As you know, dogs age much faster than humans, reaching puberty and sexual maturity at a much younger age. Since their ability to produce healthy offspring also declines with age, it is incredibly important to know when your dog is too old to breed.
This is particularly important for female dogs. Not only do you want to make sure that the puppies are healthy, but pregnancy can also put a tremendous strain on an older female dog’s body. In some cases, pregnancy can even be life-threatening.
This is why we have written this thorough guide to age-appropriate dog breeding.
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When Is a Female Dog Too Old to Breed?
While many factors will determine the age a dog can safely breed, there is a generally accepted age range.
Most veterinarians believe the latest a female dog can safely breed is between 5 and 6 years of age. This explains why many breed clubs have strict rules that cap the breeding age at 6 years.
Some of the older breed clubs in Europe have more flexible age restrictions; however, many vets consider these regulations outdated.
While it is technically possible to breed a female dog beyond this age range, it can pose serious risks to the litter and the mother.
What Can Happen if a Female Dog Breeds Beyond These Age Limits?
When a female dog has puppies at a mature age, there is a drastically increased risk of birth complications. Even if the dog is still fertile, having puppies at a mature age can be a serious health risk to the mother and the puppies.
It is common for older female dogs to struggle during labor. These difficulties in giving birth put a huge strain on the dog’s body.
If the dog is too weak to push during labor, it is also possible the unborn puppies can get stuck in the birthing canal. This is often a life-threatening issue for both the mother and the puppies.
Stillborn puppies are also significantly more common during pregnancies that involve an older female dog.
Given how much riskier pregnancy and birthing is for an older dog, it is highly recommended that your dog give birth in the presence of a veterinarian. This is not always the case for dogs of healthier breeding age.
What Complications Can Occur After the Older Dog Has Given Birth?
Not only can pregnancy and the birthing process be riskier if your dog is mature, but some complications can appear after the dog has given birth.
For starters, it can be difficult for a mature dog’s body to produce enough milk to properly nurse its puppies. While it is possible to feed a newborn puppy with formula, puppies raised by bottle often have a heightened risk of malnourishment and many other health issues.
There is also the fact that many older female dogs struggle to recover after they have given birth. Even if the birth was successful and the puppies are in good health, the mother could take months to recover physically.
As you can imagine, pregnancy and birth significantly strain a dog’s body. As dogs approach their senior life stage, they lose muscle mass, cognitive ability, and more. In simple terms, even if the dog is still fertile, its older body might not be strong enough to withstand pregnancy.
What Factors Can Influence a Female Dog’s Safe Breeding Age?
As we mentioned above, several factors will determine the age that your dog can safely breed.
While the 5 to 6-year pregnancy cut-off is a good rule to follow, the following facts will play a significant role in determining your dog’s maximum breeding age:
- The Dog Breed – The type of dog you have will play a significant role in determining how old they can safely breed. Countless genetic factors determine a dog’s maximum breeding age. Since the breed is so closely tied to genetics, it is an important factor. In general, small and toy dog breeds, like a Yorkshire terrier or Shih Tzu, should retire from breeding no later than 5. Medium and large-sized dog breeds, like a German shepherd, Australian shepherd, or golden retriever, usually breed longer, meaning 5 to 6 years.
- The Dog’s General Physical Health – A dog’s health at the time of breeding will play a major role in determining how successful the pregnancy will be. As mentioned, natural births and being pregnant can put a significant strain on a dog’s body. The healthier the dog is when they become pregnant, the better the chances are that they will have a safe birth. Ongoing health issues can greatly increase the chances your female dog will suffer a miscarriage.
- The Timing and Frequency of Previous Pregnancies – The more litters a dog has, the higher the chances there will be complications during future pregnancies.
Not only is it important to make sure that a dog has the opportunity to recover between litters, but you also want to make sure that one dog has not been bred too many times.
Overbreeding a female dog can put the dog’s health at risk, as well as risk the lives of any future puppies. Typically, a female dog should not exceed 3 to 4 litters during her lifetime. That said, fewer is better.
What Should You Do if Your Senior Dog Becomes Pregnant?
Even if you may think your dog is too old to become pregnant, it can still occur. This is just one of the reasons why you should have your dog spayed if you do not intend to breed them.
Unexpected pregnancies, especially in older dogs, always pose a risk to the dog’s health. However, if you suspect your senior dog has become pregnant, you should contact a veterinarian immediately.
The veterinarian will confirm whether or not the dog is pregnant. From there, they will be able to provide advice on how to care for your pregnant senior dog. To ensure that the pregnancy is going well and your dog is healthy, they will likely recommend regular checkups.
It is incredibly important to monitor and track a senior dog’s health throughout the pregnancy. If a complication occurs, the veterinarians can act while there is still time.
While all pregnant dogs should receive an altered diet, this is even more important for senior dogs.
The female dog will require a diet filled with the appropriate vitamins and minerals to have a successful pregnancy. They will also require a diet that contains more calories. However, this is where things can become a little bit complicated.
While an increase in calories is required, your senior dog mustn’t receive a diet that is too calorically dense. Older dogs have less efficient digestive systems. Their organs cannot handle calories as efficiently. They can also struggle with other issues, like diets that contain excess salt.
Again, this is why it is so important to speak with your veterinarian. They will be able to recommend an age-appropriate diet that will help your dog progress through the various stages of pregnancy.
When Is a Male Dog too Old to Breed?
While age is a far more important factor for female dogs, it is still something to consider for the male breeding partner.
A healthy male dog can be bred until a much older age than a female dog. In most cases, professional breeders and veterinarians agree that a male dog should be retired from breeding at roughly 10 years of age.
As male dogs become older, their sperm count can drop quite drastically. While many can still impregnate a female dog, the conception rate tends to lower.
While it is not a certainty, older male dogs tend to sire smaller litters of puppies. This is another reason why reputable breeders tend to retire male dogs before they reach their senior life stage.
How Do You Know a Male Dog Is Becoming Too Old for Breeding?
While the general rule of cutting a male dog off from breeding at 10 years of age is useful, some indicators can inform the decision.
For starters, a lower conception rate is a good sign that the dog is too old to breed. If the male dog continues to fail in his attempts to impregnate the female, they are probably too old to keep breeding.
A smaller litter is also a good sign that the male dog should retire from breeding. As you would expect, the male dog’s declining health is the main indicator that it is time to stop.
Not only can their declining health signal that they are reaching their senior years, but unhealthy dogs also tend to have unhealthy litters. Breeding an old dog increases the risk that the litter will be born with otherwise preventable health complications.
For More Information About Canine Pregnancy
For more information about caring for a pregnant dog, we recommend reading the American Kennel Club’s guide titled Dog Pregnancy: Signs, Care, and Preparing for Puppies.
For information about a pregnant dog’s dietary requirements, we also recommend the American Kennel Club’s guide titled The Care and Feeding of the Breeding Bitch: Pre-Breeding to Parturition.
PetMD also has published a useful resource titled The Complete Guide to Dog Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum Care.
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