Animal welfare campaigners have voiced fears that canine fertility clinics cashing in on the booming puppy trade are offering veterinary procedures that should only be performed by qualified vets.
An investigation by The Ferret found there are at least eight clinics offering services such as artificial insemination, progesterone testing and semen analysis. Fertility packages can cost up to £500 and some clinics offer dogs for stud services including popular breeds such as French bulldogs.
None of the clinics we looked at advertise registered vets on their websites and they did not reply to our requests for comments.
In response to our investigation the British Veterinary Association (BVA) said it was “deeply concerned” that clinics were advertising procedures that should be performed “under the care of a veterinary team” to prevent pets suffering harm. The Scottish Greens said it would ask the Scottish Government to tighten regulations on canine fertility clinics.
There has been a sharp rise in the number of canine fertility clinics in recent years, due to a growing demand for puppies and fashionable dog breeds.
The BMJ – a medical trade journal – said in 2020 there were at least 37 canine fertility clinics in operation in the UK compared to just one in 2015. These clinics are unregulated, however, prompting concerns that lay people may be performing veterinary services that should be conducted by vets to ensure the welfare of dogs are protected.
Breeding services offered by canine fertility clinics in Scotland include progesterone testing, which is a blood test that measures a hormone called progesterone to pinpoint the best day to mate dogs. This involves taking blood from an animal which should be done by a vet, say critics. Artificial insemination is also being offered by clinics.
Some clinics The Ferret looked at offer “mobile services” including Glasgow K9 Fertility Clinic, based in Thornliebank, which advertises artificial insemination and canine cytology, among other services. The clinic did not reply to our requests for a comment. Its website says: “We have a lifelong love of owning dogs and 15 years’ experience as dog breeders.”
K9 Fertility Aberdeen offers a range of fertility services including a “platinum” package costing £499 which includes progesterone testing. It declined to comment for our report. Its website states: “With over fifteen years of personal breeding experience we specialise in canine fertility, health and wellbeing services. We’re here to assist in every aspect of canine reproduction from planning right through to puppies being microchipped to leave for their new homes.”
Another place in Aberdeen called The K9 Clinic offers a mobile service and says on its website: “Our team have been trained to the highest standard and we ensure a safe and hygienic environment for you and your animal. The needs and demands of you and your pet are at the forefront of our priority as well as maintaining professional and lawful practice.” The K9 Clinic did not respond to our requests for a comment.
Several other ‘clinics’ offer fertility services on rudimentary Facebook pages, without saying if vets perform procedures. We also found that there are various websites offering dog breeding courses, with one costing around £1200 for one day of “intense training”.
None of the clinics commented for our report, but an employee of one them spoke to The Ferret on condition of anonymity. They said: “The majority of vets have never analysed semen, frozen semen or done an AI (artificial insemination) and they genuinely wouldn’t know where to start in my experience.
“They have very little interest in canine fertility and it isn’t seen as a priority. So where do these people who may have a lifetime of work invested in their breeding programme go?
“Canine fertility has come a long way in the past ten years, there’s a huge demand for these services as breeders become more and more aware of the huge benefits. We encourage good breeding practices and we try to educate people wherever possible however we cannot police the world on their breed of choice. What the industry needs is regulation.”
Those voicing concern included the British Veterinary Association. Its president, Justine Shotton, said that any “clinical setting offering surgical, and many non-surgical treatments for animals”, should be overseen by a veterinary team, and that pet owners and breeders should always seek advice from a vet about breeding a dog.
She added: “These procedures must always be carried out under the advice and care of a vet in the interests of dog health and welfare, and it is illegal to do so otherwise. As the demand for puppies continues to grow, there has been a huge increase in certain ‘fashionable’ dog breeds, some of which may be unable to mate or give birth naturally. We know of worrying reports that surgical artificial insemination has been performed at some fertility clinics, which is something that is completely banned in the UK on animal welfare grounds.”
Kirsty Jenkins, policy officer at OneKind, said the animal welfare charity was “deeply disturbed” by the increase in canine fertility clinics, arguing that they pose “animal welfare risks”. OneKind suspects that in some cases “lay people” are carrying out procedures that should be “restricted to veterinary professionals”.
Jenkins added: “They (clinics) operate without regulation and frequently without veterinary oversight, and the people involved have varying, and possibly low, levels of skill and knowledge. A large proportion of dogs taken to these clinics are of breeds with known health problems related to breeding for exaggerated features, such as French bulldogs. Indeed, the demand for such clinics is partly due to the popularity of breeds who struggle to reproduce naturally.”
There is also concern that some clinics may be linked to the “puppy trade”, Jenkins added. “They (clinics) are also a symptom of a wider problem – the attitude that dogs are accessories who can be bred according to human whims, regardless of the suffering that causes,” she claimed.
Mark Ruskell MSP, Scottish Greens environment spokesperson, said he was “appalled” by the increase in canine fertility clinics. He added: “This is part of a welfare crisis fuelled by unscrupulous breeders who design in extreme physical characteristics, creating lifelong health problems for generations of dogs. I will be asking the Scottish Government to tighten regulations in this area.”
The UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said medical procedures performed on animals or pets should only be undertaken by authorised veterinary professionals.
Photo Credit: iStock/73nyq6
This story was updated at 14.35 on 24 January 2022 to attribute OneKind’s comment to Kirsty Jenkins, its policy officer.