Heat, or estrus, is the time in the canine reproductive cycle when a female dog is ready to mate. Though this is a normal part of a female dog’s life, it may not be straightforward for you to navigate. It’s essential to get the information you need so you and your dog can get through this time together.
Female dogs experience their first heat cycle between four and 15 months of age. This time varies a lot by the dog’s breed and size. Typically, dogs average two heat cycles a year, each about six months apart. It’s the only time in your dog’s life when she can get pregnant. Dogs can’t get pregnant if they aren’t in heat. (Note: A spayed dog will halt its heat cycles.)
The canine reproductive cycle, or heat cycle, has four stages:
1. Proestrus: This beginning stage of the heat cycle is when your dog’s body is getting ready to mate. Signs and symptoms of heat will begin, including bloody discharge and behavioral changes.
2. Estrus: The Estrus stage is what people consider the “heat” stage. At this point, your dog is ready to breed and is fertile. The bleeding will subside, and vaginal discharge turns more of white or yellowish. You may notice that she’ll approach male dogs with her tail to the side and show signs of aggression toward female dogs.
3. Diestrus: In this stage, the body either returns to normal or progresses with pregnancy.
4. Anestrus: This stage is inactive, with no hormonal or sexual changes occurring.
Here’s a list of physical and behavioral changes you might notice when your dog’s in heat.
- Agitated or restless behavior
- Bloody vaginal discharge
- Interest in male dogs
- Licking genitals excessively
- Loss of appetite
- More frequent urination
- Swollen vulva
- Tail tucking close to the body
Some dogs may also experience a “silent heat”, in which they go through a normal heat cycle without displaying any of the above symptoms.
During the proestrus stage, female dogs have a bloody vaginal discharge, much like humans during their period. They also experience many of the other symptoms of a period like hormonal and behavioral changes.
A dog’s body experiences lots of changes when she’s in heat. Because of these changes, your dog may experience some changes in behavior and even some pain. Much like humans, female dogs experience cramps and hormonal changes when their bodies are preparing to mate. Also, like humans, this can be uncomfortable and can make them feel irritable and emotional.
Be sure to consider your dog’s feelings and needs during this time. A little extra love could go a long way. See our article on the best pain meds for dogs to see what’s safe and what’s not if you’re thinking about treating your dog’s pain during the heat cycle.
A typical heat cycle can last from two to four weeks. It can be shorter or longer, but if it goes much past four weeks, you should check with your vet to make sure everything is normal.
Here are five tips to protect your dog when she’s in heat.
1. Allow your dog to rest: All the changes in your dog’s body will wear her out. Give her plenty of time to rest.
2. Keep your dog in your yard: A fenced yard is the safest way to keep other dogs separate from yours. But don’t let her out alone. Male dogs can smell her pheromones, the scent dogs produce when ready to mate, and be attracted.
3. If you have to take your dog out, keep her on a leash: During this time, your well-behaved pup may forget her obedience skills and try to escape to find herself a mate. Keeping her on a leash will reduce her chances of success.
4. Mask the scent of your dog while she’s in heat: Keeping your house clean and covering your dog’s bottom with a diaper will help control the enticing smell of a dog in heat. This essential oil-based spray is a great way to naturally mask any unpleasant odors. You can also use diluted essential oils like lavender or chamomile mixed with water to spray on your dog to conceal the scent.
5. Think about spaying your dog before her next heat: Spaying your dog is the only way to end the estrus cycle and keep your dog from going into heat again. Vet’s do not typically spay while a dog is in heat (or for several weeks afterward). It is recommended to wait 6-8 weeks after the heat is over.
The heat cycle can be messy, but you can purchase a few items to help keep your home clean. You can have your dog wear a doggie diaper to control the discharge from getting on your furniture and floors. Our experts review the best diapers for dogs so you can weigh your options.
The one sure way to end the heat cycle for your dog is to spay her. Consider the benefits of spaying and neutering your dog. You may also want to consider a pet wellness plan, which may help cover the cost.
What If I Can’t Afford To Have My Dog Spayed Or Neutered?
If you can’t afford the cost to have your dog spayed or neutered, you may be eligible for some help. You can explore our article, financial assistance resources, which covers some options.
In this three-minute video from Heron Lakes Animal Hospital, Dr. Lera talks about Lily, a six-year-old Yorkie, her abnormal heat cycle, and pyometra.
Having a female dog means you may face her entering the heat cycle in her puppy years. It can be a challenging time, but you can help make sure you are ready to handle it, keeping her happy and safe.
However, the heat cycle is not the only challenge you will face with your puppy. Our experts give you a heads up on many of the most common puppy behavior problems you may encounter and give you tips to stop them before they begin.
Do you have any tips for handling your dog during the heat cycle?