Optimizing Semen Quality in the Dog
by Linda Montgomery DVM, PhD
Semen quality is a constant concern for dog owners. Your dog may have achieved show or performance goals, at which time it is appropriate to collect and freeze his semen for future litters of champions. Unfortunately many factors can adversely affect semen quality in the dog, including age, infections, diet, medications, environmental factors, and unrelated health conditions.
Most dogs experience a decline in sperm production with age. We many times get a 10 or 12 year old dog whose owner wants to have collected and frozen. Sometimes they still have sufficient numbers of sperm for this purpose, and sometimes they do not. What we recommend to dog owners is to collect and freeze their dogs when they are young. Although this is an extra inconvenience and expense, it ensures that your dog’s legacy will be preserved.
In addition to age, subclinical infections of the reproductive tract can adversely affect sperm production. You may not know your dog has an infection, but when we see bacteria and debris during a semen evaluation we recommend having a culture performed. Even such low grade infections can adversely affect sperm production and necessitate treatment.
Dietary factors can adversely affect the reproductive health of both bitches and dogs. Any diet that is pro-inflammatory can adversely affect sperm production and health. This can include dry kibble (vs a raw diet) or allergens (such as corn). Even supposedly healthy ingredients such as flax seed and peas can adversely affect sperm production, as both of those ingredients either contain or are converted to estrogens in the canine body. Watch the ingredients in your dog food and supplements to ensure that no pro-inflammatory ingredients, allergens, or phytoestrogen compounds are present.
Several commonly used medications affect sperm production. Flagyl (metronidazole), which is commonly used for giardia and diarrhea, and ketoconazole, which is commonly used for yeast skin infections, are directly toxic to sperm. Steroidal and chemotherapeutic medications also adversely affect sperm production and their use should be minimized in breeding animals. Be sure to let your veterinarian know that your dog is used for breeding when you take him in for any reason.
Excessive heat and cold can also affect sperm production. Sperm production requires a particular temperature, and under normal circumstances dogs have some control over temperature by changing how close the testicles lie to the body. However excessive heat or cold can significantly impact sperm numbers and quality.
Lastly, since the reproductive system is so sensitive, other health conditions can have an adverse effect on sperm production and health. Sometimes the first indication that a dog has a systemic health condition is a decline in sperm numbers or an increase in defects. If no reason for poor sperm quality is seen during semen analysis and culture, a thorough physical exam with bloodwork is recommended to rule out systemic conditions.