Dealing with a dog in heat can sometimes be a frustrating experience for owners who never had to deal with it before. But even without previous experience, you can learn how to handle the situation with a bit of knowledge and preparation. In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about a dog’s reproductive cycle and some tips to help you deal with a dog in heat.
Why Does This Happen?
When a female dog is in heat or in season, it means that she is sexually receptive to male dogs. A female dog in heat is basically sending signals that she is able and ready to conceive. Only during heat can female dogs become pregnant.
Dogs usually have their first reproductive cycle when they are six months old, unless they are spayed. This is the period when female dogs reach puberty, although the exact time when the first cycle occurs differs among breeds. Small breeds tend to reach this milestone at an earlier age, while large breeds may reach puberty when they are around two years old.
How Often Do Dogs Go Into Heat?
Most female dogs come into heat two times per year, although that can vary depending on the breed and even each dog individually. Young dogs that come into heat for the first time may take some time until they develop regular cycles, which can sometimes take up to two years.
How Long Does a Dog Stay in Heat?
Just like with different pregnancy stages, there are also four stages of the reproductive cycle for female dogs in heat:
Proestrus Stage – This is the first stage of the dog heat cycle and it usually lasts 7-10 days. The swelling of the vulva and bleeding are the first signs. In this stage, the dog is still not sexually receptive and can’t conceive.
Estrus Stage – This stage typically lasts from 5 to 14 days. During this period, the dog is fertile because her ovaries start to release eggs to be fertilized. She will be receptive to males and act flirtatiously.
Diestrus Stage – This stage signals that the heat cycle is coming to an end. It can last from 60-90 days and the dog is no longer fertile. If the dog gets pregnant during her heat cycle, this stage lasts until the birth of the puppies, which is around 60 days.
Anestrus Stage – This is the last stage of a dog’s reproductive cycle, also referred to as the resting stage. It’s the longest stage that lasts from 100-150 days. After that time, the cycle repeats itself again.
It is important to note that a dog in the diestrus phase that doesn’t get impregnated may experience some health problems, like uterus infections or false pregnancy in dogs. The reason lies in levels of progesterone that increase in order to support a dog's pregnancy.
Another health concern relates to the dog’s first reproductive cycle. Generally, you should avoid breeding your dog during her first heat because most dogs are still very young puppies and physically not completely mature when they go in season for the first time. That may increase the risk of health problems during pregnancy. Also, her maternal instincts may not be good and it may be too soon for her to deal with a litter of puppies.
How to Tell If a Dog Is in Heat?
Physical signs of dog in heat, especially during the first two stages of the cycle, include frequent urination, swelling of the vulva and bleeding, which is not so easily noticeable. In fact, you may only notice small marks in your dog’s bed or on the floor. Increased cleaning and licking of the genital area is another common sign that she is in heat.
You may also notice some changes in your dog’s behavior as she enters her reproductive cycle. She will pay more attention to male dogs and flirt with them. She may become more affectionate in general, looking for extended petting sessions. She may also become a bit lazy but she will certainly become aroused. Some female dogs may hump other dogs, both male and female.
Your dog may even get confused or scared when she’s in heat, especially if it’s her first time. Some dogs even run away from home, either looking for a male to breed or out of fear and anxiety.
6 Things to Do With a Female Dog in Heat
Handling a female dog in heat can be a stressful experience but there are a few things you can do to make your life easier when it happens.
1. Keep the Male Dogs Away
If you have both male and female dogs in your home, it is best to separate them while the female dog is in heat. Even if you have dogs from the same litter, that won’t stop them from breeding, which can have serious genetic consequences on their offspring.
Don’t let your pup go out in the yard by herself. Male dogs can sense the pheromones your dog emits, so don’t be surprised if you see a few male dogs lurking around your property. Always accompany your dog outside to prevent unwanted pregnancy. You may even put a leash on her if she can jump over the fence.
2. Keep Her on Leash during Walks
Don’t take off-leash walks with your dog while she’s in heat. Even if you have a well-behaved and well-trained dog in heat, during this time no obedience training will make her forget her natural instincts.
When you walk your dog or go outside with her, you can put a bit of menthol on the tip of your dog’s tail to hide her scent. This can be a good way to avoid unwanted attention from male dogs. You can also apply Vicks VapoRub to your dog’s back to turn away male dog, but be careful because it can be toxic if ingested.
3. Use Doggie Pants or Dog Diapers
Bloody discharge from the vulva is one of the signs of dog in heat, which means that you may find marks on her bedding, as well as your carpet or upholstery. If your dog is receptive to the idea of doggie pants or dog diapers, putting them on can both prevent the bloody marks in your home and mask her scent.
4. Use a GPS Tracker
Some of the better GPS trackers for dogs can help you keep an eye on your pooch at all times. If your pet happens to run away, you can find her easily with the live tracking feature. You can find out not only where she is but you will also know where she is headed.
5. Find the Right Balance between Rest and Exercise
Dogs in heat don’t all behave the same. Some will feel tired all the time, while others can have a lot of energy and be restless. Pay attention to your dog’s behavior to find the right balance between exercise and rest.
6. Consider Spaying
Unless you plan to breed your dog, you should consider spaying her. This will prevent her from going into heat but it also has some other advantages, like reducing the risk of mammary cancer.
However, keep in mind that you can’t do this when she’s already in season. It is best to do it before the reproductive cycle even begins or between the cycles. Talk to your vet about the advantages and disadvantages of spaying. You may also chat with the vet about handling your dog in heat since they can probably give you some additional advice.
When female dogs go into heat, it means they are sexually receptive to male dogs. The first reproductive cycle starts when the dog hits puberty and it usually happens twice a year. There are four stages of female dog in heat, each stage lasting anywhere from around 5 days to 150 days.
The common dog in heat symptoms include swelling and bloody discharge from vulva, as well as behavioral changes. Caring for a female dog in heat includes keeping her away from male dogs and making her comfortable until the cycle ends.