So I am researching ways to not spend $500 in progesterone testing every time I want to do a chilled breeding. And oh, the interesting things I am finding out!
Right now there are only a couple of ways that are accepted as standard practice – doing LH assays and doing progesterone assays. Typically you start progesterone testing on day 7 or so and you do it every other day or every third day until she ovulates; this often means four or five tests. If a vet adds an LH assay, it's another several test cycles.
However, turns out that there are lots and LOTS of ways that may or may not work but don't get a lot of press because who's doing research on breeding timing? Vet universities. And to them, a progesterone test is the obvious correct answer. They don't have to buy groceries with the $120 they just spent on a blood test.
Here are all the ways I am researching and will probably experiment with when Clue finally decides to come into heat again:
– The rise in luteinizing hormone (LH) that is detected in the blood is ALSO detected in the urine, but the vet researchers immediately dismiss the possibility of doing urine assays because it would require being vigilant and collecting first-morning urine. There is a strong implication that no owner would be crazy enough to be keeping track of their bitch peeing.
But you know who is just that crazy? Show breeders, that's who. I could not only consistently dip morning urine but I'd consider it odd if I couldn't! All it would take is hand-walking the bitch when she comes out of her crate in the morning. Easy peasy.
What I don't know yet: If human LH is the same as canine LH, so human ovulation predictor kits would work.
– The rise in estrogen that culminates in ovulation makes saliva salty. So dried saliva on a slide makes little crystalized patterns if the bitch is fertile. I knew this worked in humans but am very interested to know that it works in dogs.
What I don't know yet: How exact this is. I need something with a less-than-two-day margin of error to ship chilled semen.
– Ovulation and fertility are very reliably predicted by the changes in the vaginal mucosa – the soft tissue inside.
When a bitch goes into heat the mucosa look like soft pink pillows. The LH surge makes those pillows abruptly begin to shrink. Right around the fertile time the pillows are totally gone and the surface of the mucosa is white and wrinkled. Once she's no longer fertile it gets pink-and-white splotches.
What I don't know yet: This sounds like the best method of all, since it's so exact, but you need a way to visualize the mucosa. A vet would use an endoscope, but I don't own one. I am thinking about buying a cheap otoscope and seeing if I can have any success. Clue is VERY tolerant of me doing things like that to her, so she wouldn't mind me poking around.
I was very encouraged by finding these methods – one of the reasons that chilled semen isn't used as a matter of course is that it's SO DANG EXPENSIVE. Now that AKC lets breeders do the insemination themselves, the biggest remaining cost is the progesterone testing. If these cheap methods can allow us to just confirm with progesterone – time one test rather than four – and with the new extenders that keep sperm alive for five to ten days, chilled becomes a much more accessible way of breeding and lets us look further away for stud dogs.