Breeding age of dogs, limits, frequency and state laws in Australia

Dog Breeding for Beginners

Breeding a dog for the first time isn’t always as easy as putting a male and female dog together. There are a few things you can do to ensure you are meeting the relevant legal breeding requirements for your state. Take your time to learn about dog breeding and enjoy the process of searching for a suitable stud dog.

Research the health testing requirements for your breed to ensure the breeding process runs smoothly and that you’re giving your dog/s the best chance of conceiving a healthy litter of puppies.

First time dog breeding information

State laws around minimum age of breeding bitches

A question I frequently get asked is “at what age can I breed my female dog?” – This depends on the breed and or size of the dog in question but regardless of this, there are laws for each state of Australia which stipulate the minimum age a bitch is required to be, before she is mated.

Despite most female dogs reaching sexual maturity at 6 months of age, in NSW the Animal Welfare Code of Practice states that you must not intentionally mate a bitch during her first cycle.

Mental and physical maturity varies according to breed

It’s important to consider whether your dog is fully mature both mentally and physically before she is bred.

  • Large breeds such as labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, standard poodles and most standard groodles are fully grown between 18 and 24 months of age.
  • Giant dog breeds like the st bernard, great dane, irish wolfhound, alaskan malamute etc won’t be fully grown till they are around 30 months of age.
  • Birthing and raising a litter of puppies requires commitment and patience from the dam and therefore her level of mental maturity should be taken into consideration before she is mated.

Health testing

  • DNA testing can be carried out at any age with results available in 2-4 weeks. DNA testing of the bitch should be considered before choosing a stud dog as it helps to make decisions around breeding compatibility based on any diseases or colours the dogs carry.
  • However when testing for hip and elbow abnormalities, dogs are normally at least 12 months of age before hip and elbow scoring is carried out.
  • This is particularly important for breeds prone to hip and elbow dysplasia; golden retrievers, bulldogs, labrador retrievers, rottweilers, german shepherds, great danes, st bernards, bernese mountain dogs, bernedoodles, groodles, labradoodles, cavalier king charles spaniels and even cavoodles!

When is a female dog too old to breed with?

In an analysis of 10,810 litters born of 224 breeds Borge et al., 2011 showed that the expected number of puppies born decreased more for older bitches of large breeds. Similarly Moxon et al., 2016 found that the incidence of pyometra (infection of the uterus) increased with the age of the bitch from 6.3% at 3 years of age to 56.3% at 7 years.

It should be noted that the number of puppies in a litter is heavily influenced by the timing of insemination or mating and progesterone testing should be used to determine the optimum time to breed.

Furthermore, a Swedish analysis of more than 200,000 dogs in an insurance database, found that 23-24% of bitches in that group experienced pyometra by 10 years of age. Interestingly a Finnish study found previous pregnancy appeared to protect against the development of pyometra and that cross breed dogs had a decreased risk of developing the disease.

How long should you wait to breed a dog again?

Again, this comes down to the laws in your state and the health of the female leading up to the time of breeding.

  • In NSW, if you breed a dog twice in a row, she must then have a break, breeding no more than 2 litters in 2 years unless you have written approval from a vet to do so.
  • In Queensland according to the Queensland Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for breeding dogs and their progeny a bitch should not be allowed to have more than two litters in an 18 month period. Furthermore other requirements for breeding females in Queensland include –

A bitch must not, without reasonable excuse, be mated unless the dog is—

  • a. physically mature; and
  • b. fit and healthy; or
  • c. the person has written approval by a veterinary surgeon that the dog has been examined by the veterinary surgeon, and the veterinary surgeon reasonably considers the dog is ready for breeding

Interestingly there is growing evidence to suggest that it is more harmful for females to miss a pregnancy (due to the inflammatory effects of progesterone on the uterine lining – Dr. Robert Hutchison), than to be bred every cycle and that they should be desexed immediately when retired from breeding.

Reproduction specialist vet clearance

While there are many factors to consider when it comes to frequency of breeding, perhaps the most important is to ensure the good health and wellbeing of the bitch. If she has had a litter, particularly if she’s had a cesarean or an illness, ensuring that she has fully recovered, both mentally and physically is vital. Having a vet check with a reproduction specialist leading up to your female’s cycle is good breeding practice.

Back to back breeding – maintaining a healthy uterus

Have you noticed behaviour changes in your un-desexed female dog in the two months after her season? When a female dog has a cycle, from the time of ovulation till 60 plus days post cycle, their uterus is exposed to high progesterone levels.

These high progesterone levels also influence behaviour. You might notice increased reactivity, barking, pessimism etc in the bitch and any dogs they share a household with around this time.

Leading canine reproduction expert Dr. Robert Hutchison believes that exposing a female dog’s uterus to the uterine thickening effect of progesterone leads to the thickening of the uterine lining which becomes inflexible and inelastic, making it difficult for eggs to attach.

Progesterone’s inflammatory effect on the uterine lining, means we go from a healthy uterus to an endometrial hyperplasia where the uterine lining has bubbles in it and is at an increased risk of developing pyometra (see interview with Dr Hutchison below).

Furthermore, unlike humans, dogs don’t shed their uterine lining when they have a cycle, instead with each cycle they have, the uterine linings essentially stack up, thickening with each cycle and are only shed when the bitch whelps a litter of puppies.

Bitches don’t go through menopause like humans, so they will continue to cycle for their entire life, hence desexing once retired from breeding is essential to prevent uterine problems. Furthermore, skipping a pregnancy has been shown to increase the risk of the bitch having a false pregnancy which has been linked to an increased risk of mammary cancer.

What age do male dogs become infertile?

A study conducted by Hesser et al., 2016 investigated the effect of age on semen quality in 39 labrador retrievers aged from 1-10 years of age. The results showed that despite the lower semen quality observed in senior dogs (7 years or greater) there were no negative effects from semen quality on fertility or fecundity, with senior dogs still getting females pregnant.

Stud dogs should have their semen analysed by a reproduction specialist to ensure they are producing sufficient numbers of sperm, with good motility in a good quality sample.

How old should a male dog be to breed?

Male dogs generally start to produce small amounts of sperm at 8 months of age but don’t reach full fertility until around 12 months of age which is when most health testing can be completed (hip and elbow scoring requires a minimum age of 12 months).

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