Medically Reviewed

What Is The Best Age To Breed A Female Dog?

Margarita Boyd
Reviewed by: Dr. Margarita Boyd, BVSc MRCVS
At what age do female dogs become ready for mating? Is there an "optimal" age for breeding? This article focuses on these questions, as well as other related aspects of breeding your female dog.

What is the best age to breed a female dog? Are you wondering whether you should or shouldn’t breed your dog?

If you do, you probably want to know – what is a good age to breed a female dog and what is the best age to breed a dog.

Or what is the best age for a dog to get pregnant?

Breeding dogs is a process that should be taken seriously and only performed if you are ready to deal with its ups and downs.

To help you prepare for breeding your female dog, he have gathered all information in one place.

Even if you decide not to breed your dog, after reading this article you will know what is the ideal age to breed a female dog, what an oestrous cycle in dogs is, and how to recognize signs when it’s time to breed your female dog.

If you have a female dog you have an important decision to make – if you should breed your dog or not.

This is a rather complex issue and there are a lot of things to consider before you decide.

So today, we’re focusing on the female dog and her maturity when it comes to breeding. Still not sure when can you breed a dog?

What Is The Best Age To Breed A Female Dog?

What age can you breed a female dog? There is no one answer that fits every breed, because this may vary from breed to breed.

Most dogs are ‘ready’ to have puppies between 6 and 12 months it doesn’t mean that it should happen, or that it’s the best decision.

The best time to breed your female dog will depend on the breed.

Dogs of larger size such as German Shepherds or Bernese Mountain Dogs need more time to reach sexual maturity and to grow up.

Dogs in general should have space and time to reach their grown-up phase without being forced to have puppies, just because they can.

Since the best breeding age depends on the breed we have created a list of the most popular dog breeds and the recommended age before which you shouldn’t consider breeding your female dog.

You can use this list as a guide on the best time to breed a dog. Just bear in mind that responsible breeders will wait for the bitch to be at least 18 months to breed her.

BreedRecommended breeding age
Australian Shepherd18 – 24 months
Beagle18 – 24 months
Boxer24 months
Chihuahua24 – 30 months
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel24 months
Dachshund14 – 18 months
Doberman Pinscher24 months
German Shepherd24 months
Golden Retriever18 – 24 months
Great Dane24 months
French Bulldog24 months
Labrador Retriever18 – 24 months
Maltese18 – 24 months
Miniature Schnauzer18 – 24 months
Poodle24 months
Pug18 months
Rottweiler24 months
Siberian Husky24 – 30 months
Yorkshire Terrier12 – 18 months

SUMMARY:

Ideally, female dogs should be bred after they finish their second or third heat cycle. This is usually around 24 months of age.

When Can You Breed A Female Dog?

A female dog shouldn’t be bred before she goes through her second or third cycle.

The time between the cycles can be very different from dog to dog. However, she rarely goes through her third cycle before she’s one year old.

As a rule, females shouldn’t be bred before that.

Most dogs are ‘ready’ to have puppies between 6 and 12 months it doesn’t mean that it should happen, or that it’s the best decision.

Good to know: Male dogs begin to produce sperm when they’re approximately 6 months old, but they’re not sexually mature until somewhere between 12 and 15 months of age.

When Do Female Dogs Reach Sexual Maturity?

In general, female dogs reach puberty or sexual maturity around the age of six months. However, this can vary a lot, depending on the breed and dog.

Some dogs, usually the smaller breeds, can have their first heat cycle as early as four months of age.

On the other hand, large and giant breeds can take up to two years before they reach sexual maturity.

When Can A Dog Get Pregnant?

Female dogs can get pregnant as soon as they go in their first heat cycle, which occurs around the age of six months or older, depending on the dog breed and your dog’s overall health condition.

However, it’s important to distinguish sexual maturity from physical maturity.

Sexual maturity comes before physical maturity and shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the dog is ready for breeding. But more about that later!

How Often Do Female Dogs Come Into Heat?

This usually happens twice a year, but it can also vary a lot from dog to dog. For some females, three or four heat cycles in a year can be completely normal.

In addition, initially, the cycles can be very irregular, with the time between each cycle different every time.

It can take some female dogs up to two years until their cycle becomes regular.

In general, smaller breeds cycle more regularly than what larger breeds do.

Some small breeds cycle three or four times per year, while the largest breeds (Great Danes, St Bernard’s, etc.) usually cycle every twelve months.

Some dogs can even go up to 18 months between cycles.

SUMMARY:

Female dogs reach sexual maturity from the age of only 4 months to the age of 2 years depending on their breed and size. The heat cycle usually happens twice to four times a year.

What Signs Indicate An Oestrous Cycle In Dogs?

The most visible sign of your female dog being in heat is vaginal bleeding.

The amount of bloody discharge varies between dogs, with some shedding a tiny amount, while others have heavy bleeding. However, it can take a couple of days before this becomes noticeable.

Vulvar swelling is therefore the first sign that the heat cycle has begun, alongside the increased attention to her rear end – usually manifested through licking herself.

From the beginning of the cycle, the females will be attracted to male dogs, but they won’t be interested or allow mating until 7-10 days later.

As the cycle approaches its end, they bleed less and become more receptive to male dogs.

Another possible sign is small quantities of urine passed more frequently.

As the urine contains both pheromones and hormones, it can be a sign to interested males that the female will be receptive soon.

Pheromones are unique chemicals that are secreted by animals, to allow them to communicate with each other.

So, when can a female dog get pregnant?

She can become pregnant until the end of the cycle. Read on to understand the heat cycle better and to learn how often it happens and when.

SUMMARY:

Signs that clearly indicate the beginning of a heat (estrous) cycle are: bloody discharge, vulvar swelling, licking in the area as well as increased interest in male dogs.

How Long Does An Oestrous Cycle In Dogs Last? (Stages of The “Heat” Cycle)

The cycle usually lasts two to three weeks, but this too can vary.

Noticing the signs we just mentioned above will indicate the start of the cycle. The cycle is over when the bloody discharge ceases and the vulva returns to its normal size.

The perfect mating time depends on the stage of your female dog’s “heat” cycle, that’s why it’s important to know the cycle phases your dog is going through.

The stages of the oestrous cycle can roughly be presented the following way:

1. Proestrus

This phase usually lasts from 8 to 10 days in healthy female dogs. The vulva begins to swell and the dog starts producing a bloody discharge.

The amount of discharge is different for every dog.

Female dogs show no interest in males, rejecting any advances, and may even be aggressive towards them.

2. Estrus

This stage also usually lasts from 8 to 10 days.

The vulva becomes less swollen and the color of the vaginal discharge lightens, varying between clear, pink, or slightly brown.

The eggs are released from the ovaries, a process known as ovulation, and the female dog becomes ready to accept a male.

3. Diestrus

In this stage, the female dog rejects the male dog’s advances, and the bloody discharge stops.

This phase lasts between 60- 90 days, or around 63 days if the dog is pregnant.

False pregnancy can also occur occasionally during diestrus, characterized by the dog increasing in weight, having mammary gland development, and showing mothering instincts- even though it is not pregnant!

In this phase, the hormone progesterone controls the reproductive tract whether or not the female dog is pregnant.

4. Anestrus

This phase lasts between three and four months and is a transition phase between cycles where no sexual activity occurs.

The uterus is being “repaired” after the previous active phases.

SUMMARY: A heat cycle usually lasts for two or three weeks. It is in the Estrus phase when your dog is fertile and when she should be bred.

How Do You Know When To Mate Your Female Dog?

This can be rather tricky, as ovulation can occur both early and late during the cycle.

In general, most females will be receptive around the eleventh day, when the discharge isn’t as bloody and the female is looking for a mate and receptive to male dogs.

There are two tests that your vet can perform if you want to determine when the best time to mate your dog.

  • Vaginal smear test. A simple examination of vaginal cells, in order to detect changes in cell appearance and numbers. It’s not an invasive test and it’s pretty reliable when it comes to predicting ovulation.
  • Serum progesterone test. This test measures the progesterone levels in the blood. It has become very popular because of its accuracy in predicting successful times for matings, especially for females with a history of unsuccessful mating.

Signs That It’s Time To Breed Your Female Dog

If you notice any of the following signs, your female dog is most likely ready to be bred:

  • General flirty behavior
  • Pushing up the rear end when you pet her on the back
  • Tail held high and flagging
  • Color change in vaginal discharge, from red to pinkish, clear, or brown
  • Frequently presenting her vulva

SUMMARY:

Usually, mating is recommended on the eleventh day of the heat cycle. Your female dog will show interest in male dogs and have rather flirty behavior.

Having presented all these facts, let’s get to the question that brought you here:

What Is The Best Breeding Age?

Both female and male dogs generally reach puberty at the age of 6 months, but it doesn’t mean they’re mature or ready for breeding.

In other words, just because she can doesn’t mean she should, and you should wait for the ideal age to breed a female dog.

The female dog needs to be fully matured before breeding, as early breeding can lead to physical problems, behavioral problems, or increased risks for the mum and pups during pregnancy.

Give your dog a chance to “grow up”.

Another reason why you should wait until your dog is fully mature is so that you know what genetic predispositions or inherited disorders your dog carries.

A common example of a potential health problem is hip dysplasia, which sometimes doesn’t become apparent until the dog is completely mature but may be passed onto the dog’s offspring.

The Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) has established recommended protocols for breed-specific health screenings.

The health screen could include:

  • Physical examination
  • X-rays
  • DNA mouth swab
  • Or blood tests to check for certain diseases and conditions

These screenings may also include checking for sexually transmitted diseases that may be passed during mating.

Simply put – screenings check for problems that might affect other dogs if the mating were to happen.

This is why an ordinary vet check isn’t enough when you want to determine if your dog is healthy for breeding.

When it comes to how old dogs have to be to breed, you need to think about many factors.

The first and most important factor is the dog’s breed. The age at which to breed a dog, whether female or male, always depends on the breed of the dog.

But, how old does a female dog have to be to breed?

It’s difficult to determine an “optimal” age for breeding, but the dog must be completely mature before it occurs.

The physical maturity is usually around 24 months of age, but this can vary from dog to dog.

That being said, how old should a dog be to breed? Well, it really depends on the breed.

So, as soon as you notice the signs of sexual maturity, talk to your vet in order to better understand how old should a female dog be to breed.

Of course, they shouldn’t be “too mature” either.

Female dogs shouldn’t be bred when they’re older, as the breeding and whelping process can be very tiring and take a physical toll on older dogs.

This is why knowing dog breeding age limits is important – you want dogs to live healthier and happier as long as possible.

When To Stop Breeding a Female Dog?

As much as knowing when is a good age to start breeding your dog, knowing when you should stop breeding a female dog is also crucial to ensure your dog will remain healthy.

Most vets will agree that healthy female dogs can stop breeding when they reach the age of 8 years. However, other factors can also affect the recommended age to retire from breeding.

In some cases, breeding a dog after the age of 5 can be considered risky.

Different health conditions, and your dog’s breed or size, are all factors that need to be evaluated before determining whether your dog can continue breeding or not.

In any case, you should always consult your vet when thinking of breeding a dog older than 5 years old because after that age the probability of health complications occurring during pregnancy is higher.

SUMMARY:

Female dogs shouldn’t be bred after they reach the age of 8 years. However, some breeds and dogs that suffer from certain health conditions shouldn’t be bred after they are 5 years old.

What Is The Oldest Age A Dog Can Have Puppies?

As mentioned, female dogs don’t go into menopause, and they could practically have puppies forever. However, that’s not something that you want your dog to go through for two reasons.

The first one is that as dog’s age, their eggs’ quality and endurance deteriorates which can result in an unhealthy litter of puppies.

Due to genetic regression that occurs with age, older dogs are more likely to pass genetic mutations and potential health issues to newborns.

On the other hand, pregnancy, whelping, and feeding puppies is quite an exhausting process for a dog that is in its senior years.

Instead of slowing down with physical activities, as nature would normally dictate, you would impose your dog to have an entire period of draining her energy for processes that aren’t meant for this stage of their lives.

How Many Times Can You Breed a Female Dog?

So far, we have understood that a female dog shouldn’t mate before her third heat cycle or after reaching the age of 5-8 years. But how often can you breed your dog?

It is known that a female dog, depending on her breed, can have on average two pregnancies each year.

But having consecutive pregnancies can harm your dog’s overall health and can potentially cause some health problems.

That’s why it is important to know how to balance breeding with your dog’s health.

Usually, leaving at least a year and a half between each pregnancy will be enough for your dog to recover and have another successful pregnancy.

SUMMARY:

Consecutive pregnancies are not recommendable. Therefore, the most optimal number of pregnancies a female dog can carry healthily is two or three in her lifetime.

Is Breeding Safe and Healthy For Your Female Dog?

A lot of female dog owners have doubts if they should breed or spay their dogs.

If you’re a professional breeder, you might not want to enter deeply into this question, but the truth is that every dog owner should be aware of the advantages and disadvantages breeding might bring.

Spaying your dog helps prevent some deadly diseases, such as uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, or pyometra (infection of the uterus), and significantly reduces the risk of mammary cancer (if your dog is spayed before it’s the third season).

However, spaying your dog can make your dog more prone to other health issues such as an increased risk of developing urinary incontinence.

Generally, it is thought that an un-spayed or entire female dog will have more balanced hormone levels, higher energy levels, and less chance of developing obesity when compared to a spayed dog.

Often after a female dog is spayed her change in hormone levels can cause her to put on weight. However, this can often be easily managed with changes to her diet and exercise.

After a female dog is spayed, the veterinarian will often advise that the dog’s weight is closely monitored and the diet adjusted to a lower calorie one if necessary.

Now that you know the best age for dogs to get pregnant, you should know that pregnancy is always a tricky state for a female, so you can never know for certain if it will be safe or not.

You should also be prepared and ready to aid your dog during whelping and provide everything that’s needed if something goes wrong, because in the end, giving birth can be a difficult task for some female dogs too.

If your dog is spayed or entire, it is equally important to make sure your dog is healthy in all stages of her lifespan.

Regular check-ups at the vet are a must and will allow your dog to live a long and happy life.

SUMMARY:

If a female dog has overall good health, breeding and whelping are usually considered safe.

Learn Breeders Vocabulary

If you are thinking about becoming a breeder, you should know certain terms to make processes easier.

In fact, even if you are not a breeder yourself, but you want to breed your dog, you will hear certain terms that you should know.

Here is a shortlist of the most common terms breeders are using:

  • Bitch – a female dog
  • Dam – the dog equivalent of mother
  • Heat – the span of time when a bitch is fertile
  • Litter – the puppies born from a single pregnancy
  • Season – dog menstruation
  • Sire – the dog equivalent of a father
  • Stud – the male dog who mates with the bitch
  • Whelp – a newborn puppy
  • Whelping – a dog giving birth

Is Your Bitch Suitable For Breeding?

This should go without mentioning, but the general rule is to breed only from dogs who are fit, healthy, and have gentle temperaments.

It’s mandatory before breeding to check the bitch for any conditions she could pass on to her puppies.

Always check if the bitch and the stud are KC registered and meet relevant criteria.

It’s common for various Kennel Clubs to refuse to register puppies where:

  • The bitch has already whelped four litters
  • The dam has over eight years
  • The dam is under one year old
  • The offspring was created by mating a father and daughter or any dog relative, such as son and mother, or brother and sister

It’s desirable to provide proper nutrition all the time and to check with your vet about the health condition of your female dog.

It can help to keep track of her heat cycles. This can help you predict the due date of her litter.

If for any reason your female dog isn’t suitable for breeding, you should have her spayed. This is a good decision because you will prevent unwanted pregnancies and will protect her from countless health issues in the future.

Conclusion

If you decide to breed your female dog, it’s important to be aware of all the facts mentioned above.

Waiting for your dog to be completely physically and sexually mature is crucial when it comes to breeding your dog, both for health and psychological reasons.

Even though dogs can reach sexual maturity as early as six months of age, their full physical maturity comes some time after.

Therefore, it’s recommended to wait until the dog has been through at least three heat cycles before she’s ready for breeding. Even though the cycles vary from dog to dog, they’re usually considered fully ready after the age of two.

Finally, it’s very important to understand that every dog is different and should be treated that way.

Some dogs reach maturity earlier than others, so you have to know when your dog is completely mature and act accordingly.

Don’t forget to consult with your vet as well, as he might notice signs of mating maturity or immaturity that you might not pay attention to.

Your vet can carry out a full physical examination on your dog and discuss possible pre-breeding health screens to ensure your dog and her future pups will be the healthiest they possibly can be!

Frequently Asked Questions On Breeding Female Dogs

1. What Age Do You Get A Female Dog Spayed?

This decision is something that only your veterinarian can determine. Depending on the dog’s size your veterinarian will recommend the best time to spay your dog.

In most cases, this will be around 6 months of age, or later in large-size dogs.

Some experts claim that you should spay your dog after the first heat, while others claim that it is much better to spay your dog before their first heat – according to them this may reduce the risk of mammary tumors.

2. What Is The Oldest Age To Breed A Female Dog?

If you are thinking about breeding a dog older than five years, make sure that you talk with your veterinarian first.

This is an age that may lead to several complications during pregnancy.

3. What Is The Best Age To Breed A Female Yorkie?

Yorkie is a breed whose popularity is continuously on the rise, which is why many want to know when it is safe to breed them.

Female Yorkies should be bred only between 2 and 5 years of age.

As a breed, Yorkies are highly prone to several genetic conditions so make sure that you include your veterinarian in every step.