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How Many Litters Can A Dog Have? What's Ethical And What Isn't - PawSafe

How Many Litters Can A Dog Have? What’s Ethical And What Isn’t

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

how many litters can dogs have

Asking “how many litters can a dog have?” is a very different question from “how many litters should a dog have?” Proper breeding practices like not allowing the dam to have too many litters are what separate a reputable breeder from puppy mills and backyard breeders.

Proper dog breeding is a delicate matter that requires intense research and experience. The number of litter per dam is one such matter that defines how reputable a breeder is. So let’s look at the factors involved in how many litters a dog can have, like how long to wait after a litter.

How Many Litters Can a Dog Have Per Year?

The average female dog can probably have around 10 litters in their lifetime, depending on factors like health, breed, and size. They can usually have two litters a year. However, the answer to how many litters the vast majority of dogs should have is none.

Most female dogs (called dams when they are mothers) can generally produce two litters yearly, although some can go into heat thrice, having three litters. The number of litter a dam gets per year depends on the natural body cycle, body condition, and breeder. Most breeders skip cycles leading to fewer litters per year.

The larger the dog breed is, the less often she will go on heat. So giant dogs like St. Bernards, English Mastiffs, or Great Danes may only go into heat once per year.

The number of litters a dam has a year and the age she starts and stops breeding determine the number of times she gives birth (whelps) in her lifetime. Therefore, breeders must determine how often their dams will reproduce per year to get the recommended lifetime number of a maximum of four to six litters.

But How Many Litters Should a Dog Have?

When it comes to breeding, the main question is if a dog should breed at all. For 99% of dogs, male or female. The answer is no. With the overflowing shelters and the problems that arise from unethical breeding practices, breeding is a tricky business.

That isn’t to say that no one should ever breed a dog. It’s just that the dogs that are bred need to be superior in terms of health, temperament, and conformation. Then there is the question of why you want to breed a dog at all.

The founder of Shield K9, Haz Othman, in Ontario, breeds dogs for protection, police, and military work. Many excellent dogs come through their doors, but very few are ever bred.

Haz explains that when he is looking at whether a dog is good for breeding, he only considers the top 1% of dogs. In this video, he shows how he tests a female German Shepherd to determine if she might be fit for breeding.

While testing this promising young German Shepherd, Haz notices that she is excellent in all areas but one. She hesitates a moment when he pretends to attack her. This tells him she isn’t 100% reliable, in a high-pressure situation, and so she is not suitable to breed military or police dogs.

Of course, not everyone is breeding dogs for this purpose. But regardless of whether someone has a show dog or a working dog, they have to be 100% health tested for genetic issues, and completely sound in temperament. It takes a very experienced breeder to identify the top dogs in their field that are worth the risks of breeding.

How Many Litters Can a Golden Retriever Have Per Year?

Golden Retrievers can usually have two litters every year. Golden Retrievers experience a heat cycle every six months and remain in heat for about 3 to 4 weeks from about nine months old. A span of 9 days marks the period of fertility for Goldies.

It’s recommended to cap the number of times your Golden Retriever gives birth to around 4 to 5 litters max. Litters get smaller in number and even size if you breed a Goldie into their old age past seven years. They should also not be bred before they are two years old. Breeding a dog too young and too old puts both the dog and her puppies at risk.

See our article on how big your puppy might get if you are wondering, and be especially careful if your pregnant or lactating dog is vomiting.

How Many Litters Can a Dog Have Legally?

Legally, in the United States, dogs can have as many litters as the owner allows them to breed, and most states even allow dogs to live in terrible conditions. So it’s up to the Clubs and the ASPCA to try to cap unethical breeding and prevent puppy mills.

The United Kennel Club limits the number of litter per dam to 4 to 5. The American Kennel Club doesn’t accept puppies from a dam below 8 months or above 12 years.

Remember that even if a breeder is registered, be wary. Sacred Heart University outlines exactly how common unethical breeding practices are.

When breeding becomes a business, some breeders have no problem being deceptive about how often they breed, or the health and temperament of their dogs.

This can end badly when somebody invests a great deal of money in a top-quality show dog who ends up with debilitating health problems or behavior problems such as extreme anxiety.

Reputable breeders should cap the number of times even the healthiest bitch reproduces to a maximum of 6, even if they don’t need AKC or UKC registration.

How Many Times Can You Breed a Dog?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to how much to breed a dog, but the recommended number is 4 to 6 times maximum for a dog. While dogs can ideally have more than 10 litters in their lifetimes, old-age breeding is detrimental to both the dam and the puppies.

The best way to determine how many times to breed a dog is to factor in the starting age (2 years for large dogs) and the age to stop breeding (6 to 7 years). This caps the number of times a dam can safely have puppies to about 5 times within the recommended breeding ages.

Should You Breed a Dog Every Time She Comes into Heat?

Breed a dog every time she comes into heat is a controversial matter. Some argue that skipping cycles between pregnancies leads to phantom pregnancies, which increase the risk of mammary cancer. Critics also say that restricting birth in intact females increases the risk of cystic endometrial hyperplasia linked to life-threatening diseases like pyometra.

Canine reproduction specialist Dr. Hutchison states,

“It’s suggested not to skip a season because we have been preserving the uterus from the effects of progesterone; what would be the benefit of exposing her uterus to two months of progesterone?”

Progesterone is inflammatory to the uterus. If you skip an estrus cycle, you expose the uterus to two more months of the hormone. This causes the thickening of the uterus leading to endometrial hyperplasia and, eventually, pyometra.

Pyometra is a potentially deadly infection in the uterus.

On the other hand, supporters of skipping one or two estrus cycles after pregnancy argue that failing to do so exhausts the dog due to overbreeding. They also point to smaller and brachycephalic breeds that are more prone to difficulties in birth (dystocia) and need more time to rest and recover between pregnancies.

Ultimately, it’s best to skip heats (or stop breeding the dog completely) if:

  • There were pregnancy complications last time;
  • The litter size was way above or below the usual; or
  • A C-section had to be performed.

What Happens When a Dog Has Too Many Litters?

A dog having too many litters can affect the health of the puppies and herself. A dog has too many litters when she continues to whelp past the age where her body can handle the strain, endangering her life. Older dams are more susceptible to deadly complications like eclampsia. Puppies from old dams are small, have health issues, and some are stillborn.

It’s better to determine whether a dog has too many litters based on the age at which they stop breeding. Responsible breeders don’t breed a dam after age 5 to 7, depending on the size, with smaller breeds retiring earlier.

Even when a dog is within the prime years of reproduction, too many puppies without a waitlist contribute to dog overpopulation. More than 6 million enter adoption centers yearly in the US, and breeding dogs who don’t already have a home waiting for them compounds the problem.

Breeders that allow their dams to conceive too many litters typically fail to perform necessary genetic tests. This leads to puppies with genetic conditions that will perpetuate these health problems, such as:

  • Hip dysplasia;
  • Thyroid disease;
  • Blindness;
  • Heart issues; and
  • Cancer.

How Long Should You Wait to Breed a Dog After a Litter?

Even experts don’t agree about how long to wait to breed a dog after a litter. Some people support back-to-back breeding because it reduces the chances of mammary cancer and pyometra. Others support skipping a cycle to prevent overbreeding and to give the dam adequate resting time to recover.

If you have a puppy waitlist and your dog didn’t have complicated pregnancies, it’s likely safe to breed consecutively. Dams are safe, provided breeders don’t exceed the recommended 6 births per dam and spay the dog after they retire.

Breeders should wait for one or more cycles if their dams exhibit issues that would complicate birth, such as:

  • Obesity;
  • Reproductive issues like a distended uterus; and
  • Stillbirths or small or large litters.

Puppies are a representation of the overall breed and bloodline. Therefore breeders should stop breeding a dam if the dog litters become small or unhealthy. Or when the dams have medical issues like diabetes and joint issues because they’re unfit to whelp.

How Many Litters Can a Male Dog Have?

An intact male dog can have unlimited litters in his lifetime. The number of puppies a male dog sires depends on the number of intact females and how much time he has. Clubs like the AKC limits a male dog’s siring age to 11 years.

Most important is the fitness and overall health of the male dog to determine how many puppies they can sire. Male dogs with genetic issues shouldn’t be allowed to breed because the problem will likely pass down to the litter.

As much as males can breed daily, they shouldn’t be allowed, because of what we call “popular sire syndrome”. This is where a highly sought-after male mates with such a large number of females that it reduces genetic diversity. Consequently, inbreeding occurs when related dogs mate, leading to more issues with dog health in the breed.

How Old Does a Dog Have to Be Before You Can Breed Them Safely?

Dogs can only breed after attaining sexual maturity, which is about 6 months for small female dogs and 10 to 18 months for large to giant breeds. However, most agree that it’s unethical to breed a small dog that is younger than 12 to 18 months, and a large dog younger than two years.

One of the many reasons it’s important not to breed a larger dog younger than two years, is that two years is the earliest that the dog can be screened for hip dysplasia. Young mothers also have problems producing enough milk for their puppies and tend to become extremely stressed, often abandoning their litters.

Waiting for 1 to 2 cycles allows the dam to mature mentally, physically, and emotionally for being a new mother. Additionally, experts recommend waiting 1 to 2 years before breeding dogs so that the necessary genetic tests come out accurately.

Males sexually mature faster and can start breeding at 7 months.

When is a Dog Too Old to Breed?

Most female dogs get too old to breed from 6 to 8 years. Female dogs don’t experience menopause, so they can theoretically give birth even after 12 years. However, old-age breeding harms the health of both the mother and the conceived puppies.

Factors such as size and breed determine when a dog should stop breeding. Smaller dogs typically retire from breeding earlier at 5 to 6 years, while medium-sized and large dogs can stay up to 7 or 8 years. Other signs show that your breeding dog is ready to retire:

  • Lower conception rates;
  • Decreasing litter sizes of one to two puppies; and
  • Stillborn puppies.


Proper breeding involves breeding within the recommended time bracket after the first two heat cycles until 7 years. Reputable breeders take their breeding dogs for genetic tests like hip and eye tests and don’t allow a bitch to have more than 4 to 6 litters.

It’s not recommended for just anyone to breed without the necessary knowledge and skill. Backyard breeding leads to stray dogs due to overpopulation and dogs with countless medical conditions due to improper breeding. If you want a puppy, it’s best to get one from a reputable breeder or adopt one.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.