Greyhounds in Australia continue to be impregnated through a procedure that is illegal in other countries after a provision banning it was recently overturned in a draft law from the New South Wales government.
This procedure, known as “surgical artificial insemination”, is unnecessary and unethical as it is highly invasive and often painful for dogs.
An estimated 80% of greyhound breeding in the state involves surgical artificial insemination. The practice is legal throughout Australia.
The procedure is used not only in racing greyhounds, but also in flat-faced breeds such as the French bulldog. These dogs are physically challenged, with respiratory problems putting them at a higher risk of undergoing anesthesia.
I am a veterinarian with over 30 years of experience, with a particular interest in animal welfare and ethics in animal ownership and veterinary practice. I believe that this procedure is an animal welfare issue and should not be continued, especially when safer alternatives are available.
What is Surgical Artificial Insemination?
Surgical artificial insemination involves stunning a female dog at the time of ovulation and incising her abdomen. The surgeon locates her uterus to inject sperm before moving the uterus back to the abdomen.
It should not be confused with ‘artificial insemination’, a safer procedure used all over the world, including in humans. In most cases, it involves the relatively benign deposition of sperm in the uterus through the vagina and cervix (called “transcervical insemination”).
The proposal to ban surgical artificial insemination was included in an early draft of the Animal Welfare Bill 2022, after two rounds of public consultation.
Violent opposition to the ban ensued, including from the NSW greyhound racing industry. The NSW government confirmed to The Conversation that the provision will not be included in the final version of the Animal Welfare Act after further feedback.
It pointed to another law that already regulates artificial insemination of racing greyhounds. This requires that surgical artificial insemination can only be performed by a veterinarian with general anaesthetic, with appropriate pain relief during and after surgery.
But this is only a minimal concession, as major animal procedures are performed by veterinarians as regulated by the National Veterinary Councils.
Many vets are against it
Surgical artificial insemination has been under scrutiny in Europe for more than a decade. The ethical issues stem from the dogs undergoing highly invasive surgery to ensure pregnancy, which poses an unacceptable risk to dogs.
A 2008 UK article suggested using an ethical matrix to assess reproductive intervention in dogs. An ethical matrix is a tool that integrates values of people of different opinions to make an important decision.
More recently, a European survey of 83 veterinarians in 2022 found that 80% working in assisted reproduction in dogs felt significant ethical conflict regarding the practices requested by some breeders. More than 62% indicated that surgical insemination is not ethical.
The United Kingdom banned the procedure in 2019, as did Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.
For greyhounds in particular, there are additional risks of the surgery. Greyhounds are often slightly more at risk from general anesthesia than most other dog breeds because the sedating effects last longer.
They are also at greater risk of blood clotting failure if there is minor surgical bleeding associated with the procedure. This is due to a breed-related tendency to break down clots in the body quickly.
A safer, effective alternative
One of the reasons why surgical artificial insemination is so widely used is because it would lead to multiple large litters. But there are alternative methods that are much safer for greyhounds and produce good if not better results.
In particular, many veterinary reproduction specialists advocate transcervical insemination as the most effective way to inseminate a greyhound. This method of insemination is widely used worldwide and takes place through a vaginal and cervical catheter.
It can be done in minutes while the dog is fully conscious, avoiding the risks associated with general anesthesia and open abdominal surgery.
A letter from veterinary reproductive specialists to the Australian Veterinary Journal last year stated that surgical artificial insemination should stop in Australia, with transcervical insemination instead.
As they write, it is important for veterinarians to “protect the deserved privilege of being the guardians of animal health and welfare.”
Numerous reports have shown that transcervical insemination is as productive as surgical artificial insemination, especially when using frozen-thawed sperm.
Notably, a nine-year study from New Zealand on 1,146 dogs objectively concluded that there is “no difference in farrowing rate” after transcervical insemination or surgical artificial insemination. Another 2018 scientific paper also confirmed that the risk to the dog is much lower.
If surgical artificial insemination is used despite the evidence, welfare and ethical views that make it redundant, Australia’s standard of animal welfare will remain disastrously and embarrassingly low.
Lion cub Simba born in Singapore via artificial insemination
Provided by The Conversation
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