As a dog parent, there is nothing more exhilarating for us than knowing that we will soon have a litter of adorable cute puppies. I remember during my dog’s first pregnancy, I would religiously follow every thread and read as many books as I could about dog pregnancy.
One of the first few questions that I had back then is “how many puppies can my German shepherd have?” Large breeds like German shepherds can have 7 puppies per litter, and some can even give birth to a litter size of 15 puppies. Bear in mind this is an average, it is possible for your dog to have less or more puppies than that.
By now, I’m sure you have more questions about your dog and her number of pups in a litter. Let’s take a look at each of them.
How Can You Tell How Many Puppies a German Shepherd is Having?
When the gestation period has reached the 25-day mark, your vet may usually ask to do an ultrasound examination to confirm if the dog’s pregnancy is still viable. An ultrasound machine is used to generate images of your dog’s uterus based on high-frequency sound waves during this procedure.
Though you and your vet can then see the unborn puppies on an ultrasound screen, it’s not the most accurate way to count them. If the puppies’ position in the womb is above or behind one another, the ultrasound will fool you into thinking there’s only one puppy when there are actually two.
An x-ray test is the best way to know how many puppies your German shepherd is having. This test is usually done at around 45 days of gestation. By this time, the puppies’ bones have calcified, making it possible to see them on an x-ray.
Although puppies’ skeletal development starts at day 45, your vet will likely pend the test until day 55. This gives the puppies’ bones time to fully develop and harden to get the most accurate count. Delaying an X-ray test also means minimizing radiation exposure for the unborn puppies and giving your vet a chance to prepare for a possible birth complication.
Even with an X-ray, however, the result is still not guaranteed to be accurate. There are still lots of things that can go wrong. The most common case is when the puppies start running out of room in the womb and are started to huddle up together. This can cause one or two pups to hide from the X-ray machine.
What Determines How Many Puppies a Dog Will Have?
The things that determine a dog’s litter size are:
- Dog’s body size itself
- Human manipulation
- Time of delivery
- And health
Normally, the bigger the breed, the more puppies they carry. It makes perfect sense biologically for dogs to not produce puppies more than they can handle as overly large litters can create an assortment of problems for the mothers ranging from delivery problems to the difficulty to feed the entire litter sufficiently.
While the norm is that larger dog breeds have large litters, it’s not always true in reality. Take the example of the Pekingese. Despite their small body (weighing in at just 7-14 pounds), they can give birth to as many as 10 puppies at a time.
Aside from the dog’s size, humans can have control over how many puppies will be in a litter to a certain extent. It has been known that some breeders artificially inseminate the dams to produce more puppies if they have a line of people wanting them.
When the dam gives birth also correlates highly with the number of puppies in her litter. According to the American Kennel Club, dams that deliver their puppies in the spring generally have larger litter compared to those that give birth at other times of the year.
The other equally important and self-explanatory factors affecting a dog’s litter size are age, diet, and health.
How Many Litters Can A German Shepherd Have?
It is possible for a female German shepherd to have two to three litters a year. They go into heat at about two years old, and unlike humans, they don’t experience menopause. Assuming an average lifespan of a German shepherd is 10 years (1), they could have up to 24 litters in their lifetime.
Nonetheless, it is highly unlikely for your dog to reach anywhere near that number. Senior female dogs and dogs that are overbred are at greater risk of losing litters due to their mental and physical health conditions.
The older your female German shepherd gets, the more fragile her ovum and eggs become, and the more complications that could occur for both the dam and the puppies. This means your dog’s chances of producing another litter become smaller with age, and the quality of puppies that they produce becomes lesser than before. For this reason, most breed clubs recommend retiring a female when they reach eight years of age.
What about male German shepherds?
While there is no age limit to how long a male dog can sire a litter, bear in mind that the quality of their sperm decreases too over time. Just like the female, it is recommended that you should stop breeding a male dog around seven to eight years of age to maintain the litter’s quality.
1. Can You Tell How Many Puppies a Dog will Have by Their Nipples? There is a popular myth among dog owners that counting a dog’s nipples can tell you how many puppies she will have. The myth goes that a pregnant dog will have half as many puppies as she has nipples so that she can nurse every puppy even if one or two of her nipples don’t produce enough milk.
Regardless of the dog’s size, most dogs have an average of eight to 10 nipples and an average litter size of about five to six puppies, making this theory appears credible. In reality, however, this theory is more a coincidence than fact as there is no factual basis to support it.
2. How Many Puppies Survive in a Litter? On average, if your German shepherd produces 7 puppies, you can expect five of them to survive in a litter. This is based on several factors, including genetics, whelping conditions, and whether or not you assist your dog during and after whelping. But, generally, most of your dog’s puppies will survive.