The field of small animal theriogenology (also known as reproductive medicine) has grown considerably over the past several years.
This specialty encompasses the disciplines of obstetrics and gynecology, andrology and neonatology. Animals, just like people, can suffer from various reproductive issues.
Canine and Feline Breeding Management
The core aspect of theriogenology is ovulation timing to ensure mating occurs during the fertile period in the female. Knowing when the female is at her optimum fertility can help with the success of a breeding. It can also assist in narrowing the due date of the fetuses to a couple of days. This allows insemination to occur at the optimal time, which can mean success with males that have below average semen quality. To be eligible for breeding management at Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital, all health testing must be completed (for a list of tests by breed, please consult www.offa.org).
Artificial insemination (using fresh, chilled or frozen semen) may be accomplished by vaginal insemination or endoscopic transcervical insemination (TCI) in the bitch. Vaginal insemination is the process of inserting a catheter into the vagina without the aid of a camera. This is a commonly-used method for breeders performing an artificial breeding on their own. A TCI involves inserting a small scope with a camera attached into the vagina. From there we can follow the line of the vagina to the cervix, then pass a small catheter into the cervix to place the semen directly into the uterus. For frozen semen, TCI is highly recommended as semen is less able to traverse the cervix once it has been thawed. Surgical insemination is available for cats only.
Pregnancy diagnosis using ultrasound or x-ray is also available. Ultrasound provides information on fetal viability, placental conformation and health, and an idea of litter size. Ultrasound is performed at approximately 30 days of gestation. In pregnancy failure, ultrasound is also key in differentiating whether a bitch has gotten pregnant and is not holding the pregnancy (resorption of the fetuses) or if she has failed to conceive. X-ray is useful for a precise puppy count and is performed at 55-60 days of gestation.
Elective cesarean section is available in breeds or individuals at high risk of developing dystocia (difficult birth). To be eligible for elective c-section, ovulation timing must have been performed at the time of breeding. The criteria for elective c-section can be discussed at the ultrasound visit. Emergency c-section is available for all patients at any time.
Semen Collection and Evaluation
Semen may be collected in both cats and dogs. Evaluated parameters include volume, motility, sperm count, and sperm morphology. Evaluation of the semen can determine if a dog has any fertility issues, as it is an easy and quick determinant of potential problems. Semen evaluation can also be used prior to a breeding to help determine if a stud should be used, or if a backup dog should be found. This can help save time and distress when the breeding is ready to occur. Semen may also be shipped, chilled overnight or cryopreserved (frozen) for use in the future.
Pre-breeding health testing, including the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) hip evaluation and the Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP) evaluation, is offered at Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital. Sample submission for other OFA screening tests including thyroid is also offered. DNA test kits for American Kennel Club (AKC) records are also available.
Patients presenting with infertility often have varied histories; some present with failure to conceive or sire a litter, while others present with late-term pregnancy loss. Diagnostics available for these conditions are case-dependent, but include hormone level measurements, infectious disease testing, ultrasound to look for structural changes in the reproductive organs, and uterine or testicular biopsy. Biopsies of either organ may be taken surgically or non-surgically (in a sedated animal).
High-risk pregnancies include animals with a history of pregnancy loss, individuals considered at-risk for dystocia, singleton litters, or very large litters. Monitoring using WhelpWise and ultrasound are offered by the theriogenology service at Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital to help ensure a favorable outcome for the mother and neonates.
Spayed and Neutered Pets
Reproductive conditions can affect pets who are spayed and neutered as well. Vaginitis is a common condition in spayed females, and can be difficult to resolve. At Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital, vaginoscopy and biopsy can be performed to rule out underlying causes for this condition. Paraphimosis is a common condition in neutered males. Consultation with owners on how to properly manage this condition non-invasively and definitive surgical treatment are both offered through the theriogenology service. Vaginal and preputial discharge of any character as well as tumors of the reproductive tract are often found in spayed and neutered animals. Diagnostic tests for these conditions (such as vaginoscopy or preputial scope, biopsy, and ultrasound) are also offered by the theriogenology service.
Symptoms of illness in neonatal animals are often nebulous and subtle, and include failure to gain weight, constant crying, or inactivity. Aggressive supportive care for sick individuals is required, as their small body size and fragile nature makes succumbing to illness a common occurrence. This high level of care, along with diagnostic testing for common diseases found in neonates, is offered at Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital.
What types of patients are seen by the theriogenology service?
- Healthy animals for routine breeding management
- Infertile animals
- Spayed and neutered pets with conditions of the reproductive tract
- Neonatal puppies and kittens with symptoms of illness
Symptoms and conditions that can be referred to the theriogenology service:
- Routine breeding management cases
- Routine semen collection and evaluation
- Semen shipment and freezing
- Elective cesarean section
- Females with a history of failure to conceive, pregnancy loss, or other high-risk pregnancy conditions
- Males with a history of inability to breed or inability to sire litters
- Vaginal or preputial discharge of any character
- Phimosis or paraphimosis
- Neoplasia of the reproductive tract
- Neonates with failure to thrive