Wondering at what age female dogs can breed is a very good question, considering that, just like humans, dogs also have a prime time dedicated for reproduction.
Too many breeders start too early breeding their female dogs, and some breed them too late, when their dogs should instead retire and be spayed so to prevent future heat cycles once and for all.
Both of these practices though can lead to significant problems and even life threatening ones at times. It's therefore very important determining what's the best age to breed females dogs so to avoid complications and up the chances for success.
Breeding Dogs Too Early
Female dogs tend to go into to heat the first time generally around the ages of 6 months to 1 year or more.
The age at which female dogs reach puberty though depends to a large extent on their breed.
In some giant dog breeds, the first heat cycle may not appear until they are 18 to 24 months of age.
The age when a dog goes first into heat may therefore vary, with most small dog breeds going early, and larger breeds going into heat later.
Regardless of the age of first heat, it's important to note that going into heat doesn't mean a dog is ready to have puppies.
Just like a child who got her first period at 12 years old isn't ready to have a baby, a 6-month old dog may not be ready to raise a litter of puppies!
It would therefore be best to wait the second or even more, preferably third heat because, by this age, every single body part that's needed to bear a puppy has reached its level of perfectness.
By their third heat, most female dogs are two to two and a half years old, and therefore, had enough time to mature and develop.
If bred too early there is a chance that the female's own growth would be compromised for the purpose of sustaining the pregnancy.
Also, within this time frame, breeders have had a chance to have their female dogs health tested for inherited medical conditions (hip dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy, deafness etc) that are prevalent in the breed.
It's important to also consider the dog's mind. Just because a dog's body is ready for pregnancy, doesn't mean her mind is too. Breeding a dog too early may sometimes result in dog with little experience regarding caring for the newborn pups.
This means young dogs may require more assistance cleaning up the puppies and may need coaxing to allow the puppies to nurse. A female dog that is too immature to raise her puppies may translate in a lot of bottle feeding, remarks veterinarian Dr. Gabby.
So while there are many dogs who were bred young and were able to successfully raise a litter of healthy pups, it's important to be ready in advance to face the problems that may occur if your dog accidentally happened to get pregnant on her first heat!
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Breeding Dogs Too Late
Do not start too old to breed your female dog. If you want to breed your dog, you should not be too late in deciding the best age to breed dogs.
Once your dog reaches 5 or 6 years, she may be already too old. Many experts agree that breeders should stop breeding their female dogs as soon as they reach age 7. For sake of comparison, it's like expecting your grandmother to have another kid!
As female dogs age, their fertility also declines, lowering their chances for getting pregnant.
The risks for complications also tend to be higher in female dogs who have never been pregnant before. In dogs who have never whelped before, birthing becomes more difficult and older dogs have a less healthy uterine lining (every heat cycle damages the uterine wall) which translates into fewer pups and less space for development.
Older dogs may also be more prone to having certain medical disorders. Health problems such as heart, liver, or kidney disease may have a negative impact on the dog's ability to give birth to a healthy litter.
It would be therefore important screening an older dog prior to breeding to check on the individual dog's overall health status.
On top of this, the cartilage in dog's pelvic area that is meant to expand (in order to allow a litter of puppies through the pelvic girdle) risks calcifying making it difficult for the pups to come through which may lead to a potential cesarean section.
Other possible complications in breeding an older dog include risks for a miscarriage, uterine infections, problems in producing milk, and even fatal complications.
And for those folks wondering, female dogs do not go into menopause like humans do, it's therefore ultimately the breeder's responsibility deciding when to stop breeding dogs and retiring them.
At What Age Can Female Dogs Breed?
So at what age can female dogs breed? While female dogs can technically breed as early as their first heat cycle, they might not be ready both physically and behaviorally to have a litter of puppies at that stage.
On top of this, female dogs at their first heat haven't finished fully developing and many health issues rear their ugly head later on.
The best age to breed a dog is therefore generally anywhere from 2 to 5 years of age. By this time, female dogs have mostly finished developing and their owners should have had the opportunity to health test them to rule out any conformation issues or hereditary conditions.
Health testing is important as this helps ensure healthy puppies. Responsible dog breeders health test their dogs to prevent passing down certain hereditary traits from one generation and another.
Different dogs breeds tend to have different health problems and these may develop later on. For instance, testing for hip dysplasia, which is a common orthopedic problem in many breeds, generally is done once a dog is 24 months.
As seen, it's important if you are planning on breeding your female dog that you do so at the right age. Too early or too late may lead to problems.
Did you know? The American Kennel Club will not recognize a litter if it's produced by a female dog that is under 8 months or over 12 years old. Exceptions may be made though if special documentation is provided.