Whether you’re a responsible breeder facing the question of when to retire your dogs or you’re looking for a puppy – it’s important to check the ages of the potential sire and especially the dam.
But when is a dog too old to have puppies?
There are many factors that need to be taken into account when determining whether a dog is up for breeding, among them are age, general health, previous injuries, and breed.
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 compare to their larger counterparts.
Studies have shown that dogs are differentially susceptible to diseases depending on their body size and weight. 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
- Low conception rates. 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.
- Decreasing litter sizes. A male might (repeatedly) produce smaller litters than he previously did.
- Deteriorating health is another sign that the male is not up for breeding. This includes mobility issues, hormonal changes, bad coat as well as breed-related health problems.
If you’re looking for a puppy and want to determine if the male is up to the task, you might not be able to check the conception rates. However, you can ask the breeder about previous litters and demand to see health testing.
For more on this check out my post on Questions to Ask Your Breeder.
When Is a Female Dog Too Old to Breed?
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 comparison 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 and also evaluate criteria such as complications during whelping and recovery process in relation to the following question:
How Many Litters Should a Dog Have?
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).
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 bitch healthy but the fact that several breeding clubs restrict this kind of breeding plan, should be a red flag for any breeder.
To make sure the female is in perfect health condition you should also wait until she’s fully grown mentally and physically which means waiting until her second heat cycle. Puppies profit from a mature and confident mother.
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, which also 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.
What Is the Best Age to Breed a Female Dog?
Example of a large breed female:
The female has her first heat around 12 months of age, which means breeding can start with around 24 months (18 months as the absolute minimum – better wait until 2 years with medium and large breeds).
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 with 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.
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 bitch 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.