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Best breeding age: How old should a female dog be before having puppies ?

Vet Tony Buckwell advises on the best time for female dogs to become pregnant

labrador bitch nursing puppies

Q: What’s the best breeding age? How old should a bitch be before having puppies? I wish to breed from my springer spaniel and read that a dog should be at least 12 months of age and have had its first season.

Other people, however, tell me that dogs should be at least two years of age and on the second or third season. What would you suggest? (Read how to breed from a working bitch and whether you should.)

Vet advice on the best breeding age

Most people would agree that a bitch should be fully mature before she is bred. The variation you have found in the recommended age for a first litter is that, depending on the breed and type of dog, bitches mature at different ages. Generally, the larger breeds take much longer to mature than the smaller breeds.

The age that a bitch first comes in season can also vary. Although most come into season at around eight to nine months of age, and certainly before a year of age, some can come in sooner and others will delay until 18 months or older. This is all normal.

Although it is biologically possible for dogs to mate and become pregnant on their first season, those litters will tend to be smaller and the incidence of stillbirths tends to be higher in litters from such young bitches. Also, bitches are often relatively immature, developmentally and psychologically, at the time of their first season. It is therefore considered unreasonable to put the dog through the physiological strain and emotional stress of raising and weaning a litter at such a young age. (Read what to expect when your gundog has puppies.)

Most spaniels will have matured by the age of 18 months and therefore it is not unreasonable that you are starting to consider breeding. I would advise, however, that you allow plenty of time to plan ahead. Make sure that you understand all that is involved and take the time and opportunity to select a suitable stud dog. Ideally, you should have any necessary health checks done before deciding if your bitch is suitable for breeding. As a consequence, I tend to suggest to most owners that they plan on having the first litter when their bitch is between two and four years of age. (Read about false pregnancy in bitches here.)