Whether you’re a responsible breeder facing the question of when to retire your dogs or you’re looking for a puppy – age matters.
Checking the ages of the potential sire and especially the dam can be vital for the health of the puppies as well as parents.
So the question emerges “how old can dogs have puppies” and what is the age limit?
There are many factors that need to be taken into account when determining whether a dog is up for breeding, among them are:
- General health
- Previous injuries
So let’s dive in and see what the best breeding and retirement age is.
A healthy female can legally be bred until 8 years according to most breeding clubs. However, it’s best to retire her after 5-6 years to avoid complications for both the mother and the pups.
When Is a Dog Considered to Be Senior?
Generally speaking, toy breeds and other smaller dogs (Chihuahua, Yorkshire Terrier, Maltese) are considered to be senior if they’re 10 to 12 years or older.
With large/giant breeds (Great Dane, Newfoundland), the span of when your dog is considered “senior” is shortened to 5 to 6 years.
This difference is linked to the lifespan in dogs which is far greater in small breeds compared to their larger counterparts.
Studies have shown that dogs have differing susceptibilities to diseases depending on their body size and weight.
Large dogs die young because they age faster, so to speak.
Genetic and hormonal factors also play a big role and determine the longevity of an organism.
When Is a Male Dog Too Old to Breed?
In theory, a healthy male can produce litters until old age. Most clubs recommend retiring a male after 10 to 12 years.
However, it is very important to note that sperm quality and quantity may be lower in older dogs.
If you plan on breeding with a male that is older than 6 years, you might want to check the sperm quality at regular intervals.
Signs to Look Out For That Your Male Dog Is Too Old
There are three major signs to look out for that scream that a male dog is too old for breeding.
- Low conception rates
- Decreasing litter sizes
- Deteriorating health
Assuming a male tries to get a female pregnant under the best possible circumstances (one mating per day, repeated for a couple of days, healthy female, etc.), it might be a sign to retire the male if he fails to get the female pregnant.
A male might (repeatedly) produce smaller litters than he previously did, that’s potentially another bad sign.
If a lot of time has passed between this and the last breeding or if the male has his first litter quite late in life, you might not be able to check the litter size.
The male’s health is a bit on the brink? No breeding for this stud.
Deteriorating health includes mobility issues, hormonal changes, dull coat as well as breed-related health problems.
So always ask questions about the breeding process, previous litters and current health testing.
For more on this check out my post on Questions to Ask Your Breeder.
What Is the Oldest Age a Female Dog Can Have Puppies?
For a female, there are crucial factors that determine if she should produce another litter or not.
The best age to retire a female can be around 5 to 6 years.
Some breeding clubs have restrictions where the age limit is set much higher than 6 years but that doesn’t mean that the age can’t pose any health risks.
According to AKC rules, a dam must be (…) not more than 12 years old, on the date of mating.AKC
However, a lot of breed clubs such as the UK Kennel Club and the VDH in Germany set 8 years as a limit (exceptions possible).
By the way: The VDH also has a higher minimum age for males as well as females in contrast to the AKC.
To determine whether to retire the female, you should monitor the previously mentioned factors such as:
- Conception rates
- Litter sizes
- General health
- Criteria such as complications during whelping
- Recovery process
Complications during birth can always arise (be sure to check the article on dogs going into labor if you’re interested).
However, you should consult with your vet to see if the complications could indicate that the female is not up for having another litter.
If a female’s recovery process significantly lengthens after pregnancy, that’s a sure sign that something can be wrong.
Can a 12 Year Old Dog Become Pregnant?
In theory, a 12-year-old dog can become pregnant if she is in heat and has mated with a male dog during her fertile days.
The concept of menopause is actually unique to us humans and does not exist in the animal kingdom, including dogs.
However a dog can become less fertile with age which applies to females as well as males.
As 12-year-old dogs shouldn’t be bred, you will need to keep your dog away from intact males when she is in season for her whole life.
How Many Litters Should a Dog Have?
A female dog should ideally not have more than 3-4 litters during her lifetime.
However, many factors are at play when it comes to the optimal litter size such as complications, the recovery process, and the heat cycle.
If a female had any complications during a previous whelping (including C-sections), this might not only be due to age but also due to a high number of litters and is a clear signal to think about retiring the dog.
A slow recovery process might be another sign to retire her, especially if the dog is older.
The female’s heat cycle may also dictate how many litters she will have.
Normally, the heat cycle is 6 months but – depending on the breed – the heat can occur every 4 months or every 12 months.
Naturally, a female with a 12-month cycle will produce fewer litters.
However, this absolutely doesn’t mean a female with a 4-month cycle should produce three litters per year (even if you ignore recovery).
Pressing too many litters into a small timeframe is exhausting for the female, mentally as well as physically.
How Many Litters Is a Female Dog Legally Allowed to Have?
The UK Kennel Club prohibits registering with them if the dam has already whelped 4 litters.
The same 4 litter rule applies to several German and French breeding clubs.
In Holland, the maximum amount of litters is 5.
Even though there may not be a lot of specific regulations in place for all breeding clubs, it’s important to breed ethically and keep an eye on the dogs within a breeding program.
How Long Should You Wait to Breed a Dog Again?
Most breed clubs recommend breeding once every 12 months.
Another rule of thumb is that you want to breed every other heat which means avoiding back-to-back breeding.
The whole discussion about back-to-back breeding is somewhat controversial since some vets say it’s not that big of an issue if the recovery is quick and the female healthy.
However, the fact that several breeding clubs restrict this kind of breeding plan should be a red flag for any breeder.
Allowing the female a proper recovery will let her care for her pups under optimal circumstances.
A female should always be healthy when she’s breeding and the minimum age restrictions below apply.
What Is the Best Age to Breed a Female Dog?
To make sure the female is in perfect health condition you should wait with breeding until she’s fully grown mentally and physically which occurs at around 1-2 years for smaller breeds and 2-3 years for large breeds.
Another rule of thumb is to wait until at least the second heat cycle.
This rule of thumb has limits though because small breeds can get their first heat as early as 4 months and large breeds around 6 months.
If you follow the rule above, your dog is most probably in her second heat so you should be fine.
Why not breed before the dog is mentally grown?
Dogs can undergo behavioral changes during these mental growth phases and you want a well-rounded female to raise those puppies.
Puppies profit from a mature and confident mother.
Example of a large breed female:
The female has her first heat around 12 months of age.
Depending on whether or not her heat cycle is roughly 6 months, you can theoretically start breeding at 18 months but could more ideally wait until 24 months.
If the heat cycle is 12 months (happens with giant and ancient breeds), you’re restrained to go with 24 months anyway.
Now, keeping the breeding guidelines in mind (every other heat and thus once in 12 months) the female will produce 4 litters if she’s retired at 5 years of age.
That’s within the consensus of the breeding clubs which recommend 3 – 4 litters for a female in a breeding lifetime.
By the way: While the 5-6 year rule and 3-4 litter rule restrains the breeding time frame pretty well, it’s not advised to have your dog have the first litter at 5 years or older.
Recommended Reading: How Long are Dogs Pregnant?
The stud can be bred up to 10-12 years, although it’s a good idea to regularly check the sperm quality once he hits 6 years, assuming he’s healthy.
A healthy female can legally be bred until 8 years according to most breeding clubs. However, it’s best to retire her after 5-6 years.
During her breeding lifetime, it’s advised not to go beyond 3-4 litters.
Any potential breeder should wait until the dogs are grown mentally and physically (up to 2 years) and should only breed every 12 months (which means avoiding back-to-back breeding).
The female’s heat cycle needs to be taken into account.
If you have any questions about your dog’s breeding age or concerns about a potential breeder, drop them in the comments.
Thursday 1st of December 2022
Is there any impact on lifespan between a dog that’s bred and one that’s not? Specifically Female dogs, due to the wear and tear on the animal.
Friday 2nd of December 2022
Hi Andrew, it depends heavily on the circumstances of each pup. A rescue with proper care, a healthy diet, and exercise may outperform a poorly kept/bred dog. In fact, a dog from the breeder may perform worse all circumstances being equal if the dog is poorly bred (i.e. no health testing, perhaps even bred for specific colors instead of health and temperament, etc.).
Of course, females from puppy mills generally have to deal with more health issues, but that shouldn't apply to a female with 2-3 healthy litters in her lifetime. Rescues often had litters too that you may just not know about.
If you're choosing a dog, I wouldn't rely on lifespan as a deciding factor. Just give your best when caring for the animal.
Emily Rose McDonald
Sunday 6th of November 2022
Hi, I have ruby cavalier who has just turned 6 and I was going to breed from her next month. She has been given clean bill of health from vet. She is a fantastic example of the breed with the most amazing temperament. The delay in breeding was due to not finding the right stud and I have finally found the right fit for her so very keen to do her first litter. What would you advise in this circumstance ? Thanks so much
Monday 7th of November 2022
Hi Emily, I'm not a vet but 6 years is really old for the first breeding and potentially associated with a couple of health risks. Ask your vet - one whose professional judgment you trust and who doesn't just say what owners want to hear - and ask them about your case. Has your vet just stated that she's generally healthy or did they perform diagnostics knowing it's for breeding?
Personally, I would not risk it as no temperament on earth is worth sacrificing my own dog's health. If your vet gives their okay and has run all the diagnostics, there's not much to do except monitor the pregnancy closely. But as I said, research a bit more and evaluate whether or not the risk is worth it to you.
Thursday 13th of October 2022
What are the chances of a 1.5 year American bulldog being pregnant after mating with a 4 year old bullmastiff for her first time. It's her 2nd heat cycle
Thursday 13th of October 2022
Hi, I actually have an article on pregnancy chances after a mating. Chances depend on whether they successfully tied, timing of the dog's heat, and more.
Please keep in mind not to breed without complete health testing (hips, heart, eyes, etc.) and matching temperament. It's a lifetime commitment, should any pup ever be returned or whatnot.
Sunday 20th of February 2022
I have a shithu female 6 1/2 yrs old and she had 4 litters. Last year she did not have any pups, it just did not happen. Is there a possibility that she can still get pregnant and should I get her fixed? Can she still go into heat.?
Thursday 24th of February 2022
Hi Linda, as stated in the article, I wouldn't suggest breeding a dog at that age who already had 4 litters. It's hard to say if it's still possible. If your dog had a vet checkup and is healthy, it could theoretically still happen. However, it may be harder due to her age and also depends on the stud dog.
If you get your dog spayed, she can't go into heat anymore. Whether or not spaying is right for you also depends on whether or not she has free access to a male in the same household. If so, it's probably wise to spay her. You don't have to if you can rule out any mounting during her heat though. Best to discuss with your vet.
Monday 25th of October 2021
Hello all! I have a female rescue yellow lab the vet said she is around 8 years old...we just got a new puppy. He is 6 months old. She just went to heat and i cant get him an appointment till next week to get him neutered. Could my 8 year old die or have health issues if she became pregnant? Also looking for tips on how to keep them apart but not secluded from the family! We don't use kennels. Please no negative comments! I am worried about my furbaby.
Friday 29th of October 2021
in my personal opinion, you should keep the dogs separated during her heat and avoid breeding at all costs!
The pup might be technically ready but 6 months is far too young, not to mention the health screenings etc. etc. that would need to be done beforehand.
And yes, it's a real health risk for your female, even more so if it's her first litter. Also, if her age is just guessed, she could be even older.
That being said, you might want to wait with neutering your male altogether. Early neutering can cause growth issues, bone cancer, etc. You can read about it and the related studies here.