Whether you’re waiting to bring home your very own labrador puppy or your labrador lady is expecting, one of the most nerve-racking parts of canine pregnancy is trying to determine how many puppies a single litter will contain.
The truth is that several factors can influence the size of a labrador litter. Being aware of them can help you better prepare for the delivery date and what comes after. Let’s take a look.
Labrador Litter Size According to the American Kennel Club
The American Kennel Club (or AKC) is a non-profit organization that handles the registry and maintenance of purebred dog pedigrees. As such, they are recognized experts in facts and figures for many breeds of dogs.
According to their data, most labrador litters contain between five and ten puppies, with the average being seven. Since the breed is the most important determining factor in the size of a litter for any kind of dog, it’s relatively safe to count on the litter being somewhere in that range.
In comparison to all dog breeds, Labradors are right in the middle. The average size of a litter of puppies, in general, is five or six dogs. The largest known litter of labradors ever recorded was 14 puppies, born to a black labrador in the United Kingdom in 2020.
Still, that doesn’t tell us much about the other factors that influence the number of puppies, including the parent dogs’ genetics, how many litters the mother has had, and more.
Can Your Vet Tell You How Many Puppies are Coming?
In short, probably not. Your vet can confirm pregnancy, give an estimate of how far along the pregnancy is, and give you an approximate due date. While some of the same technology is used on dogs as humans to check on gestating mama dogs, it isn’t always as sophisticated.
What’s more, with multiple births, it’s harder to see how many fetuses or hear how many heartbeats are in there with an ultrasound on a dog. Finally, it simply isn’t as important to know how many puppies a dog will have compared to human babies.
Is It Mom’s First Litter?
Humans and canines alike know the excitement of a first pregnancy. When it comes to labradors, this can also impact the size of the litter. It turns out that if it is the female dog’s first time having puppies, the litter is likely to be smaller.
A first-time mom’s uterus is more petite, and her body is not yet accustomed to pregnancy, delivery, and nursing. Biological and evolutionary factors come into play and make first litters smaller.
On average, a female labrador’s third and fourth pregnancies tend to be the largest. Expect one or two additional puppies from her first two. After the fourth pregnancy, the litter size tends to taper off.
That being said, it’s worth mentioning that many veterinarians do not recommend breeding a dog more than four times. Each dog is different, and if you’re breeding yours, you need to work closely with your vet to evaluate her health, whether she should keep breeding, and how long you should wait between pregnancies.
How Old is Mom?
In addition to whether or not it is her first litter, the age of the mother labrador also affects the size of the litter.
Generally speaking, the older the mother, the smaller the litter size. This fact is a little confusing, though, when you also consider that first litters are smaller. Won’t a dog naturally be younger when she has her first litter?
It means that a 3-year-old labrador will have larger litters than a 5- or 6-year-old labrador. So, if two female labradors have their third litter at ages four and six, the four-year-old labrador is likely to have the larger litter of the two.
How Old is Dad?
Believe it or not, the age of the father of the puppies can also impact the size of the litter. This is because of the viability of his sperm. When a female dog is in heat, her ovaries release several eggs that are ready for fertilization.
However, if the male dog is older, his sperm tends to be less vigorous, meaning fewer will reach the eggs, and therefore fewer eggs will be fertilized, resulting in smaller litter size.
Still, this is less of a determining factor than the mother’s age or some of the other factors we have talked about in this article. In other words, if you have a potential dad who usually produces healthy, desirable puppies, don’t take him out of the game just because he’s a little on the older side.
Natural versus Artificial Insemination
How did the mother dog become pregnant? That’s a significant factor in how many puppies might be in the litter. Many labrador breeders (and breeders for other types of dogs, as well) prefer artificial insemination. It’s more scientific and more controlled.
It also takes the social interactions of the two dogs out of the equation. Some dog handlers and breeders hesitate to put their mama dogs in such a sensitive and potentially unpredictable situation.
The bad news is that, while artificial insemination seems to be the more controlled and safe option, it usually yields fewer puppies. That’s because a significant number of sperm become damaged or die in the processes of collection, storage, transport, and insemination.
Even if those steps all happen within one or two days, there’s a lot of opportunity for damage and destruction. With fewer viable sperm, there’s a lower chance that all of the mom’s available eggs will be fertilized, resulting in fewer puppies.
It isn’t evident what impact genetics have on litter sizes. Of course, the breed of the dog is a significant factor in genetics. Beyond that, though, there isn’t clear causation in litter size. Your dog may have come from a large litter or have a mother who always bore large litters, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that she will, too.
In other words, don’t count on ten puppies just because your dog’s mother always had litters of ten. While it’s more likely, the other factors discussed in this article are more important.
Does the Size of the Mom Matter?
Not really. Even if the mother labrador retriever is on the smaller side for the breed, that doesn’t mean that she’ll have fewer puppies. It’s just more likely that her puppies will be small as well.
What About Labrador Mixes?
If you have a mom who is part labrador herself or is a purebred labrador but has puppies with another breed, some of these numbers and averages change.
If your pregnant pooch is only part labrador, the size of her litter will also depend on what other breeds she contains. The general rule of thumb is that the larger the breed, the larger the litter. If your lab is a part German shepherd, expect a somewhat bigger litter. If she’s part terrier, there may be one or two fewer puppies.
The breed of the father matters less, though. The breed of the father has more to do with the size of each individual puppy. If he’s a big dog, his children will also be larger than the average labrador, or vice versa.
Fun fact: the largest known litter of puppies ever recorded is a whopping 24. Unsurprisingly, the 15 male and nine female puppies were born to a Neopolitan Mastiff in 2009, one of the most giant breeds around.
Take Good Care of Your Dogs
One of the most significant determining factors in litter size is how well the mom, and even the dad, are cared for by their owners or handlers.
Healthy dogs tend to produce larger litters. Even more critical, their puppies also tend to be healthier, increasing the likelihood that all of them will survive infancy and be able to go on to their “furever” homes.