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Ask the Vet: How Many Litters Can a Dog Have?

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How Many Litters Can a Dog Have?

How many litters can a dog have is something many dog owners and breeders may wonder about. Here's a fact: the popularity of spaying and neutering is on the rise. Animal advocates promote these procedures while accenting the overpopulation problem. In spite of the efforts of animal advocates and animal welfare organizations, each year thousands of strays are euthanized due to lack of homes. Therefore the importance of responsible breeding has never been bigger. Being a responsible breeder therefore means knowing when to start and when to stop breeding. It also means finding good homes for all the babies.

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So How Many Litters Can a Dog Have?

Theoretically speaking, female dogs can have up to 3 litters in a year. Assuming that the average litter size is 7 puppies, one female dog and her babies can have as many as 67.000 new puppies in just 6 years. On the other hand, theoretically speaking, males can sire a limitless number of litters.

However, just because a dog can physiologically mate, does not mean it should. To maintain normal genetic diversity and prevent the offspring from being bred to each other, stud dogs should not be mated with more than 2 to 3 female dogs per year.

For the same reasons, females should not be bred after producing 4 litters or after reaching the age of 8. It is also advisable to practice a resting period between two litters rather than breeding back-to-back. The duration of the resting periods varies between breeds but it is usually between 18 months and 2 years.

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Did you know? Sadly, most countries do not have a legal limit on the number of litters. The only two countries with legal limits are the United Kingdom and Holland. In the United Kingdom a female dog cannot have more than 4 litters during her lifetime. The United Kingdom’s Kennel Club must not register more than 1 litter per dam per year. In Holland, a female dog cannot have more than 5 litters during her lifetime. Once again, having more than one litter per year is forbidden. Other countries or better said their kennel clubs do not have a legal limit, but they do have an ethical limit.

When to Stop Breeding Your Dog

When deciding on whether to have your female dog retired from breeding you need to take into consideration several important factors.

  • The Dog's Age

Usually, when registering a litter, kennel clubs require the mother to be younger than 8 years of age. Additionally, most vets recommend retiring your dog when around 8 years old. Today, there is a stricter standard suggesting retirement at the age of 5. If you are not sure which standard to follow, talk to your vet.

Just because males are capable of mating all the time it does not mean they should have countless number of litters. Stud dogs produce viable sperm throughout their entire lives, but its quality tends to decline with age. Therefore, when the right time comes, stud dogs should be retired from breeding.

First of all, stud dogs should not be bred until reaching full sexual maturity. The exact time of reaching sexual maturity depends on the breed (12 to 15 months for toy breeds and 18 months to 2 years for giant breeds). The time of retirement also depends on some of the above stated factors (age, breed, presence of inheritable conditions, overall health status and breed standards).

If you plan on using your male dog for mating past its retirement time, have his semen regularly tested. Another option is to have its semen frozen and used when needed.

  • The Dog's Breed

Due to physiological issues that may cause pregnancy complications, retirement time is different for different dog breeds. For example toy breeds (like the Chihuahua) and giant breeds (like the Great Dane) should be retired at around 5 years of age. On the flip side, medium-sized dogs can be bred for longer (up to 8 years of age). Once again, this factor should be evaluated with a vet.

  • Number of Litters

Veterinarians suggest retiring bitches after 4 litters, while kennel clubs stop registering litters after 4 to 6 litters. This is because the genetic diversity of the breed decreases as the number of pregnancies increases.

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  • Presence of Inheritable Conditions

If either the mother or her babies demonstrate signs of an inherited condition (blindness, heart problems, hip dysplasia, thyroid disease) it is time to stop breeding.

  • Overall Health Status

If a dog’s overall health and well-being are compromised it is time for retirement. Plus, dogs with conditions that can be aggravated by pregnancy should not be bred. Common health issues that prevent a dog from breeding include diabetes, hip dysplasia and reproductive problems such as prolapsed vagina, eclampsia, distended uterus, uterine infections and inflammation of the mammary glands.

  • Complications in Previous Pregnancies

If a dog experiences at least one complicated pregnancy it should be retired from breeding. This is because pregnancy-related complications tend to repeat. Common complications include miscarriages, C-sections and stalled labor and delivery.

  • Breed Standards

The goal of breeding is to improve the breed itself. If the mother has undesirable characteristics, breeding her has no point since those characteristics will be passed on the offspring.

  • Natural Mating or Artificial Insemination (AI)

This is not the most important factor, but it does need to be evaluated. If the female does not allow natural mating, her offspring may do the same.

The Importance of Responsible Breeding

Breeding dogs is very rewarding but also very challenging experience. The breeding business is time-consuming, responsible and costly. Everyday commercials, pet shows and magazine adds, suggest buying purebred dogs from stores and breeders. Sadly, they neglect to put light on the dark side of the dog industry. Irresponsible, backyard breeders, produce dogs in a factory style. They see dogs as assets and use them to produce litter upon litter.

Today, in spite of the gaining momentum of the no-kill movement, countless dogs are euthanized simply because there are not enough homes for all of them and the dog shelters are overcrowded. Because of this, responsible dog breeding is of imperative importance.

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

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She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.

Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.

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