is required
  • Rigid endoscopic equipment is needed

It is important to understand that there are many factors that play a role in determining the success of an AI procedure, regardless of the method utilised, including but not limited to:

  • Failure to accurately ascertain ovulation timing
  • Suboptimal semen, sub-fertile male
  • Improper semen collection and handling
  • Improper chilled semen processing/handling/shipping/timing of use
  • Improper frozen semen thawing/handling techniques

Surgical AI in dogs has been banned in the United Kingdom since 2019. It is prohibited under the UK Animal Welfare Legislation 2019 Animal Welfare Act Prohibition of Mutilations – it is not one of the exemptions permitted within the Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) England Regulations 2006-2007. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons amended section 27 of its Supporting Guidance to Code of Professional Conduct, where Surgical AI is now considered to be the same as tail docking, dew claw removal, prosthetic testicles and feline renal transplantation from living donors, on the list of banned procedures.

Recommendations

  • Surgical AI must not be performed in dogs due to ethical and welfare considerations, given the suitable alternative of TCI;
  • Veterinarians should phase-out the use of surgical AI by 1 January 2024;
  • Training for veterinarians in the TCI technique may be required, and there needs to be increased access to appropriate education;
  • Dog breeders and breed clubs should be educated on the welfare issues associated with surgical AI in dogs, and the benefits of TCI.

References:

  1. Linde-Forsberg C, Forsberg M Fertility in dogs in relation to semen quality and the time and site of insemination with fresh and frozen semen. J Reprod Fertil 1989;39:299-310
  2. Wilson MS Non surgical intrauterine artificial insemination in bitches using frozen semen. J Reprod Fertil 1993;47:307-311
  3. Romagnoli S, Lopate C Transcervical artificial insemination in dogs and cats: review of the technique and practical aspects. Reprod Domest Animals 2014;49(s4);56-63
  4. Lopate C Transcervical endoscopic procedures in the bitch. Clin Theriogenol 2012;4(3):213-224
  5. Mason SJ, Rous NR Comparison of endoscopic-assisted transcervical and laparotomy insemination with frozen-thawed semen: a retrospective clinical study. Theriogenology 2014;82(6):844-850
  6. Hollinshead FK, Hanlon DW Factors affecting the reproductive performance of bitches: a prospective cohort study involving 1203 inseminations with fresh and frozen semen. Theriogenology 2017;101:62-72
  7. https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/animals-and-livestock/animal-welfare/animal-welfare-reform
  8. Gunn, A., Hyatt, J., Annandale, A., Annandale, H., Heil, B., Joone, C., . . . McGowan, M. (2021). The animal welfare aspects of surgical artificial insemination in the canine. Australian Veterinary Journal, 99(4), 137. doi:10.1111/avj.13061