Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Some Dog Owners Bank on Artificial Insemination

Pet Column for the week of January 29, 2001

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Carrie Gustavson
Information Specialist

How can a female dog in Florida mate with a male dog in California without leaving home? Call it a long-distance romance if you like, but now the same reproductive technology used to breed many farm animals and some horses is available for dogs. It's called artificial insemination -- or AI -- and using this technique means that sperm can be frozen and shipped to inseminate a female across the country or around the world.

Pioneered to produce animals -- such as dairy and beef cattle -- of top genetic potential for production reasons, AI has also become commonly associated with the horse world. Famous horses have produced many more offspring than would ever be physically or logistically possible without this technology. Not only that, but by banking sperm sought-after lines, stud horses are able to produce offspring long after they are gone.

The same goes for dogs. AKC policy recently changed to allow recognition of dogs produced using AI without having both parents present. "This process cuts out all travel expense and stress on the animal," says Dr. Kent Davis, community practice veterinarian formerly at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. "Semen can potentially be sent from Europe for a match that may not have been possible before. And theoretically a champion stud dog can breed with an unlimited number of females, to produce puppies that carry the champion's genes."

Dr. Davis, in collaboration with the hospital's theriogenology [reproductive medicine] department, was recently certified by the AKC to collect, freeze, and store canine semen. The Veterinary Teaching Hospital had to undergo the AKC's rigorous facility inspection process to be certified as an officially sanctioned collection and storage facility for canine semen. "The collection of semen must be recorded with the AKC, and semen must be sent to them for inspection. Also, each stud dog is identified with a 'genetic fingerprint' to enable us to determine which sperm belongs to which dog, avoid mix-ups, and to keep everything legal and honest," says Dr. Davis.

Clients have come from all around to use the new service, since Dr. Davis is one of the few veterinarians AKC-certified to perform this procedure in the Midwest and the only one in Illinois. But so far most clients have not been breeders interested in champion lines; they have been people who just really like their dog and are taking advantage of the chance to "immortalize" him, making future puppies a possibility long after a favorite dog is gone.

Dr. Davis expects the popularity of AI and semen banking to increase as people learn about its potential. "If a dog is getting older or has cancer and needs chemotherapy treatments that may make him infertile, owners will sometimes bank semen. We can collect and freeze semen for future use," says Dr. Davis.