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What Age Can My Dog Get Pregnant? Sexual Maturity Explained

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Very Pregnant rhodesian ridgeback dog lying on bed with a white blanket

Dog owners may want to know when a dog can conceive to mate it or isolate it from males to avoid pregnancy altogether. Generally, dogs can only get pregnant when they go into heat. Since dogs reach puberty very early, you can expect your female dog to experience the first heat cycle at around 6–9 months of age.

Of course, your dog’s ability to get pregnant will be determined by the specific breed and size. This is perhaps why some smaller dog breeds can reach childbearing age at even 4 months, even though they are technically still puppies. Generally, your dog can get pregnant from 6 months of age to way beyond 10 years of age.

This article will discuss sexual maturity in dogs, signs of pregnancy, and how to prevent pregnancy in your furry companion. Read on to learn more.

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Sexual Maturity in Female Dogs

As mentioned earlier, dogs can conceive immediately after the estrus cycle begins. And unlike human females who aren’t able to conceive children after menopause, dogs experience heat cycles throughout their lives unless neutered.

Therefore, your dog will be able to have puppies from the first 6 months of age to way beyond 10 years of age. Granted, your dog will be able to get pregnant at this age, but it is not recommended because it is associated with various risk factors and, as such, should be avoided.

Once your dog establishes the heat cycle, it will experience it every six months, with each cycle lasting between 2–4 weeks. This is another reason why breeders and pet parents need to pay close attention to their heat cycles after reaching puberty to predict a dog’s heat cycle and know exactly how long it will last.

a pregnant beagle at home
Image Credit: Nina Buday, Shutterstock

When Do Males Reach Sexual Maturity?

In males, sexual maturity is usually associated with sperm production and can happen at different times depending on the dog breed. On average, male dogs achieve sexual maturity between 6 and 12 months of age.

Generally, male dogs can get a female pregnant even before they are fully developed. This is perhaps why the fertility in some male dogs can delay for up to one or two years. However, immediately after the male dog starts producing sperm, it can easily get a female pregnant despite the age. This is why neutering or spaying should be done as early as your vet recommends.

Furthermore, just like in female dogs, males can remain fertile throughout their lives. They can only lose their fertility if castrated or suffering from an illness. When older, they may have lower motility and sperm count, but they can still get a female dog pregnant under the right circumstances.

However, their sexual drive does decrease with age, so older male dogs may not be as interested in copulating as younger ones.

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Signs That Your Dog Is in Heat

The first sign that indicates that your dog is going through the estrus cycle is the swelling of the external vulva. However, the swelling may not be immediately obvious to some people. The earliest sign that most people notice is bleeding in the vaginal area, which in some instances may not be apparent until several days of being in heat.

While some dogs will only experience a small amount of vaginal discharge, others undergo some bleeding. After about a week into the cycle, the discharge becomes watery and changes to a pink-reddish color. This is also when your dog may develop a marking behavior. This simply means that your female mutt will frequently deposit small amounts of urine containing hormones and pheromones.

Marking helps signal any available and interested males that she is almost ready to copulate. However, it’s worth remembering that even if your dog may get attracted to males right from the beginning of estrus, she will not consent to mate for at least another 7 to 10 days.

Other signs that indicate that your dog is ready to get pregnant include the following:
  • Tail tucking
  • Alertness
  • Frequently lifting the tail up
  • Their tails are stiffer
  • Frequent urination
  • Flagging
  • Extra cuddly with the parent
  • Licking the genital area
  • Aggression towards other female dogs
  • Restlessness

How to Prevent Your Dog From Getting Pregnant

After your puppy reaches sexual maturity, one of the most important decisions you can make involves neutering and spaying. Unless you plan to breed your dog, veterinarians recommend that you prevent your dog from having puppies, especially if you are not prepared to rear another generation.

For this process to be successful, timing is important. The American Kennel Club recommends that you allow your puppy to experience her first heat cycle before allowing her to breed. This way, your puppy will be mature enough to handle pregnancy. If your dog is spayed or neutered before puberty/maturity, it will be at a higher risk of future orthopedic problems.

Also, according to the AKC Canine Health Foundation research, spaying or neutering your dog before it has reached 12 months of age can impact the development of health issues such as hip dysplasia, different types of cancer, and canine cruciate ligament ruptures.

veterinarian spaying or neutering a dog
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

Tips for Ensuring Your Dog Stays Healthy and Safe

  • Ensure that your dog is at the appropriate age and healthy before introducing it to a virile male.
  • If you do not want or are not ready for your dog to get pregnant, get her spayed from an early age or keep her away from male dogs.
  • Ensure that your dog has undergone her first heat cycle before allowing her to mate.
  • Never allow a dog older than 9 years to get pregnant because they are at a higher risk of health problems.
  • While in heat, ensure that your dog doesn’t interact with other overly aggressive female dogs.
  • Carefully monitor your dog’s symptoms while in heat. If you notice a pus discharge coming from the vagina, consult your local veterinarian immediately.

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Your dog can easily conceive after reaching sexual maturity at 6 months of age and continue to bear children even after 10 years old.

The first signs that your dog is ready to get pregnant may include a swollen vulva, vaginal discharge, frequent marking, and tail tucking. Behavioral signs may include alertness, aggression towards other female dogs, restlessness, and licking the vaginal area.

In case you do not want your dog to get pregnant for whatever reason, you should have your canine spayed. When done at an early age, it is the best and easiest contraception for dogs. By understanding when your dog reaches sexual maturity, you will be better placed to make responsible decisions for your dog as well as ensure that she remains healthy and safe.

Featured Image Credit: Hanna Dymytrova-kaihila, Shutterstock

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