A case for using older stud dogs and improving semen quality.
Using an older stud dog wouldn't typically be the most desired thing to do because semen quality isn't generally at its best. The proportion of normal sperm is higher in young dogs than in older ones(1) and logically this is why breeders look to younger dogs to do the job.
Older dogs have a higher proportion of midpiece defects, being afflicted by this defect means these guys don't swim as well or as efficiently so it's probably safe to say that they're not going to win the race. Unfortunately, these defective sperm can contribute to an increased risk of birth defects and issues with fetal health(2).
What happens if an older dog has proven itself in terms of temperament, health, breed type etc. and would technically be the better dog to use? This is the situation some breeders find themselves in, so shortly we're going to chat about how we can boost the boys and increase "normal" sperm. Let's continue... Researching the use of older stud dogs is a bit of a rabbit hole but let me invite you down a pretty cool one...The length of Telomere's and how an older stud dog can positively influence the longevity (life span) of their offspring. What is a Telomere you're probably thinking?
"Telomere (tel-uh-meer) are an essential part of our cells that affect how our cells age. Telomeres are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces. Without the coating, shoelaces become frayed until they can no longer do their job, just as without telomeres, DNA strands become damaged and our cells can’t do their job."(3) "Shorter telomeres have been associated with increased incidence of diseases and poor survival. The rate of telomere shortening can be either increased or decreased by specific lifestyle factors. Better choice of diet and activities has great potential to reduce the rate of telomere shortening or at least prevent excessive telomere attrition, leading to delayed onset of age-associated diseases and increased lifespan."(4) - The short of it means lifestyle helps you live longer, but you knew that right? :)
Ok, so what does this have to do with breeding older stud dogs? "Telomere length is largely inherited from parents. Because telomere length increases with age in sperm, and in both humans and other species, offspring conceived by older fathers have longer telomeres than those conceived by younger fathers. Breeding practices in dogs (specifically the age of the stud males used) may be used to affect the breed life span. For example, in humans, the average telomere length in children is 22 bp longer for each year older their father was at conception; therefore, telomeres in children conceived by 50-year-old fathers are ∼660 bp longer than those in children conceived by 20-year-old fathers. If this relationship holds true in dogs, as suggested by their similar telomere biology, it may be possible to increase the average healthy life span significantly, particularly in shorter-lived breeds, over a small number of generations, given the observed heritability of telomere length."(3)
Wow right!!! How cool is that!
Some of our breeds including my own being the Great Dane has such a heartbreakingly short life and it is likely we can increase this by simply using older stud dogs. But just imagine the life spans we could get on the average life spanned breed!
So, as well as using older dogs in breeding programs, using older HEALTHY dogs is also important because we don't want their lifestyle factors to have excessively shortened their telomeres that they're going to pass on. Many dog owners believe their dogs are healthy simply because the dog is alive, seemingly happy, has a wet nose and goes for a walk without an issue - as we know with our own health, there are far more factors than these that dictate a thriving being vs simply surviving. Let's explore some of the lifestyle factors that can shorten telomeres(4):
Smoking - this means exposing your dog to your or other peoples second hand smoke to
Exposure to pollution
Lack of dietary intake of fiber
Lack of dietary intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially linoleic acid. Foods high in linoleic acid include the likes of vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, meats, and eggs.
Lack of antioxidant omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Foods rich in omega-3 include the likes of oily fish, nuts, seeds and some oils.
Lack of healthy fats. Foods rich in healthy fats include the above mentioned but also the likes of Avocado.
Lack of antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene in the diet
Lack of exercise
What is super interesting, is that so many of the lifestyle factors that can improve telomere length can also improve semen quality including semen defects - Let's kill 2 birds with 1 stone so to speak!
A 2018 study(5) set out to evaluate an association between dietary patterns (western vs healthy) and the risk of abnormal semen quality parameters in men - they concluded that the western diet i.e. not healthy may increase the risk of abnormal semen parameters.
It's not really that surprising though right? That old saying being "you are what you eat" and if you eat an unhealthy western junk food diet, your semen could very well be junk...is your dogs semen junk?
The problem we have in the canine community is that decades of conditioning by kibble manufacturers have lead the average dog caregiver to believe that kibble is healthy and has everything their dog needs yet you could very well compare it to the unhealthy western diet given its level of processing. It is so highly processed that the nutrients are degraded to a point that a vitamin and mineral mix has to be added in to account for the nutrient losses. These mixes are largely synthetic and the body just doesn't understand these in the same way they understand nutrients from whole foods. Another fact that dog caregivers do not understand about kibble is that they by large meet the MINIMUM nutrient guidelines set out by AAFCO - MINIMUM not OPTIMAL.
Kibble based diets are often low in anti-oxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and can be affected by rancid fats because as soon as you open the bag, the air, heat and light start to oxidize the fats - eating rancid fats are far from healthy.
A 2016 study(6) reviewed the effects of oral anti-oxidant supplements on improving major semen parameters such as sperm concentration, motility, morphology, DNA damage, and fertility rate. It's not surprising that they found that antioxidant supplements, especially a combination of anti-oxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and CoQ10 intake can effectively improve semen parameters in infertile men. So, what if you could provide these in abundant amounts in your dogs diet without having to add them in supplement form? This is what we would refer to as a healthy fresh food diet.
Lipid peroxidation (LP) LP is the oxidative degradation of lipids (fats). It is the process in which free radicals "steal" electrons from the lipids in cell membranes, resulting in cell damage. LP can lead to loss of membrane fluidity and integrity, as a result of this, it reduces sperm-oocyte fusion (sperm and egg come together). Several studies have shown that lipid peroxidation impacts the sperm concentration, motility, morphology and associated with poor sperm quality, but guess what can help Lipid peroxidation? Omega-3 fatty acids! A 2017 study(7) found that supplementation with fish oil alone or together with vitamin E decreased LP. Then in a 2018 study(8), a meta-analysis indicated that supplementing infertile men with omega-3 fatty acids resulted in a significant improvement in sperm motility and concentration of DHA in seminal plasma. So, I think it's pretty clear that omega-3 are good for healthy sperm! Now, remember, in a fresh food diet, omega-3 largely comes from feeding foods rich in it vs relying on fish oil supplements that could be affected by heavy metals and may already be rancid by the time you feed them to your dog.
Zinc therapy improves sperm quality with increases in sperm density, progressive motility and improved conception and pregnancy outcome. Zinc plays an important role in membrane-stabilizing and antioxidant activity and maintains sperm viability by inhibiting DNases.
Adequate Zinc content of seminal plasma is needed for men’s health, germination, normal sperm function and fertilization. In contrast, highly toxic content of Zinc may have negative effect on sperm quality. Although it certainly cannot be said that seminal Zinc deficiency causes infertility, many studies prove that the association of the seminal plasma Zinc concentration with physiological and pathogenesis roles of sperm and its quality parameters indicates that Zinc deficiency is a menace for sperm dysfunction and male fertility.(11) (12) Zinc is a plentiful microelement in the body and it is found in nuts, legumes, seafood (e.g. Oysters), cremini mushrooms (common brown mushrooms), low-fat yogurt and animal proteins, such as meat, fish and milk.
It is incredibly easy to get lost down rabbit holes on this topic, so I'm just going to chuck one more thing at you to consider for your stud dog and that is the use of anti-oxidants; L-Carnitine, L-Acetyl-carnitine. A 2012 study(9) found that both of these compounds used together can lead to improved both sperm motility and chromatin quality by affecting sperm maturation and fighting oxidation which can influence in sperm motility. A 2006 study(10) using 500mg of L-carnitine daily with adult Boars found that over a period of 5 weeks it reduced sperm abnormalities, early results were seen just after 1 week of supplementation. Another study went for 16 weeks and found improvements over that time also. Some Vets may recommend a supplementation of Carnitine without changing any other lifestyle factors and what you have learned so far is that lifestyle factors should be reviewed and amended for best results, whilst it might work on it's own short-term, it's not a long term solution for healthy semen or telomere length.
Foods that provide carnitine are mainly animal products, dairy, poultry, and meat. Red meat has one of the highest concentrations - a fresh food diet with fresh meat is an excellent addition to a stud dogs diet. Carnitine can however be supplemented and you can speak to your Vet about appropriate dosage amounts.
Let's look at some real life scenario's
Meet Puddin, gosh isn't he handsome, every time I Iook (or gaze lovingly) at him I feel like someone needs to follow him around with a fan and a room temperature glass of water. Puds is 10.5 years old and this week, he had his semen collected, there's that nervousness when you collect an older dog for all the reasons mentioned earlier but his human mum was pretty confident he was going to rock this - the collectors certainly didn't anticipate the results that Puds proudly displayed with 80% motility. Puds' excellent results can probably largely be attributed to his diet, he was raised on a balanced D.I.Y fresh food diet, he receives a variety of different fresh foods on rotation, plenty of healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids from from both fresh food and a supplement called Antinol as well as a good amount of fibre.
Photo does not represent the actual dog used in the below case study.
Kibble to Fresh Food
Our next real life scenario is an 8 year old Bulldog. When the dogs caregiver tried to have him collected previously when he was fed a kibble diet, there were problems with his semen due to high morphology (the shape of your sperm) rate. The semen was not able to be frozen due to a problem with proximal droplets that explode when frozen semen is thawed out. In addition, in the past, the dog was supplemented with Carnitine on the Vet's instructions for 3 months, they were able to get a frozen collection which produced pups. They went back again to get him frozen without that supplementation and it was no good.
His recent collection just a couple of weeks ago had 90% motility and the collector was
really surprised at how good it was and said it was now able to be frozen.
What's the difference between the first collection and this one? The dog is now on a fresh food diet, consuming lot's of healthy fats and is also consuming a supplement called Antinol - yes, you've read that name before with the previous dog we just spoke about - it is a kick ass broad spectrum Omega-3 supplement. Antinol is a joint supplement but is also used as a joint preventative and some people simply use it as an omega-3. It is low in purines so safe for Dalmatians, heavy metals safe and you don't need to worry about oxidation. We know that omega-3 is fantastic for sperm health so if you're in a country that you can get your hands on it i.e. Australia/NZ, I would highly recommend it. If you would like an online supplier with free shipping, shoot us a message.
The dog is also not attending dog shows anymore and the dogs caregiver believes that the reduction of this stress in his life due to not going also is a contributing factor which we would totally be on board with.
Feeding a Balanced Fresh Food Diet for Sperm Health
This graphic represents just one of the many formats of fresh food feeding options for people who would like to D.I.Y.
There are also many other options such as buying it premade, using a base mix and balancing supplements as well as buying in bulk. Fresh food feeding contrary to kibble manufacturers and the vets educated by them, it isn't dangerous, isn't a trend and isn't not practical. A fresh food diet is the diet Mother Nature intended for them not a highly processed diet with synthetic nutrients.
You can also simply dip your toes in the fresh food world by reducing your dogs kibble and replacing it with fresh food, this is called Hybrid feeding.
We invite you to join us at our fresh food feeding group to learn how to feed your stud dog a healthy balanced fresh food diet to improve semen quality.
(1) Tesi M, Sabatini C, Vannozzi I, Di Petta G, Panzani D, Camillo F, Rota A. Variables affecting semen quality and its relation to fertility in the dog: A retrospective study. Theriogenology. 2018 Sep 15;118:34-39. doi: 10.1016/j.theriogenology.2018.05.018. Epub 2018 May 17. PMID: 29883842.
(2) Larrylipshultz.com. 2020. Abnormal Sperm Shape And Infertility - Houston, TX. [online] Available at: <https://www.larrylipshultz.com/blog/2015/12/24/how-abnormal-sperm-shape-affects-165959> [Accessed 21 November 2020].
(3) Fick, L., Fick, G., Li, Z., Cao, E., Bao, B., Heffelfinger, D., Parker, H., Ostrander, E. and Riabowol, K., 2012. Telomere Length Correlates with Life Span of Dog Breeds. Cell Reports, 2(6), pp.1530-1536.
(4) Shammas M. A. (2011). Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 14(1), 28–34. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCO.0b013e32834121b1
(5) Danielewicz, A., Przybyłowicz, K. E., & Przybyłowicz, M. (2018). Dietary Patterns and Poor Semen Quality Risk in Men: A Cross-Sectional Study. Nutrients, 10(9), 1162. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10091162
(6) Ahmadi, Sedigheh et al. “Antioxidant supplements and semen parameters: An evidence based review.” International journal of reproductive biomedicine vol. 14,12 (2016): 729-736. (7) Risso, A. L., Pellegrino, F. J., Corrada, Y., Marmunti, M., Gavazza, M., Palacios, A., & Relling, A. E. (2017). Effect of fish oil and vitamin E on sperm lipid peroxidation in dogs. Journal of nutritional science, 6, e48. https://doi.org/10.1017/jns.2017.29 (8) Hosseini, B., Nourmohamadi, M., Hajipour, S., Taghizadeh, M., Asemi, Z., Keshavarz, S. and Jafarnejad, S., 2018. The Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, EPA, and/or DHA on Male Infertility: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Journal of Dietary Supplements, 16(2), pp.245-256. (9) Aliabadi, Elham et al. “Effects of L-carnitine and L-acetyl-carnitine on testicular sperm motility and chromatin quality.” Iranian journal of reproductive medicine vol. 10,2 (2012): 77-82. (10) Jacyno, E., Kołodziej, A., Kamyczek, M., Kawęcka, M., Dziadek, K. and Pietruszka, A., 2007. Effect of L-Carnitine Supplementation on Boar Semen Quality. Acta Veterinaria Brno, 76(4), pp.595-600.
(11) Omu A, Al-Azemi MK, Kehinde EO, Anim JT, Oriowo MA, Mathew TC. Indications of the mechanisms involved in improved sperm parameters by zinc therapy. Med Princ Pract. 2008;17(2):108–16.
(12) Henkel R, Bittner J, Weber R, Hüther F, Miska W. Relevance of zinc in human sperm flagella and its relation to motility. Fertil Steril. 1999;71(6):1138–43.