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How Many Puppies Are Born in a Litter (Average Litter Sizes & Influential Factors)

Nicole Cosgrove

If your dog is expecting puppies soon, you are probably anticipating how many pups you should expect. This can be a very thrilling moment, yet full of anxiety. You want to make sure that both mother and puppies are safe and healthy during the delivery.

So, it is vital to determine when your dog is due and acquaint yourself with the delivery process to make sure everything goes smoothly.

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Typical Dog Litter Sizes

golden retriever puppies eating
Image Credit: jagdprinzessin, Pixabay

A typical litter size tends to vary from 1–12 puppies, with 5 to 6 pups being average across all dogs. However, large breeds can have up to 15 pups. It is a wide range and depends on the species, size, health, and your dog’s pregnancy history.

Giant breeds will often have larger puppies’ litter, while miniature dogs’ breeds will have smaller ones, maybe only a couple. That is due to the smaller size of the mini dog breeds. Your dog may also have fewer pups if it is its first time to give birth but will probably have more puppies every pregnancy after that.

In addition, your dog must remain healthy since it plays a significant role in how many pups she will have. A dog’s proper nutrition helps her produce more puppies that will develop and survive the pregnancy process.

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Average Litter Sizes for the Top Popular Dog Breeds

Three puppies in a bucket
Image Credit: Sarah Bolden, Pixabay
Breed Average Number of Puppies
Teacup or Miniature Chihuahua 1 to 2
Shih Tzu or Pomeranian 1 to 4
Australian Shepherd or Cattle Dog 3 to 6
Doberman, Golden Retriever or Pitbull 4 to 8
Cane Corso, Mastiff or Great Dane 8 to 10 or more

Although some breeds of dogs can give birth to many pups, that does not mean that every puppy will survive the birth process. It is common for dogs to give birth to 8 puppies, but only four or five survive. Some puppies can be born dead, while others may not survive the first 24 hours of life.

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7 Factors That Determine a Dog’s Litter Size

sled dog with puppies
Image Credit: Michelle Raponi, Pixabay

Various factors will determine how many pups are in a litter. Some aspects are genetically predetermined, while others have more to do with lifestyle and health.

1. Breed and Size

The primary factor that determines the size of a litter is your dog’s breed and stature. A giant breed of dog will often have a larger brood than a smaller dog breed. On average, a large dog breed will have seven pups in a family, while small breeds will only have three.

Dog breeds such as Great Danes and Labradors can have litters of over ten puppies at a time. Their bodies can handle the development and delivery of many puppies better than other breeds.

In addition, you need to consider the lineage of your dog. A hybrid dog may require a larger litter due to its diversity and gene pool. Contrarily, a dog that has been inbred may have particular traits that make them have fewer puppies in their brood.


2. Time and Conception Method

Surprisingly, how your dog becomes impregnated might determine how many puppies she will have. Some dogs get pregnant naturally, giving them a higher chance of having a bigger litter, while others conceive through artificial insemination. Preserved semen kills many sperm cells during the freezing process, which reduces fertilization resulting in fewer pups in a litter.

The impregnation date also determines the number of pups in a litter. Agronomists have discovered that the dogs that conceive within the 48 hours after they ovulate will have a high chance of a larger brood.


3. Age

When it comes to conceiving, dogs don’t have an age limit. A female dog can remain fertile until its senility. However, a dog is likely to have a larger litter during its early adulthood. Dogs are highly productive between two and five years of age, and their litter size will reduce as they become older.

dog yawning
Image Credit: Bärbel Recknagel, Pixabay

4. Number of Pregnancies

A dog is ready to have another litter with each heat period. And, every time a dog gets pregnant, it has a better chance of having even more puppies with the next brood. You will often observe these larger litters on pregnancy numbers three, four, and five.

The first pregnancy is a unique case since it is often small. Though most people believe that the dog is unfamiliar with the pregnancy process, there is no defined reason. As their hormones develop, your dog will experience stress and anxiety, affecting her developing eggs.

But after your dog has gone through pregnancy once, she will know what to expect, thus reducing her anxiety.


5. Overall Health

Getting pregnant can be pretty tedious on a dog’s body. First, if your dog is not in perfect shape, it is likely not to have a larger litter. Second, having poor health can lead to complications during birth. Therefore, your dog needs to remain healthy throughout its whole pregnancy.

pregnant Dogue de Bordeaux
Image Credit: Jan Dix, Shutterstock

6. Diet

There is a connection between your dog’s diet and health. Whether you prepare your own dog food or give your dog dairy feed, the food’s quality will determine how many pups your dog will have. Plus, it will determine how smooth the birth will be.

A dog’s body requires a balanced, nutrient-rich food supply to support the pup’s development. If your dog does not get sufficient nutrients, the puppies may die unborn, or the dog will deliver prematurely.

You will sometimes need to change your dog’s diet to increase the litter size. You can typically choose to enhance the food your dog is already taking with extra protein. However, to be sure whether this is beneficial to your pregnant dog or not, make sure you consult your vet before making dietary changes to your pregnant dog’s diet.


7. The Father

In rare cases, the father can also determine the size of a litter. Entire health and genetics will impact how the sperm will perform and how the female dog’s body reacts to male sperm.

Bulldog sitting on the grass
Image Credit: Seaq68, Pixabay

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Final Thoughts

A pet owner or breeder can select their breed, mate them at the optimum time and feed them high-nutritious food throughout the year. However, they cannot determine the size of the litter. That is up to the nature of the mother dog.


Featured Image Credit: Anna Hoychuk, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.