For dog breeders and breeders-to-be, finding out that a dog you hope to breed is infertile can be a heartbreaking ordeal. Infertility is not very common in male dogs, but it does happen. Most often, however, it is female dogs who are unable to successfully reproduce.
Causes of Infertility in Dogs
In male dogs, infertility is often the result of an injury, illness, or physical problem (such as arthritis) that keeps the dog from successfully mounting or inseminating a mate. In other cases, infertility may be brought on by a hormonal change or it may be due to abnormalities that affect a dog’s ability to ejaculate, the shape of their sperm, or their sperm count. Many dogs experience reduced sperm production in old age.
The causes of infertility in female dogs are highly varied, especially considering the fact that fertilization is a complex process that requires a normal heat cycle, ovulation of normal eggs, a healthy reproductive tract, successful embryo implantation in the uterine lining, normal fetal development, and successful pregnancy maintenance and delivery. If any part of that process is hindered or interrupted, it could result in infertility.
Perhaps surprisingly, the most common cause of infertility in female dogs is improper breeding. For example, if the breeder miscalculates the heat cycle and tries for insemination at the wrong time, it may result in reproductive failure. Because so many female dogs have irregular heat cycles, this is a very common problem.
Outside of timing issues, a female dog may also be infertile due to a medical condition. Common medical conditions that can cause or contribute to infertility include:
- Infections of the vagina or uterus
- Canine herpesvirus
- Tumors within the vaginal canal
- Ovarian abnormalities, such as ovarian cysts or tumors
- Uterine cysts
- Adrenal disorders, such as Cushing’s disease and Addison’s disease
- Genetic disorders
- Anatomical problems, such as congenital (present since birth) narrowing of the vaginal canal
In addition, dogs with psychological issues (such as fear, aggression, or lack of socialization) may be less inclined to mate. And environmental conditions during pregnancy (such as improper hygiene, inadequate nutrition, or stress) may contribute to a female dog’s inability to maintain the pregnancy and deliver live offspring.
The above is just a small snapshot of the causes of infertility in dogs. If you suspect that your dog may be infertile, contact your veterinarian for a thorough evaluation and discussion.
Symptoms of Infertility in Dogs
In male dogs, infertility may enter the conversation if a dog has successfully mated but the litter size is smaller than expected. Additionally, an intact dog that is not interested in mating may point to infertility (usually due to a hormone problem).
In female dogs, you may be looking at infertility if the dog fails to cycle regularly, cycles too often, does not or cannot mate, or does not become pregnant after normal mating.
Diagnosing Infertility in Dogs
Whenever breeding is not successful or is less successful than expected (i.e., a small litter size), both the male and female dog should be evaluated for infertility.
Testing generally involves a thorough examination, testing for underlying medical conditions, hormone level testing, and a discussion of reproductive history (including past litter sizes and past mates). In male dogs, semen will also be collected and evaluated.
In many cases, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of a dog’s infertility.
Treatment for Infertility in Dogs
Treatment for infertility will depend on the underlying cause. If a medical condition is identified, that condition will be treated. Depending on the condition, your veterinarian may recommend that you not try to breed the dog again, as certain conditions -- such as hypothyroidism -- can be genetically inherited.
If infertility seems to be the result of improper breeding management, it will be up to you as a breeder to do your homework, find a suitable mate, and ensure best practices moving forward. Check out the AKC’s article “Getting Started as as Responsible Breeder.”
If for whatever reason you are no longer able to breed your dog, consider having them spayed or neutered. Spaying and neutering has many health and behavioral benefits.
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