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How Many Nipples Does a Dog Have? Anatomy Facts & FAQ

Written by: Kristin Hitchcock

Last Updated on April 10, 2024 by Dogster Team

nipples of a nursing dog

How Many Nipples Does a Dog Have? Anatomy Facts & FAQ

All dogs have between eight to ten nipples, depending on the exact breed. Larger dogs sometimes have more, while smaller dogs sometimes have less. This difference makes sense, as larger dogs also tend to have more puppies. Plus, they just have more room on their underside for more.

However, the number of nipples can vary a little bit from dog to dog, too. Some German Shepherds may have eight, while others will have ten. Because nipples come in pairs, most dogs have an even number. Sometimes, the upper pair of nipples can be underdeveloped and may not actually produce milk—despite often being “counted” as nipples.

Both male and female dogs have nipples, just like humans. The nipples begin developing before the dog’s gender begins to develop in the womb. Only female dogs can lactate, though.

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What Are Dog Nipples Supposed to Look Like?

A dog’s nipples are often relatively small and unassuming. However, a female’s nipples may swell when nursing. This swelling helps the puppies find them easier, which promotes nursing. The nipples are typically the color of the dog’s skin, though they can be pigmented in a different color. There is a large range of normal.

If you’re worried about a particular nipple, it is best to compare it to the others. However, upper nipples tend to be smaller and may even be underdeveloped. This trait isn’t worrisome, though it is something to keep in mind if you’re breeding your canine.

Sometimes, spayed dogs will have flat or even inverted nipples due to hormone differences. Of course, because the dog won’t be nursing any puppies, this isn’t troublesome.

There are several issues that can crop up in the nipples. For instance, lactating dogs can develop mastitis, which is an infection of the mammary gland (the gland that produces milk). Usually, infections occur when the dog gets a clogged duct. After sitting there for a while, bacteria can fester and lead to infection. Antibiotics are necessary, but puppies cannot get mastitis from their mother, luckily.

In very rare cases, non-nursing females and males can also develop mastitis.

Tumors can also cause nipple swelling. Any dog can develop mammary gland tumors. However, they are most common in intact females.

If you notice anything strange with your dog’s nipple, you should contact your vet right away. Both of these conditions can be treated pretty effectively. However, quick treatment is necessary to reduce the risk of complications.

pregnant english bulldog
Image By: WilleeCole Photography, Shutterstock

Do Female and Male Dogs Have the Same Number of Nipples?

A dog’s gender has no bearing on the number of nipples they have. Nipples begin developing on a puppy before the gender “kicks in.” Therefore, even males will have nipples, even if the canine will never use them. Spayed females also have nipples, though they may be smaller and more like a male’s due to hormonal changes.

Of course, different breeds of dogs have different numbers of nipples, and dogs in the same breed have some level of variance, too.

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Why Do Dogs Have So Many Nipples?

Dogs have a large number of nipples because they have pretty large litters. Humans typically only have a single baby, though twins are also possible. Therefore, humans don’t need eight different nipples like a dog. Many primates, horses, and other animals with small litters also only have one or two nipples.

Animals that have larger litters, like mice, cats, and dogs, have more nipples to feed them all at the same time. It all has to do with the number of babies the mother needs to nurse at a time.

Still, it is possible for female dogs to have more puppies than nipples. Dogs with only eight nipples may have ten puppies, for instance. Or, a dog with ten nipples may have 11 puppies. In these cases, it is still possible for the mother dog to produce enough milk. A dog’s body doesn’t produce a set amount of milk per nipple. Instead, it works on supply and demand. The more milk the puppies remove, the more milk the mother will produce (this also allows her body to adjust based on the puppies’ ages and weaning status).

Therefore, as long as all the puppies are allowed to nurse, the mother dog will produce enough milk. Sometimes, human intervention is needed here, though. Smaller puppies may not be allowed to nurse by their littermates, especially if there aren’t enough spots. The human caregiver will need to ensure that all the puppies get a chance to eat—with preferably no puppy always going last.

When the puppies reach a few weeks old, there is less worry about the puppies not getting enough milk. After all, at this point, the puppies aren’t so helpless.

Labrador dog feeding her puppies at home
Image By: 5 second studio, Shutterstock

What Factors Affect How Many Nipples a Dog Has?

The breed does have some effect. Larger dogs tend to have more nipples, while smaller dogs have fewer. There is plenty of difference between individual dogs, though. Most Labrador Retrievers will have eight to ten nipples, but some may have four or twelve. Puppies in the same litter may even have different numbers of nipples.

Likely, genetics play a role in the number of nipples. However, scientists haven’t located a particular gene that is in play, so environmental factors from inside the womb may also affect the count.

Generally, most dogs do just fine no matter how many nipples they have. With that said, dogs with particularly few nipples may not be the best breeding dogs. After all, the dog may have trouble feeding all the puppies, and you would have to perform interventions to ensure that all the puppies receive enough food. While it isn’t impossible for these dogs to breed, it isn’t recommended.

Can Dogs Have an Odd Number of Nipples?

It is possible for a dog to have an odd number of nipples. However, this is quite rare. Usually, a dog’s nipples are symmetrical like the rest of the dog’s body. Problems can occur during development that led to one nipple not developing, though.

Usually, this isn’t any reason to be concerned. Many dogs have odd numbers of nipples and never have any negative effects. It may just be something to keep in mind if you decide to breed the dog, though.

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Dogs have eight to ten nipples. There are a lot of variances between breeds and individual dogs. Technically, a dog can have any reasonable number of nipples, and it is still considered normal. Dogs within the same litter can have different numbers of nipples, and some dogs even have odd numbers (or nipples in weird places).

Either way, as long as the nipples themselves seem healthy, the number isn’t a huge concern. Dogs can still produce enough milk for their puppies, even if they have more puppies than nipples. However, human intervention may be necessary to make sure all the puppies get enough to eat if the dog doesn’t have enough nipples to go around.

Featured Image Credit: Natalia Duryagina, Shutterstock

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