Can a 13-year-old dog still get pregnant? Physiologically speaking, yes. Most female dogs can still get pregnant very late in life. Likewise, most elderly male dogs can still mate and produce puppies until the very end of their lives.
However, there are a lot of risks associated with a senior dog getting pregnant and going through labor at an advanced age.
Not to mention the fact that there is already a severe animal overpopulation crisis in this country, so bringing new puppies into the world is a decision that should not be taken lightly.
Therefore, if you have an unspayed female dog, you must be vigilant about not allowing her to interact with unaltered males throughout the course of her entire life.
She will never reach a point where she is “safe” to be around unaltered male dogs. Older female dogs do not go through menopause like humans do.
Your unaltered female dog will still be able to get pregnant even in her golden years. However, veterinarians and responsible breeders recommend that females stop breeding before the age of eight.
In fact, some kennel clubs will not allow litters to be registered if the mother is over the age of eight. Some vets recommend that females stop breeding by the age of five.
In this article, we will attempt to answer some of the common questions surrounding geriatric dogs going into heat and getting pregnant.
Of course, if you have any specific health concerns about your personal dog, please make an appointment with your veterinarian right away. This article should not be used in the place of guidance from a medical professional.
The Canine Estrus Cycle
All dogs are a little bit different. Not all dogs go into heat at the same time.
When Do Dogs Go into Their First Heat Cycle?
Most female dogs go into heat for the first time around the age of six-months-old.
However, some dogs can go into heat even earlier—around four-months-old. This is earlier than a lot of people expect!
On the other hand, some breeds, especially large breeds like Saint Bernards or Newfoundlands, do not go into heat until they are one- or even two-years old.
The term “going into heat” refers to the stage in a dog’s life cycle when she releases eggs and becomes receptive to mating. This is when she can become pregnant with a litter of puppies.
The signs that a female dog is in heat include:
- Frequent urination
- Swollen vulva
- Bloody vaginal discharge
- Antsy/ distracted behavior
- Raising her tail to one side
- Initiating sexual contact with male dogs
If you have an unaltered female dog of any age, you must watch for these signs closely.
If there is any possibility that your female dog is in heat, you must keep her away from unaltered males and under supervision at all times or you risk an unplanned pregnancy.
During this time, do not bring your female dog to a dog park or a doggie daycare. Even if you believe she will be supervised—it is better to be safe than sorry.
Do not even leave her in your backyard unsupervised. Crafty male dogs have been known to dig holes and hop fences to get access to a female in heat.
To be on the safe side, you could even get your female dog a doggie diaper or female coverup for extra protection.
If you take all of these precautions, you should be able to avoid an unplanned pregnancy.
Of course, the most effective way to prevent a dog from getting pregnant is to get her spayed. We will talk about this procedure later in the article.
How Often Do Dogs Go into Heat?
Again, this varies from dog to dog.
Most dogs go into heat about every 6 months—so about twice per year.
However, their cycles are not always regular, especially in the beginning, which is why you have to keep a very close eye on your unaltered female dog. You never know when she might be going into heat.
Very large breeds, like Great Danes or Mastiffs, go into heat less frequently. Generally, just once per year.
As dogs get older, they also go into heat less frequently.
Therefore, by the time your dog is a senior, she may only be going into heat once per year or even less frequently.
How Long Do Dogs Stay in Heat?
A dog will usually remain in heat for about two to three weeks.
The female dog can get pregnant at any point during this time frame.
Complications Associated with Pregnancy in Older Dogs
Just like humans, female dogs can have complications with pregnancy, labor and delivery.
As dogs get older, the likelihood of complications increases.
Below are some of the most common complications that occur with canine pregnancy:
- Pre-eclampsia– caused by low calcium levels
- Dystocia– labor complications
- Pyometra– pus-filled, infected uterus
- Pseudopregnancy- false pregnancy
Breeds Prone to Pregnancy and Birthing Complications
Certain breeds are also more prone to complications during pregnancy and the birthing (or whelping) process.
In general, these tend to be dogs with large heads. Therefore, the puppies may have trouble getting through the narrow birth canal.
For example, breeds that are prone pregnancy and whelping complications include:
Sometimes, caesarean sections are required to safely deliver the puppies for these breeds.
If you have one of these breeds, you will want to be extra vigilant to make sure that your senior female does not accidentally become pregnant.
If your dog is elderly and one of these high-risk breeds that could be a recipe for disaster.
Spaying, Neutering, and Animal Overpopulation
As we mentioned earlier in the article, there is a serious pet overpopulation problem in the United States.
There are already many more dogs and cats being born on a yearly basis than there are homes available.
This means that many homeless animals are living in animal shelters and being euthanized on a yearly basis.
Here are some figures from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA):
- 6.5 million companion animals (dogs and cats) enter animal shelters every year
- Each year, approximately 1.5 million animals are euthanized in shelters
- 670,000 of these are dogs
- 860,000 of these are cats
Before you allow your dog to have puppies, please look at those numbers again. 1.5 million animals are euthanized in animal shelters every year.
Unless you are a professional, show-quality breeder, please consider getting your pet spayed or neutered.
There are simply too many dogs and cats already in the world.
What is Spaying and Neutering?
Spaying and neutering are the surgical procedures that prevent animals from being able to reproduce.
Spaying is the term used for female animals. During a spay surgery, the veterinarian removes the uterus and ovaries while the dog is under anesthesia. This procedure is also called an ovariohysterectomy.
After a female dog is spayed, she will no longer go into heat.
Neutering is name of the sterilizing procedure for male animals. During a neuter surgery, the vet removes the testicles while the pet is under anesthesia.
There are a few medical and behavioral benefits to spaying and neutering. These include:
- Elimination of certain types of cancer (ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, testicular cancer)
- Reduced risk of other types of diseases (mammary tumors, prostate problems)
- Reduction in unwanted behaviors associated with mating (escaping, roaming, humping, aggression).
As with all medical procedures, there are also risks associated with these surgeries.
However, these surgical procedures are considered to be fairly routine and low risk.
Talk with your veterinarian about spaying and neutering to figure out the right course of action for your pet.
Spaying Older Dogs
Can senior dogs still get spayed? Are dogs ever too old to get spayed?
If you adopt an older, unaltered dog, you might be wondering if you can still get her spayed.
Talk with your veterinarian about the pros and cons of performing the spay procedure on an older dog.
As long as the dog is otherwise healthy, most senior dogs can still get spayed.
Your vet might want to run some additional lab work prior to the surgery and take some extra precautions if your dog is a senior.
Spaying Pregnant Dogs
If your senior dog accidentally gets pregnant before you have a chance to get her spayed, can the vet still spay her?
Yes, most veterinarians are still comfortable spaying pregnant females, especially if it is early in the pregnancy.
However, try to avoid this situation by making an appointment sooner rather than later!
Ask the Vet
We hope that this article has answered some of your questions about pregnancy in older dogs.
As always, if you have any further questions or concerns about your pet, please do not hesitate to reach out to a licensed veterinarian.