I have written this article partly in frustration, and also in the hope that it will help anyone thinking of mating their bitch, maybe for the first time to keep a puppy themselves, or their family, or even someone who may have had a litter already and is being told that artificial insemination is the way forward when breeding.

Firstly, in my experience, and there is no data to prove otherwise, Artificial Insemination is not a guaranteed method of mating a bitch. I have had more phone calls and discussions with people than I can count who have spent, in some cases, literally thousands of pounds in stud fees and had artificial insemination, sometimes without the benefit of a reliable progesterone test (note bloods MUST be taken by a vet and NOT a fertility clinic), and have been told the bitch will definitely get pregnant. Some breeders are being told, and I have seen evidence of this on some fertility clinics websites, that artificial insemination is the safest method, and bitches mated with AI as opposed to a natural mating, are not at risk from catching canine herpes.

It is worth pointing out at this stage that anyone can write anything and publish it on the internet, it may not always be factual, and you should always do your own research. I have found that quite often the clinics promoting AI, as opposed to a natural mating, are not experienced in stud work, and AI is an easy method for them, but not always carried out in the best interest of the bitch.

As an example, I had a call from someone who was having problems getting her bitch mated, had not had a progesterone test, and been told the only way was to have AI (Artificial Insemination). No one had thought to check for a stricture and when I mentioned it they had not heard of the problem. If you notice that when the male attempts to enter the bitch his penis bends as though it has hit a brick wall, this will often indicate a tough hymen or vaginal stricture. An experienced breeder will be able to identify a problem with an internal examination. Alternatively you should seek advice from your vet to ensure the bitch does not have a vaginal deformity which may prevent breeding. Another lady several months ago was told that no one did natural matings anymore, and after paying out £750 for a stud fee, no progesterone test to check ovulation was carried out, and the breeder told her she always mated bitches on day 10 and 12 of their season. She was naturally very disappointed when I told her that her bitch was not pregnant. On speaking to the stud dog owner they explained that none of her dogs ever mated a bitch naturally as they didn't know how to.

Turning to Canine Herpes, often known as CHV and more commonly known as fading puppy syndrome, can be a devastating disease. Dogs typically become exposed by nose to nose contact with an infected dog or through the air in crowded areas. There is zero evidence to suggest that having a natural mating will increase the chances of catching herpes, or having AI is safer.

Dogs at highest risk for the virus are young females who’ve never been exposed and their newborn puppies. Puppies can be infected in utero, through exposure to infected secretions of the dam, or through postnatal exposure to infected older members of the household dogs.

Infection in puppies less than 2 to 3 weeks of age is usually fatal. Signs include trouble breathing, discharge from the nose, not nursing, persistent crying and hemorrhage (red spots) on the gums. The time from when the puppy is initially infected until it shows symptoms is four to six days, and the onset is sudden. After clinical signs arise, death usually occurs in 24 to 36 hours. Some puppies with mild signs may survive but can later develop serious neurological issues, such as trouble walking and blindness. Unfortunately, treatment in severely infected puppies is not rewarding, as there is almost a 100% mortality rate, but there has been some success . There is no cure for herpes virus. Treatment is limited to supportive care and symptomatic management. In adults the symptoms are usually self-limiting, but in affected puppies the prognosis is guarded to poor, even with treatment. In puppies who have been exposed but have not begun to show clinical signs, some vets may recommend keeping those puppies in a warm, humidified environment.The best medicine for this virus is prevention. Since the virus is spread primarily by air and direct contact with nasal secretions, sanitation is an important part of prevention. Good hand hygiene should be used by anyone handling the mother and her puppies. Crowded conditions should be avoided. Keep the dam’s and puppies’ area clean and disinfected. Common disinfectants are effective in destroying the herpes virus.

The good news is that there is a vaccine available in the UK for CHV which is given to bitches twice during gestation, not all vets follow the same protocol when giving the CHV vaccine, but it is generally around 10 days after mating and 10 days before whelping date. Puppies nursing from bitches that have previously been exposed to the virus are resistant to infection as they receive antibodies from colostrum. After a bitch has lost a litter due to herpes virus, she can be expected to have normal subsequent litters.

More on Progesterone testing HERE

Some first time breeders are also being told that when a bitch is mated using AI, the gestation period is less, and you can also confirm pregnancy earlier at around 24 days. The fetus don't mature any earlier, just because the bitch was inseminated using AI.

Do your homework, don't just believe what you told, or what you may read on one website, speak to a knowledgeable reproduction specialist vet.




Progesterone is the most important hormone in female dog reproduction. It is easy to test for and can be used to look at ovulation, parturition and other cyclical abnormalities.

The progesterone test can be done every 2-3 days starting about 5 days into the season from when you first see blood. T
iming of the test can be more certain if the lengths of the dog'sprevious heat cycles are known.

To determine the days of mating two factors have to be considered: ovulation and maturation. Bitches will ovulate at around 6 ng/ml (18 nmol/l). After ovulation the oocytes have to mature for a further 2 days before they can be fertilised. Once mature they will be viable for another 2 days. Spermatozoa will take 6-12 hours to capacitate and reach the oviduct.

Possible testing regime:

 Plasma progesterone levels of <1 ng/ml (3 nmol/l): retest in 4 days

 Plasma progesterone levels of <2 ng/ml (6 nmol/l): retest in 3 days

 Plasma progesterone levels of >2 ng/ml (6 nmol/l): retest in 2 days

 Plasma progesterone levels of >25 ng/mol (75 nmol/l) usually indicate the end of the fertile period

Possible mating regime:

 Fertilisation period: ovulation +1 day until +4 days

 Two matings: ovulation +1 day and +3 days or ovulation +2 days and +4 days

 One mating: ovulation +2 days or ovulation +3 days

The beginning progesterone levels are typically less than 1.0 ng/ml until the day before the LH surge.

Progesterone Testing Order link

Telephone:  0203 7887508




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