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What Is the Right Age for Breeding a Labrador?
A male Labrador becomes fertile after six months of age and reaches his full sexual maturity once he's 12 to 15 months old.
An adult male Labrador can mate at any time. If the Labrador is healthy, he may be able to keep his fertility and be sexually active until old age.
It's pretty straightforward with male dogs. However, several other factors come into play when we try to breed a female Labrador. So let's talk about breeding female Labradors in detail.
A female Labrador will have her first heat cycle after she's six months old. This is the phase in which she can get pregnant. It reoccurs around every six months until late in life. We'll talk more about the heat cycles of Labradors in the next section.
You should never breed a female Labrador during her first heat cycle. She is quite young at this point, and you don't want to impose the stress of pregnancy and lactation on her as she's still growing.
Even though she may be sexually active, she isn't completely mature physically. Mating during the first heat cycle increases the chance of pregnancy and other health-related complications.
We shouldn't breed the female Labrador until she's physically mature. Since Labradors fall into the category of large breeds, they mature around the age of 18 to 24 months, so it's best to avoid breeding until the third heat cycle or until she's around two years old.
Related article: How Many Puppies Do Labradors Usually Have? Litter Sizes Explained
Understanding Female Heat Cycles
Understanding the heat cycles of your female Labrador is essential to avoid failed breeding attempts or unplanned litter of pups.
When we say that a female Labrador goes into heat, we mean that her body is preparing itself for possible conception. It's your dog's reproductive cycle. Phrases such as heat cycle, breeding cycle, and periods, all refer to the same thing.
A Labrador stays in the heat for around three to four weeks; there's no exact number of days, though. Although your pet may stay in the heat for up to four weeks, the days when she's most fertile begin after 9-10 days into the heat cycle. This high-fertility period lasts for around five days, so you should mate the Labradors between the 10th and 14th day of the female Labrador's heat cycle.
This heat cycle is divided into four stages: proestrus, estrus, diestrus, anestrus. Let's briefly discuss each of them.
- Proestrus: The female dog is getting ready for pregnancy. Male dogs will start getting attracted to her, but she won't allow breeding as of yet. This stage typically lasts for nine days. You'll see physical signs such as the swollen vulva and bloody vaginal discharge.
- Estrus: At the beginning of this stage, the ovary releases eggs. The estrogen levels in your dog's body decline, while the progesterone levels go up. The female dog is fertile in this stage, ready to mate, and she will follow her bodily instincts and accept a male. This stage also lasts for around nine days.
- Diestrus: This stage lasts for two to three months or until the female Labrador gives birth (if she's pregnant). She will no longer be accepting males. A bloody discharge may still be present, but it gradually stops. By the end of this stage, the hormonal levels in your dog become normal.
- Anestrus: This is the final stage of the heat cycle of your female dog. There's no sexual activity during this phase.
Most female Labradors go into heat twice a year. The ovarian activity of a female dog starts to decline in the sixth year of her life. Most of them stop conceiving after they're seven years old.
Related article: What Size Whelping Box Do You Need For A Labrador?
What Happens if You Breed Labradors Too Young?
We've discussed that we should wait till the third heat cycle of a female Labrador before breeding. But what are the health concerns if a Labrador gets pregnant too early?
You need to allow your Labrador's body to grow up. If the female Labrador gets pregnant before maturing physically, it'll put extra strain on her. The physical strain of carrying extra weight is a burden on the growing joints.
Apart from that, pregnancy will suck out nutrients from your dog. Since the female Labrador is young, her immune system isn't fully developed. This means that she's more vulnerable to diseases and infections than an adult dog would be. Various bacteria can infect her reproductive tract, causing abortions, stillbirths, miscarriages, and even the death of the newborn puppies.
Your dog may even end up dying while giving birth to the puppies. Because she hasn't fully grown, her pelvic canal may not be large enough for the puppies to fit through without endangering their own lives and the life of the mother. Here, she must go through surgery, which increases the chances of health complications for her.
Since she is also not mature biologically, she is more likely to abandon her puppies than an adult mother. She may fail to care for them, which lowers their chances of survival.
Performing Health Checks Before Breeding
Both parent Labradors require long-term care to produce beautiful, strong puppies. They need to be physically and mentally healthy. The female Labrador should have decent muscle tone and a balanced weight before breeding.
Apart from physical health, they also need to be in good mental condition. A mentally stable female Labrador will make a better mother than one that's insecure or has an unstable temperament.
A month before breeding, the female Labrador should go through pre-breeding physical examinations by a vet. You need to get her checked for common health problems, such as elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia, and eye disorders.
The vaccinations of both parent Labradors should be current, and the female Labrador should be tested for parasites as well.
Another health check that I would highly recommend for any dog owner, but especially for one that is considering breeding, is to have DNA testing done.
In recent years human DNA testing has become extremely popular with companies like 23andme emerging. People are interested in understanding their background, health sensitivities, etc. This is no different for dogs!
A company called Embark has a Breed + Health testing kit that allows owners to learn about their dogs breed, health, and ancestry! This kit tests for over 170 health conditions and uses over 200,000 markers to identify and build a complete genetic profile. It is simple and non-invasive. All you have to do is perform a quick oral swab and mail it in! Easy!
We've just talked about a lot of different things. Here are the important points from this article:
- Male Labradors reach full sexual maturity after 12 to 15 months of age.
- Female Labradors have their first heat cycle after six months of age.
- We should wait until the third heat cycle before breeding, which happens after 18 to 24 months of age.
- The mating should take place between the 10th and 14th day of the female Labrador's heat cycle, as she's most fertile during this period.
- Conception before physical maturity can cause health complications.
- We also need to perform pre-breeding health checks to ensure that the female Labrador is healthy and ready to conceive.