As a general rule, you should stop breeding your female dog when she turns 8. However, there are other factors to consider, such as breed, previous litters, and general health. When it comes to male dogs, you can breed them up to 10-12 years of age.
Breeding a dog that’s too old can result in smaller litters, unhealthy offspring, a more difficult whelping process, and longer recovery time for the mother. But how old is too old?
The straight answer to ‘how old is too old to breed a dog’ is: it depends. Besides age, a variety of factors which we’ve broken down below determine whether it’s time to retire a dog.
How to Tell If Your Dog is Too Old to Breed
It’s recommended to have both male and female dogs checked out by a vet about a month before breeding them, but this is especially important once they’re over a certain age.
Once a male reaches age 6, his sperm quality should be checked before breeding, as it deteriorates as he gets older.
Females should be cleared by a vet before breeding after reaching 5 years of age to ensure a pregnancy won’t put her at unnecessary risk.
Age and Breed
A dog’s age isn’t as straightforward as humans. Smaller breeds have much longer lifespans than large breeds. Accordingly, small dogs are considered seniors at age 10-12, while larger breeds much earlier at age 5-6.
That being said, the general consensus is that dogs shouldn’t be bred after they reach the age of 10-12 for males and 6-8 for females to ensure healthy offspring and a safe pregnancy and delivery.
In addition to consulting your vet, signs that a dog is too old to breed can be found in the dog’s recent breeding attempts, pregnancies, and litters:
- A lower conception rate
- Smaller litters
- Smaller puppies
- More difficult whelping
- Trouble nursing
- Longer Recovery time
- Offspring that is not the best representation of the breed
If you notice one or more of the above problems, check with your vet before breeding again. But generally, if the dog is otherwise healthy, it’s recommended to skip at least one heat cycle before breeding again. If the same problem persists, it may be a sign that the dog’s ready to retire.
Some problems from breeding a dog that’s too old can result in the dog requiring a C-section, especially if a smaller breed produces unusually large puppies, which can happen with older dams.
If she’s getting up in years and requires a C-section, it’s a good indicator that she’s ready for retirement.
Other Factors to Consider Before Breeding
As mentioned, while age plays a huge part in whether a dog is fit for breeding, there are other factors to consider as well.
The general health of the dog should be taken into account before breeding.
Dogs with heart or joint issues, for example, may be put under too much strain by pregnancy and labor. These dogs should not be bred even if they’re younger.
Dogs with genetic diseases naturally run the risk of passing the disease on to the offspring. Avoid breeding these dogs to prevent continuing problems in the breed’s lineage.
Number and Timing of Previous Litters
Regardless of a dog’s age, a female should not be bred more than once a year. It’s also recommended to skip at least one heat cycle in between to give her a chance to fully recover.
Depending on which breed club you ask, most recommend that a dog have no more than 3-5 litters in a lifetime.
Over-breeding can put the dam at risk of complications such as a prolapsed uterus or anemia, as well as lower quality offspring.
What to Do if a Dog’s Too Old to Breed
Once a dog is too old to breed, the responsible thing is to get the dog spayed or neutered.
Canines, like most mammals, don’t have menopause, which means they can get pregnant long after it’s safe and healthy for them to do so.
This is why it’s vital to get a dog fixed once it’s determined that breeding is no longer a good idea, rather than risking an accidental pregnancy.
What to Do if a Senior Dog Gets Pregnant
Failing to get a dog fixed means that no matter how many precautions you take to keep males and females apart, there is still some risk of pregnancy (which is why sterilization is so important).
If an older dog gets pregnant, there are some extra precautions that you can take to ensure a healthy pregnancy and whelping.
During the Pregnancy
If you suspect that your senior dog is pregnant, schedule an appointment with your vet right away.
Together, you can monitor the pregnancy and decide on the best course of action. The vet will probably recommend more frequent checkups than a younger dog would require to ensure the pregnancy is progressing well.
One of the main things the vet will likely do is use ultrasound and/or X-rays to count the number of puppies and keep track of their development.
Depending on their size and number, a scheduled C-section might be advised. A C-section may be recommended regardless if the dog is determined to be too weak to deliver naturally.
Other than keeping a close eye on her, caring for a senior dam is the same as caring for a younger one. However, a couple things take on particular importance for older dogs.
Pregnant dogs are often put on diets of high calorie, high protein, high-fat foods to give them the added nutrition necessary for carrying, delivering, and nursing.
This is especially important for older dogs, who need all the nutritional help they can get to keep them in good health.
However, a word of caution: this nutrient-dense food can be a bit rich for an older dog’s stomach, so let her get used to it by transitioning slowly.
Building a whelping box is recommended for any pregnant dog, but it’s especially useful for a senior dam because she runs a higher risk of pregnancy complications.
Having her in a box allows you to pick up the box with her and the puppies and get to an emergency vet right away if the need arises.
During and after Whelping
As mentioned in the previous section, a senior dog’s pregnancy is much the same as a younger dog’s, but with a higher risk of complications. So prepare for the birth as you would with any dog, with a few extra precautions:
Keep an extra close eye on her and be ready to help if needed. Dogs usually do most of the work during delivery, but a senior dog might need extra help with things like tearing the birthing membranes.
Make sure the full number of expected puppies is delivered; if there are any left inside, she needs to be taken to the vet immediately.
Keep the number of both your regular vet and an after-hours emergency vet on hand. This is a good idea with any whelping, but especially important for senior dams.
Schedule a checkup for both mother and puppies within a day of delivery, if possible.
Watch for signs of mastitis or inflammation of the mammary gland, which senior dams are extra susceptible to.
A Final Word on Responsible Breeding
There are no hard-and-fast rules about when a dog is too old to breed or should be retired for other reasons, but that doesn’t mean that a dog should be bred just because it’s physically possible.
Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to use common sense, accepted guidelines, and the advice of your vet to ensure you’re breeding your dog in a manner that is safe for her and will produce viable, healthy offspring.
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