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If you already own a Golden Retriever and planning on getting another one as its mate, the following qualifications might have already crossed your mind: size, exceptional physical attributes, behavior, and pedigree.
The breeding process in Golden Retrievers includes selecting the best physical and reproductive traits of the parents. This qualification often comes first in selecting Golden Retrievers for breeding, rather than their personality, as most Goldies share the same character.
As much as possible, we want the best desirable traits and behavior to be passed on to our Goldies’ litter in the future. Consistent breeding of Golden Retrievers with the same traits results in trait fixation.
However, it does not remove the possibility of acquiring non-desirable traits. That is why most breeders make several breeding attempts to achieve trait fixation of desirable traits.
They also filter out non-desirable traits by preventing Goldies carrying undesirable traits from breeding and producing litter.
Understanding your Goldies’ litter size helps you as an owner in monitoring the length of its gestation. It will give you time to prepare the necessary precautions as they enter the parturition and lactation period.
Determining your dog’s exact litter size is only possible a few days before whelping through a radiograph. But if you already want to have an idea of your Goldies’ litter size, fret not, as your dog’s litter size is influenced by several factors.
In this post, we will be tackling how many puppies do Golden Retrievers have, what factors can influence the litter size, their pregnancy, and breeding considerations.
Factors Affecting Litter Size
Genetics of the Parents
Based on research, genetics can influence a dog’s litter by 15-20%. That is a big number to consider when it comes to selecting the parents for breeding. Dams usually have a bigger influence on the litter size rather than the sire.
Now, as mentioned, Goldies are selectively bred to obtain the desired traits and attributes. In some cases, breeders perform inbreeding to lock in these traits. However, inbreeding results in a negative effect on your Goldie’s litter size – it reduces the number of puppies in a litter.
Inbreeding may help you achieve the desirable traits you want your Goldie to have, but it will also compromise their health and their capacity to adapt to environmental changes and stress.
Therefore, it is best to diversify their genetics by selecting parents with exceptional traits that are far related to each other. Genetic diversity will still arise in acquiring the desirable traits, attributes, and behavior you want their litter to have.
Diversifying their genetics reduces their chances of acquiring genetic-related health conditions and allows survival in undesirable environmental changes.
It goes without saying, but the larger the breed, the larger the litter size will be. That is because medium to large dog breeds can carry more puppies inside their womb. Golden Retrievers, as medium-sized breeds, produce an average range of 5-12 puppies in one litter.
One veterinary concept that is seldom used (as it may not always be applicable) is that determining the number of puppies in a litter can be based on the number of teats or nipples a female dog has.
If Golden Retrievers have about 4-6 pairs of nipples (8-12 in total), their probable litter size is about half of the number of teats they have, which is 7 or 8. But then again, there is always an exception to the rules. It may not always be applicable as some Goldies may produce less than 6 puppies.
Age of the Mother
Golden Retrievers pregnant at first heat or within 6-9 months may not guarantee a healthy and large litter size. The size and weight of young Goldies are not yet suitable for pregnancy.
Growing puppies inside a young Goldie’s womb may not allow for adequate nutrient absorption as the mother is still growing too. Fetal resorption, pre-mature birth, weak puppies, or small litter size are possible results of early pregnancy.
Additionally, older females produce smaller litters and have a higher frequency of neonatal losses. In some reported cases, the mammary glands of older females slow down in milk production, resulting in breastfeeding complications.
Health of the Mother
Maternal health is an important indicator in determining the success of pregnancy and the health and well-being of the puppies up until the period of lactation and weaning. A healthy mother ensures a healthy litter of puppies.
However, certain conditions will affect the mother’s health, such as existing infections, reproductive disorders, a stressful environment, and proper nutrition.
Nutrition of the Mother
Pregnant and lactating Goldies will require a lot of high-caloric diets to support both the mother and large litter size. If proper nutrition is not provided, malnourished Goldies may result in weak, underweight, and small litter sizes.
The risk of having congenital defects during pregnancy is high, and the development of neonatal problems may arise, resulting in the death of puppies in a litter.
What is the Average Litter Size of Golden Retrievers?
Statistics and Studies on the Average Litter Size
Although no official studies have been conducted regarding a Golden Retrievers’ litter size, based on retrospective sources recorded online, the average litter size for Golden Retrievers is about 7-8 puppies, with 17 puppies beings the largest and 1 puppy being the smallest litter produced.
Provided with that information, we can assume that the litter size of Golden Retrievers is somewhat unpredictable due to several factors affecting it. But it is safe to say that from a range of 1 to 17 puppies, they can produce an average range of 5 to 8 puppies.
Comparison with Other Dog Breeds
Unlike small dog breeds, which are not expected to have more than 5-6 puppies in one litter, it is easier to predict their litter size compared to medium to large breeds. As some large breeds may surprise us with more than the expected maximum number of puppies they can produce.
Tia, a Neapolitan Mastiff, had the largest record of 24 puppies in one litter on November 29th, 2004, as declared by the Guinness World Records. The litter was delivered via cesarean section with a total of 9 females and 15 males.
The litter of 24 puppies did not survive altogether as 1 puppy was stillborn, and the other 3 puppies died during the first week.
Some retrospective studies show that delivering puppies via elective C-section may improve the litter’s survival by 2%.
For some breeds like brachycephalic dogs, elective C-section is the best option to deliver their puppies to avoid damage to both the puppies and the dam’s birth canal.
However, this may not always be applicable since Golden Retrievers are known for their natural birthing method.
This claim is somewhat biased as it did not consider other factors like breed considerations, long-term survival risk of the puppies, and the complications it might cause to the dam.
Maximum and Minimum Litter Sizes
Factors Affecting the Maximum and Minimum Litter Sizes
If your Golden Retriever is a first-time mom, you may expect an average litter size of 8 or below average but not less than 5. It is normal for them to bear the average number during their first pregnancy as they have just reached their full growth at 16 to 18 months.
But if your Goldie is bred and pregnant at 6-9 months, you may expect a smaller litter size than the average as their body is not fully prepared to carry out the pregnancy. Eventually, as seen in most cases, the size of their litter will grow in their subsequent pregnancies.
Experienced mothers, on the other hand, may reach a maximum of 17 puppies in one litter size. Although the average maximum is 12, your Goldie is capable of bearing 17 puppies in one litter.
That is because most experienced mothers grew in size as they went through several pregnancies. However, experienced mothers may reduce their capacity to accommodate the maximum number of puppies as they reach senior age.
The same concept also applies to male Goldies. You do not want to breed too young or too old males as their sperm quality has not reached its full potential or reduces over time as they age, accordingly.
As experienced mothers went through several pregnancies, obesity is one condition that you have to look out for. Overweight and obese female dogs may produce a smaller litter than the average and may experience ‘fading puppy syndrome’.
Examples of Exceptionally Large and Small litter
Based on an online source (not an official record), the largest litter a Golden Retriever ever produced in the year 2009 was about 17 puppies, having 1 stillborn pup. While the smallest litter for Golden Retrievers appearing in online sources was 1 puppy.
Pregnancy and Whelping
Gestation Period of Golden Retrievers
The gestational period of Golden Retrievers ranges from 60-65 days with an average of 63 days. However, this may vary for some Goldies because their length of pregnancy is influenced by several factors such as the day of conception, litter size, age, and health.
Ovulation only lasts for 48 hours in dogs and the time of introduction of the sperm in the female reproductive tract matters in determining the fertilization and implantation of the fertilized egg.
Sperm introduced days before ovulation may result in later conception (3-5 days), while sperm entry during the 48-hour ovulation period may lead to conception within 24 hours.
Larger litter sizes are said to have a shorter gestation period as compared to smaller litter sizes. In addition, the age of the mother contributes to the duration of the pregnancy, wherein young pregnant Goldies tend to have early parturition.
Signs of Pregnancy
Certain pregnancy signs may differ from one Goldie to another. But the most common ones include:
- Teat or Nipple enlargement
- Abdominal distention due to uterine expansion from growing puppies (apparent on the 4th-8th week of pregnancy)
- Experiencing morning sickness symptoms such as vomiting, inappetence, or lethargy (may not apply to some)
- Increase in weight and size
- Manifests “Nesting behavior” as it reaches the expected date of delivery
- Either have a voracious appetite or become a picky-eater
- Reduced active lifestyle as their belly grows bigger
- Your Goldie may become more affectionate and dependent as it nears whelping
Preparing for Whelping
There are a lot of considerations in preparation for whelping. First, it is important to visit your veterinarian for an ultrasound or radiograph to check the dam and the litter’s health status and confirm her expected date of delivery.
Back at home, you may prepare a nest or a birthing area for your Golden Retriever so that she will have a secure and safe space for whelping. However, there are cases when she decides on a different place for her whelping area, so you should not feel bad about it as she will choose the place where she feels the most comfortable.
Your assistance may be required during the delivery of her puppies. If you’re an experienced owner, you may assist in pulling out the puppy if you think that it is stuck in the birth canal as she constantly pushes and contracts, but if not, then call for a veterinarian’s help.
Due to their large litter size, the dam may not cater to her previous puppies as she delivers another. So your assistance is necessary for keeping the other puppies alive by removing the sac that surrounds it and constantly rubbing them in a clean dry cloth until they make their first cry.
Caring for the Mother and Puppies After Birth
As all the puppies are delivered, they must ingest colostrum within 2 hours after birth. Colostrum in the dam’s milk provides strong immunization and nourishment for newborn puppies.
A specified high-caloric meal must be readily provided for the mother when she regains her appetite after giving birth to support all metabolic works her body undergoes. Calcium supplementation may be provided, as recommended by your veterinarian, to aid in milk production during lactation.
The dam’s teats must be kept clean and sanitized to prevent infections in both dams and puppies. It is best to clip the hair of your Goldies from her chest down to the abdominal area to avoid contamination of the teats and milk.
Some Goldies have low milk production, and in such cases, your veterinarian may advise injections or oral supplements that enhance milk production.
If the mother’s milk production is inadequate, you can support both the dam and the puppies through bottle feeding. This is also applicable in cases where Goldies have large litter sizes exceeding the number of teats that produce milk.
Importance of responsible breeding practices
A responsible breeding practice starts with the proper selection of the parents. Both the dam and sire should be in proper health and body condition, with no history of genetic-related health conditions. It is also important that the parents do not come from the same pedigree to avoid inbreeding.
Responsible breeding is crucial to producing good-quality puppies. It reduces their chances of acquiring hereditary illnesses and promotes genetic mutation suitable for adaptations in unfavorable environmental changes.
Risks and Complications of Breeding Golden Retrievers
Breeding your Goldies always comes with risks and possible complications. We cannot entirely eliminate them but we can sure reduce the chances.
Natural mating may cause injury to both the dam and the sire. A phenomenon in dog mating called “breeding tie”, where the male’s bulbus glandis expands and locks in the vagina, occurs for about 30 minutes. This is a normal occurrence during natural mating.
At this point, any interference or attempt to separate them should be avoided to prevent injury or damage to both genitals. The best way to keep them safe is by guarding them during their mating period. The swelling of the male genitalia will eventually subside, ending the breeding tie event.
Experienced mothers have a higher risk of acquiring mammary tumors, breast, and ovarian cancer. Apart from their genetic makeup, hormonal imbalances in older Goldies are contributing factors in developing these conditions.
The retention of the placenta after delivery will cause health complications to the dam. The retained placenta may lead to infections in the uterus, causing symptoms such as lethargy, inappetence, fever, and green to black, fetid vaginal discharges.
Successful copulation but failed conception may result in false pregnancy and, in worse cases, pyometra (uterus infection).
Timing of Breeding and Spacing of Litters
Owners play a huge role in the breeding management of their dogs. Increasing the chances of our Goldie’s litter size can be attributed to the timing of breeding, and that’s when human intervention is needed.
The heat cycle in dogs is governed by the fluctuation of different hormones. Understanding these hormones will help you catch their 48-hour ovulation period. Breeding your Goldies within the said period ensures conception within 24 hours.
Veterinarians conduct a couple of laboratory tests such as serum progesterone test and vaginal cytology test. Both tests are reliable in determining the stage of the estrous cycle in your female dogs.
Your vet then recommends the appropriate days of breeding based on the test results of your Golden Retriever.
Most breeders breed female dogs for three consecutive days to ensure sperm retention inside the female reproductive as it waits for the ovulation period. While others allow two-day intervals on each day for three days (before, during, and after the 48-hour ovulation period).
For breeders that opt for Artificial Insemination, the pattern and time of breeding are the same as natural mating. However, studies show that AI reduces a dam’s litter size.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How many litters can a Golden Retriever have?
Golden Retrievers can produce a maximum of two litters in a year, provided that their heat cycle is every 4-6 months. Their average litter size ranges from 5-12 puppies, although they can produce more than 12 puppies in one litter.
2. What determines the number of puppies in a litter?
The breed is one of the contributing factors in determining the number of puppies in the litter size. Medium to large breeds produce an average of more than 5 puppies in one litter.
Their parity (the number of times a successful pregnancy has taken place) is also an important factor in determining their litter size.
In some reported cases, multiparous females tend to have a higher number of puppies in a litter as compared to primiparous ones.
3. How long is a Golden Retriever pregnant?
Golden Retrievers have a gestational period of 60-65 days, with an average of 63 days. Your Goldie’s age and litter size may contribute to the duration of their pregnancy.
By this time, we have already understood a Golden Retriever’s litter size and what factors may contribute to reaching its minimum and maximum number. We also have to keep in mind that breeding them consecutively may not be appropriate for the dam’s health.
As much as we want more puppies with the desirable traits and attributes, we also have to give time for the mother to recuperate from the previous pregnancy and lactation period. Carrying an average of 7-8 puppies plus milking them is not an easy job.
If you are planning on breeding your Goldies, it is best to keep them in their best shape and condition. Veterinary health care plays a vital role in preparing your Goldies before the breeding season.
Most veterinarians recommend an update on their vaccination and parasitic control. Internal parasites are transmitted to the puppies via milking, which is why an update in their deworming schedule can increase the chances of their litter size. Proper supplementation is also important for both dams and puppies.
Christine is a Doctor in Veterinary Medicine. As the in-house vet and writer for Furs'n'Paws, Christine shares her extensive knowledge and expertise on all things pet-related, with a particular focus on small animals such as dogs and cats. In addition, she runs her own clinic in the Philippines and volunteers at a local organization to help stray pets. Her commitment to animal health is evident in her writing style, which makes her an invaluable resource for pet owners and animal lovers.