In a world first, scientists have successfully bred a litter of puppies using in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
The litter of seven beagles and cocker spaniels comes from a few different egg donor mothers and a couple of sperm donor fathers.
They are just shy of five months old.
Dr Jennifer Nagashima has adopted one of the puppies.
“His name is Cannon – after the great, late dog reproductive biologist Patrick Cannon – and he is a firecracker,” she said.
For scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and their collaborators at Cornell University, it is a major achievement.
“Scientists have been attempting in vitro fertilisation in the domestic dog for about 40 years,” Dr Nagashima said.
“They have some interesting reproductive quirks.”
A lot of those quirks are to do with the timing of ovulation and egg maturity.
“One of the big aspects too was at what time and place we transferred those embryos that were produced back into a surrogate female,” she said.
Dr Nagashima believes this technique could help save endangered canine species and could also be used to improve the genetic health of dog breeds.
“Beyond their cuteness factor, of course, we are particularly interested in the conservation of wild and endangered Canids,” she said.
“So in vitro fertilisation is a very important tool that we can use for those endangered species to propagate individuals, particularly when you have very small populations.”
There are five species of endangered or critically endangered Canids, including the red wolf in the United States, the African wild dog, and the Ethiopian wolf.
Sylvia Power from Dogs Victoria has been breeding labradors for 40 years.
She said at this stage it would be too technical and expensive to use IVF in dog breeding.
“We are still at the stage of actually making puppies the normal way, although we do use frozen semen technology a fair bit,” she said.
“But we believe it’s important that the dogs remain or still prove that they can mate and reproduce naturally.”
Dr Alex Travis from Cornell University said the technology may one day help weed out genetic disease in dogs.
“It opens up the possibility that we could identify certain genes that cause disease and then fix those, and replace them with a good copy of the gene before those dogs are even born,” Dr Travis said.
“So instead of trying to cure disease, we can help prevent it from happening in the first place.”
He said the new IVF technology would make it easier to study hundreds of genetic diseases and traits that dogs have in common with humans.