Vet uses fertility technology to help animals conceive

June 21, 2011 7:56:26 PM PDT
The Bay Area has one of the highest concentrations of fertility clinics in the country. But now, some of the techniques used to help humans conceive are also available to another group -- pet owners.

When Julie Bartow decided to breed her cavalier King Charles spaniel Bridget, she did not leave it to Mother Nature. She had the sperm flown in and turned to technology to up the odds.

"We're just very fortunate that we have these options," Bartow said.

And those options include technologies you might expect to find in a human fertility clinic.

Veterinarian Jane Johnson performed the artificial insemination at the Adobe Animal Hospital in Los Altos.

"We have scopes where we can use a catheter to introduce the sperm right into the uterus or surgically we can actually open the female up open the uterus and inject the sperm into the uterus," Johnson said.

Johnson says in cases where the sperm appears weak, centrifuges are used to increase the concentration.

Fertility drugs can help regulate a female dog's cycle and even promote ovulation in older dogs whose biological clocks have slowed. And progesterone tests can pinpoint the optimal time for insemination.

"All those things to try to maximize your chances of getting your dog pregnant," Johnson said.

Johnson admits the advanced technology also introducing ethical concerns, such as passing along congenital health problems in a dog that cannot conceive or forcing a pregnancy on an older animal.

"There is a point where we say no, or strongly discourage it," Johnson said. "I'd also tell you breeding is not completely safe, so I'd tell you a chance that during pregnancy the dog could get sick or die. So not something to do lightly."

And with animal shelters bursting with adoptable dogs, some question the need to breed at all.

Still, breeders like Bartow point out that the technology is helping them create lines of healthy dogs that are often raised for show or for their specific attributes, such as the smaller cavalier spaniels.

"They're a loving companion dog, very versatile, able to go anywhere with you," Bartow said.

The cost of treatment ranges from a few hundred dollars for a typical insemination, to up $1,000 for surgical fertility procedures.

Written and produced by Tim Didion


Load Comments