How Many Litters Can a Dog have Legally? (Different For Each Dog Breed)

So you may be wondering, how many litters can my dog have legally? When it comes to breeding, there is a lot of conflicting information out there.


Whether it is about when to breed or how long to breed, it can be confusing to understand what you should do. And this article is all about reducing the confusion, especially when it comes to number of litters.


While most breeders think about the breeding life of their bitches, they often don’t think of the breeding life of their stud or even what her breeding life will entail.


While there are not really many legal guidelines, we will cover many of the questions that new, and old, breeders will ask including health, legal limits and if there are limits for male dogs when it comes to litters.


And while we can’t look at each individual breed out there, since there are hundreds, we are going to look at breeding guidelines depending on the size of your dogs.


So, sit back and let’s look at all the different facets of determining how many litters your dog should have.

How many Litters Should a Male Produce?

How many litters should your stud dog have?


Before we launch into the breeding life of your bitch, it is important to look at your stud dog. Believe it or not, but stud dogs can have a limited number of litters in them and just because a male is producing viable sperm does not mean that he should be bred.


It can seem a bit confusing but even stud dogs have a breeding life. Generally, breed clubs and kennel clubs have guidelines.


The American Kennel Club recommends that a stud dog should not be bred until he has reached sexual maturation. This occurs at around 12 to 15 months depending on the size of the dog. Small and toy breeds will often mature around that age, while giant breeds mature around 18 months to 2 years.


Since most health clearances cannot be done before 2 years of age, the majority of breed clubs around the world recommend that a dog is not studded out before the age of 2 years and after all health clearances are done. However, be sure to check with your breed club to determine what they say about age.


In addition, look at the max age that stud dogs in your breed can be bred at. Again, referring to the American Kennel Club, dogs no older than 12 should be used as a stud dog.


However, some breed clubs recommend retiring a male after he is 6 or 7 years of age. Remember that sperm does age with the dog so older dogs may not produce as much quality sperm as a younger dog.


If you plan on using your male for longer than 7 years old, be sure to have his semen tested at regular intervals throughout the year to ensure that quality is there. You can also freeze his semen at a younger age to use when he is retired. Many breeders will do this to save for later on down the road.


Finally, regardless of age, you should test semen on a regular basis. When a dog is bred, his semen is actually a few months old.


Therefore, if a dog was sick three months before a breeding, the semen being used will be the semen that was produced while he was sick. Quality and quantity can be affected so always keep track of the health of your dog.

Number of Litters a Stud Dog Can Have?

Exceptional studs are always in high demand.

When it comes to litter numbers, stud dogs can have as many litters as he can produce. However, purebred dogs can suffer from a lack of genetic diversity so popular studs can affect that diversity.


While it may be tempting to produce puppies with anyone who asks, it is more important to ensure that the quality and diversity of your breed is maintained.


For that reason, I recommend that litters be limited to a few — two or three — bitches per year so that there is less risk of his offspring being bred to each other.


One of the best parts of having a desirable stud is making sure that he is being bred to the best of the best…therefore producing the best offspring to improve the breed.

The Breeding Life of Your Bitch

Breeding bitches should be healthy and clear of diseases.

Now that we’ve looked at the stud, let’s take a look at your bitch. Just like any dog in your breeding kennel, it is important to really understand the health and soundness of your bitch before you breed her.


In addition, you should understand the breeding life. While we often think of breeding life as to when the bitch has her first litter and on, it is actually from the moment you choose her for your breeding kennels.


Dogs should be kept at the top of her health with the best care and food possible. The better start she has to life, the better she will do as a mom.


If your female has any health problems as she grows, you should consider not using her for your breeding program as those problems, even if they can’t be passed on to the puppies, could result in serious problems and even death for your dam.


Next, most dogs have their first heat at the age of 6 months. Larger breeds and giants can have that first heat much later, and, in the case of some giants, it can occur for the first time any time before eighteen months of age.


Once they have had their first heat, they will often cycle every 6 months. Some will cycle every four months and others can cycle every year. Some breeds are still quite primitive with heat cycles once a year like wild dogs and wolves.


Even after her first heat…even if it is at eighteen months…your female dog is not ready to be bred until she reaches sexual maturity. Many toy and small breeds reach sexual maturity until 12 months of age but large and giant breeds don’t reach it until two or even three years of age.


Regardless of when, dogs should not be bred until after their second or third heat, which we will look at in the breed sizes.


From that point on, you can expect about a litter a year per female until she is retired. This varies, again dependent on kennel club or breed club guidelines.


In the United States and Canada, there is no restriction on number of litters but there is a restriction on age at no older than 12.


However, most breed clubs agree that dogs should retire before the age of 8 if they are females.


During your dog’s breeding life, every heat will put her at greater risk of problems including pyometra, which can be life threatening. For that reason, the old rule of thumb with breeding was three litters and then done.


Throughout their breeding life, and beyond, female dogs will require the best care and breeders will need to consider how well their dog does as a mom and how well she recovers, which we will get to later in this article.


Are there Legal Limits on Number of Litters?

How many litters is not limited in many countries.


When it comes to legal limits on the number of litters, there is actually very few regulations. In fact, most countries and kennel clubs do not have set numbers when it comes to legalities. With that in mind, however, there are two countries where dog breeders should be aware of the numbers. These are:


United Kingdom (includes Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England)


The Kennel Club only allows for a dam to produce 4 litters in her lifetime. In addition, they will only allow registration of one litter per dam in 12 calendar months; however, exceptions have been made for accidental litters.

Holland


Similar to the United Kingdom, Holland restricts the number of litters per year to one litter per dam in 12 calendar months. In addition, she can only produce 5 litters.



In the United States and Canada, as well as the majority of other countries, there are no legal limits on how many litters a dog may whelp. However, it should be noted that breed clubs have ethics regarding litter numbers.


Finally, many countries are reviewing how many litters a breeder is allowed to produce from one female so it is important to stay up to date on any changes within your kennel club.


Factors to Decide on How Many Litters to Produce with One Bitch

Health, age and other factors can affect how many litters your bitch can have.


The last general area that we should look at it how to decide on the number of litters your bitch is going to have.


While there are guidelines for most breeds, it is important to realize that a dog should be viewed as an individual and not per the guidelines of a whole breed. Every dog is different, as is every individual litter for that dog.


For those reasons alone, how many litters your bitches should have will differ from each female do you own. Some will be natural mothers with no complications, allowing for the female to have four or five litters while others will only be able to produce one litter before being retired.


Going into breeding with this in mind will help maintain the health of your breeding kennel while respecting each individual dog in your kennel.


So, let’s look at the factors to consider:


#1 :Overall Health


Before you even breed your bitch, you should be considering her health. Start with health certificates and other clearances before you breed your dog.


Every dog breed club has guidelines but you can also check the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for a list of health clearances you should obtain before breeding your bitch.


Above and beyond, your female should be in good health, at an excellent weight and properly vaccinated. In addition, you should look at her health history. If she has had some health problems, speak with your veterinarian on whether she is a good candidate for a breeding.


If there is risk to her or her puppies, avoid having any more additional litters.


#2: Age of the First Litter​​​​


The second thing you want to look at after health is her age when she goes to have her first litter.


Some breeders will breed their girls young, after clearances, and then do showing afterward, which can be harder to obtain wins in the show ring. Others will show their bitches to full titles and then breed.


For that latter reasons, some bitches are not producing their first litters until they are closer to 4 or 5. If this happens, for whatever reason, it is better to reduce the number of litters that your female has in her lifetime.


In fact, in Holland, if a female is older than 76 months of age, she is legally limited to one litter. So, the rule of thumb, the older the female is at the time of her first litter, the fewer litters she should have.


Finally, it should be noted that as a dog ages, her fertility decreases so, regardless of health, as your dog ages, her litters will become smaller and, possibly, lead to more complications for her.


#3: Natural Breeding or AI


This isn’t usually a huge factor, especially if it is just regular AI, however, if a dog can’t get pregnant with natural breeding, we should swing back to health and consider whether to breed her again.


But I’m not looking at this part of artificial insemination. Instead, what I’m focusing on more is surgical insemination.


This is where they make a small incision and deposit the semen right into the uterus. This can be quite difficult on the dog and scarring can lead to more risks for the dam every time she is opened up.

How the dog is bred can affect litter size.


#4: Natural Whelping or C-Section


Again, this ties right into whether a bitch is opened up surgically or not. If she whelps naturally without any complications, then she can have the maximum number of litters according to her breed and age.


On the other hand, if she needs a c-section with every delivery, then you should limit the number of litters accordingly. Always check with your vet at each c-section to determine how much scarring he sees and then follow his recommendations.


It should be noted that not all bitches have significant scarring and can have three or even four c-sections.


However, every time a female is opened up for a c-section, there is an increased chance of losing her during the delivery. My general rule of thumb is two litters for a female who has had to have a c-section.


#5: Complications during Whelping


It should be noted that not all complications result in the need of a c-section but it should still be taken into account when you are deciding on the number of litters. Ask yourself a few questions:


  • Are her deliveries long and difficult?
  • Does she need help getting puppies out?
  • How much stress is she under?
  • Were there any problems such as uterine inertia or a prolapsed uterus or severe swelling of the vulva?
  • Did she accept or attack her puppies?


If the answers are that her deliveries had complications, you should limit the number of litters she has. Some dogs are not meant to be mothers and that is okay to retire one from your breeding kennel before she has two or more litters. Remember, quality of life for her should be first and foremost.


#6: Number of Puppies Per Litter


There are a few points I want to make here when it comes to the litter size of each litter and deciding on how many puppies. These are:

Large Litters


If a dog has huge litters, it may be tempting to keep breeding her for the maximum number but it is better to retire her sooner. Two litters, possibly three depending on all of the factors, is my general rule for large litters of 12 or more.

Singletons


For many breeders and breed clubs, a singleton puppy is not considered a litter. For that reason, most breeders will not count a singleton in their litter count. It should be noted that in the UK and Holland, singletons are counted. 

Declining Numbers

As I’ve already mentioned, fertility decreases as your dog gets older. However, some dogs will begin to have declining numbers prematurely and I would take that into consideration when deciding on how many litters.


#7: Health of Her Puppies


Most people don’t think of this when they are determining the number of litters but I always stress its importance.


If you have a health tested female who is producing dogs with genetic or health issues, you should retire her. Don’t produce the max number of litters since you are simply breeding problems into your line that can be impossible to get out.


It can be a very hard decision to make but, in the end, it is the best decision you can make for both your puppy buyers and your kennel.


While you may see some of the problems when the puppies are born, it is good to keep track of the dog’s puppies after they go to their new homes to make sure nothing comes up in that first year or two with their new owners.


That may mean another litter is born in the meantime, but at the first sign of trouble with several puppies, reassess whether she should be bred again.


#8: Her Heat Cycle


How many heats she has in a year can determine how many litters you have with one female. Most females have a heat cycle of six months, give or take a few weeks.


Some dogs, especially in small and toy breeds, will go into heat every four or five months. On the other side, some dogs will go into heat every year.


Obviously, a dog that is going into heat once a year will usually have fewer litters than dogs who are going into heat every six months since there will be longer periods between each litter.


It should be noted that I am not recommending you breed a dog on every heat for her entire breeding life. The rule of thumb is every other heat; however, many vets are now recommending breeding back to back for three or four litters and then done.


Before you make the decision, do the research on both methods as well as what your kennel club and breed club require.


check the intervals of puppies coming out

#9: How Quickly She Recovers


Finally, how quickly your bitch recovers will determine how many litters that she has. As mentioned, some vets are recommending back to back litters, but this should be considered with each individual dog. Even skipping a heat and breeding should take into account how your dam recovered.


If the litter was hard on her with health problems or it took longer than her next heat to get her back into condition, you should consider waiting a bit longer to have a litter.


In addition, if your dam doesn’t spring back quickly, or within a reasonable time, after a litter, you should retire her and limit the number of litters she has. Again, it all goes back to quality of life for your breeding dogs.


As you can see, there is a lot to consider when it comes to deciding on how many litters your dog should have. Remember that even with guidelines, you need to be happy and confident about your breeding program and deciding what is best for your dogs during their breeding career.


Breeding Facts for Toy Sized Breeds

Toy breeds mature quickly but should still wait to be bred.


Now that we’ve looked at the general facts, let’s narrow things down to the different sizes of breeds. Again, look at the individual dog but also check the guidelines of the breed club before you decide on the number of litters.


The first size we are looking at is the toy sized breeds. Toy sized breeds include Toy Poodles, Chihuahuas, Italian Greyhound and Yorkshire Terriers to name a few. Toy breeds usually range in size from 4 to 12lbs.


It should be noted that toy breeds are not the same as breeding small breeds. They can be at an increase risk of needing a c-section due to the size difference between puppies and dams. Be prepared for complications when breeding toy breeds.


That being said, some breeding facts regarding breeding toy breeds, including number of litters, are:

Toy Breed

Fact

Heat

Regardless of age,they should never be bred before they’ve had 2 heat cycles.

Age

Shouldn’t be bred before a year of age or after 8 years old


Recommended age: 2 years of age. 

Average Litter Size

Small litters of 1-3; some breeds can have up to 6

Number of Litters

3-4


Breeding Facts for Small Sized Breeds

Small breeds range in size and shape and are quite varied. 


Small breeds can be considered part of the toy group for breed clubs while still being considered small size instead of toy sized. The weight range for small sized breeds is between 12 to 25 pounds.


This means there is a whole range of breeds that are considered small dog breeds including the Beagle, French Bulldog, Jack Russell Terrier, Brussels Griffon and the Corgi. Generally, when we look at small breeds, we are looking more at height and they don’t stand more than 25 inches at the shoulder.


Facts to consider with small sized breeds are:

Small sized Breed

Fact

Heat

Wait until their second heat or later since they mature faster than larger breeds

Age

Shouldn’t be bred before a year of age or after 6 years old


Recommended age: 2 years of age. 

Average Litter Size

Small litters of 1-3; some breeds can have up to 6

Number of Litters

3-4, some breeds allow 5-6 litters


Breeding Facts for Medium Sized Breeds

Medium sized dogs are some of America's favorite dog breeds.

Medium sized breeds are dogs that range in size from 25 to 50 pounds.


They can be sporty and athletic, hard working or couch potatoes. In fact, many, many dog breeds fall into this size range including the English Bulldog, Australian Shepherd, Samoyed and the Whippet. Breeding guidelines will differ between breeds but there are general guidelines for this size of dog.


Facts to consider with medium sized breeds are:

Medium sized Breed

Fact

Heat

Wait until their second heat or later 

Age

Shouldn’t be bred after more than 7 years old


Recommended age: 18-24 months of age. 

Average Litter Size

5-6

Number of Litters

3-4


Breeding Facts for Large Sized Breeds

You can find large sized breeds in almost every group category outside of toy group.

When it comes to large breeds of dogs, the range of size is again pretty significant. In addition, they come from almost all of the different breed groups, outside of the toy group, and that means you can have a range of temperaments, care and energy in this group size. It also means that you can have a range when it comes to breeding guidelines so make sure you understand your breed before deciding on the number of litters.

Large breeds include Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Old English Sheepdogs, Doberman Pinschers and the German Shepherd. Weight ranges for large sized breeds are between 50 and a 100 pounds.

Facts to consider with large sized breeds are:

Large sized Breed

Fact

Heat

Wait until their third heat but some breeds allowed to be bred on their second heat

Age

Shouldn’t be bred after more than 7 years old


Recommended age: 18-24 months of age. 

Average Litter Size

6-8

Number of Litters

3


Breeding Facts for Giant Sized Breeds

Giant breeds does not mean giant sized litters.

Like toy breeds, giant breeds can have their own breeding challenges.


It is not uncommon for them to have c-sections, nor is it uncommon for them to have difficulty conceiving. In addition, they are slower to mature so it is not uncommon for their first litters to be well after they are three years of age to accommodate breed club requirements.


Giant breeds include Mastiffs, Great Danes, Great Pyrenees, Newfoundland, and the Neapolitan Mastiff to name a few. Giant breeds are usually 110 pounds and larger.


Facts to consider with giant breeds are:

Giant sized Breed

Fact

Heat

Wait until their third heat

Age

Shouldn’t be bred after more than 6 years old


Recommended age: >24 months of age. 

Average Litter Size

6-8

Number of Litters

3

Conclusion

Breeding is full of many unknowns since we are never sure how a dam will do with a litter or even how many times she’ll get pregnant.


However, it is important to look at quality over quantity. Every litter you produce with a female should have a purpose and should be an effort to improve the breed.


In the end, you are the one who will decide on the number of litters and you should be happy and confident about all the dogs you are sending out into the world.