When a dog is due to have a litter of puppies, it is an exciting time. With so many preparations to be done, you are staying very busy. You’ve set up your whelping box and introduced your girl to the place where she will welcome her babies. All of your supplies are carefully in place, and it is soon reaching the time when you will head to your veterinarian for an x-ray that will give you an indication of how many puppies you can likely expect. Though x-rays do give a fairly clear picture of the number of puppies a pregnant female may be carrying, there can always be surprises since x-rays don’t pick up puppies that could be hidden in behind other puppies, and x-ray qualities aren’t always crystal clear, making it hard to get an accurate count. Many people wonder what makes the difference in the final number of pups. Is it the size of the dog? Is it the breed? Is it possible to understand ahead of time how many puppies your dog will have?
Understanding Litter Size
Litter size definitely varies from breed to breed and dog to dog. Some dogs have as few as one puppy and others have as many as 12. The largest litter size to date belongs to a Neapolitan Mastiff by the name of Tia who gave birth to 24 puppies in 2004. This is certainly not typical and has not been experienced since Tia’s miracle litter.
So, what factors determine how many puppies your dog will have?
There are a number of different things that can affect the size of a litter. Here is a list of the top considerations:
Larger dog breeds have the capacity to carrier larger litters and to whelp them successfully. Consequently, large breeds often do produce larger litters. By comparison, toy breeds most commonly experience the smallest litter sizes. Bullmastiffs, a breed on the large end of the spectrum, often give birth to litters ranging from 5 to 13 puppies. In the middle of the size range is the Cocker Spaniel whose litter size can be from 3 to 7 puppies. The Chihuahua, a toy breed, most typically whelps between 2 and 5 puppies.
However, simply because biology favors larger litters in larger breeds and smaller litters in smaller breeds does not mean that it is always the case. However, though every breeder with a long waiting list for puppies longs for large litter sizes, this can put the life of the mother dog at risk; particularly if she is carrying a large number of puppies and is a petite girl herself. Sometimes a c-section will be required to safely deliver all of the puppies. In other cases, the dam becomes too fatigued to continue the whelping process. Some puppies also end up being born stillborn, a heartbreak for Mom and the breeder. Complications do not always occur with large litters, but the risks are always present.
Artificial Insemination vs Natural Breeding
Just as with humans, dogs can be artificially inseminated. A live breeding is always considered preferable by breeders since it is the most natural means of conceiving puppies with the least number of potential complications. Natural breedings also have a much higher success rate than matings accomplished via artificial insemination or surgical means.
Why is this?
The more directly the sperm can reach the eggs the better chance of a viable breeding. Artificial insemination relies on the collection of semen from a stud dog which is then inserted into the female dog by means of a tube. The timing must be precise in order for the breeding to take.
Since the semen is collected then inseminated into the female, there is a greater risk of some sperm dying during the process, leading to smaller litter sizes.
Time of Year
Sunlight is also a contributing help when it comes to litter size. Research shows that spring and summer litters, tend to be larger than litters whelped in the fall or winter.
The Mother Dog
Fertility is impacted by the age and physical condition of the potential mother dog as well. Though the male dog is the one responsible for determining the gender of the puppies, it is the female that determines the number by the amount of eggs she releases. Since a female is most often ripe for breeding between days 7 and 10 of a heat cycle, it is always recommended that the mating occur every other day from the first day the female is receptive to the male to the last day she will allow him to mount her. This is because the female will continue to release her eggs during this period. Since semen can live for up to 48 hours in the cervix, eggs that are released will still have the potential to be fertilized even on a day when no breeding is attempted. If a breeder were only to attempt a single breeding, chances are the litter size would be smaller.
In addition to this, the age of the female dog in question can also have an impact on litter size. Dogs who are older typically see smaller litter sizes than those who are in the prime of their youth. The largest litter sizes are seen in females who are bred between the ages of 2-5 years of age.
Research done by Royal Canin, a leading manufacturer of pet food and veterinary diets, indicates that the first two litters a female has will typically be her smallest with litters 3 and 4 yielding the greatest number of puppies.
Optimal nutrition ensures healthy litter sizes. Dams who are overweight or who do not receive a high quality, balanced, and nutritious diet are less likely have larger litters.
Age of the Stud Dog
Since semen quality can deterioriate with the aging process, the age of the stud dog may or may not have an impact on litter size. This is not a hard and fast rule as dogs who are kept in excellent condition and who are collected to assess semen quality regularly can often continue to sire large litters well into old age.
If you can hardly wait to find out how many puppies your female is carrying, an x-ray at the appropriate time is the best way to get a good idea of what you can expect. Day 58 is often the earliest recommended time to visit your veterinarian for an x-ray. Earlier is not suggested as it may cause harm to developing fetuses.
Are you ready for puppies?
If you are anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new brood and wondering just how many you’ll get, consider visiting your veterinarian for an x-ray to get a more accurate count. Otherwise, you can hang on a few more days when you will find out for sure!