Having a pet comes with some significant responsibilities. Some of those doggy-duties are pretty straight-forward. Doggos need lots of love, care, time, and attention from their people. For starters, they need plenty of healthy, nutritious food, clean water, and shelter from the elements, and that’s just the basics. As a human companion to your furry best friend, you’re also charged with providing for your pup’s well-being in other ways, including petting, grooming, playtime, training, treats, walks, and regular vet visits.
You’re a devoted pet parent, so you’re on top of all of the above, but have you thought about your pup’s reproductive health? That’s right, that sweet little puppy of yours is going to grow into a full-grown and fully-hormonal D-O-G one day.
If your Fido is a female, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the phases and stages of what’s known as heat and what you need to do to care for your dog’s health in terms of her reproductive cycles. Doggy Advice is here to help you understand how long a dog stays in heat and answer other common questions about everything having to do with canine estrus. We’ll even take a look at the benefits of spaying your pet pal to keep her from having to go through heat.
What Is Heat In Dogs?
Canine Estrus is the medical term for what’s informally called heat in dogs. This is the hormonal reproductive cycle in which a sexually mature female dog becomes receptive to mating with males and reproducing. The hormone changes your dog experiences during this time will be evident through both behavioral and physical signs.
First, estrogen increases and then drops drastically, which triggers the release of mature eggs from the female’s ovaries. If she mates with a male dog during this time, your dog can become pregnant.
Common Questions About Heat (Canine Estrus)
Some standard questions pop up for pet owners who want to know more about what being in heat means for their dog and what to expect from the situation in general. Here’s a quick FAQ to help you understand more about your furry female friend’s reproductive cycle.
When Do Dogs First Go Into Heat?
Female dogs reach puberty far earlier than human beings. That means that it won’t be long before your wiggly, adorable puppy goes into heat for the first time. Generally, the first estrus cycle will begin sometime after your pup is 6 months old, and before they reach 24 months. Smaller breeds tend to begin their cycles earlier, while larger breeds tend to start a bit later.
How Often Do Dogs Go Into Heat?
Again this depends a bit on size and breed, but most commonly, unspayed dogs will experience canine estrus twice per year, or once every 6 months or so.
How Long Does A Dog Stay In Heat?
A full canine estrus cycle, including all three active stages, lasts anywhere from 18-28 days, though your dog is only receptive to males for only around half the total time.
How To Know If Your Dog Is In Heat?
Hormonal shifts will cause other noticeable changes in your dog’s demeanor and behavior. There are actually three stages of canine estrus, and each is marked by particular pup-effects.
Let’s take a look at all three and find out what you can expect and what your dog will experience during each of them.
This first stage of heat will leave your dog feeling feistier than usual. You may notice that your pup is highly alert, has more nervous energy, or seems on edge. She’ll be very protective of herself and her personal space at this time, too.
She may stiffen her tail tightly to her body and show signs of aggression towards male dogs in an attempt to keep them away during this stage. She might be easily annoyed with other dogs in general around this time, so it’s not the time to socialize. Instead, let your dog relax and enjoy some space and time around the house if possible. Physically, the vulva is swollen, and bloody discharge begins.
The second of the three stages is when your dog will likely begin to show signs she is looking for a mate. She may start fanning her tail to share the scent of her pheromones or even begin showing off her rear to other dogs to attract attention. The tell-tale physical signs your tail-wagger will show at this time include increased urination and a change from bloody to clear or brownish discharge.
This final stage is when your dog will wind-down her cycle and shift away from seeking a mate. She’ll stop trying to entice pup-partners and won’t be willing or interested in mating. Physical signs that your dog is in this part of her cycle are that swelling of the vulva has subsided, and there is no more discharge.
There’s also a rest period between canine estrus cycles called Anestrus. This is a span of four to six months time when your dog’s body is preparing for the beginning of the next Proestrus cycle.
What To Do When Your Dog Is In Heat
Keeping your dog home, away from dog parks and other areas where they’re likely to create canine connections, is your best bet while she’s in heat. Here are some reasons why a homestay is an outstanding option for this time.
During the second phase of the estrus cycle, specifically, your dog can become pregnant if she mates with a male. Nature is working her own magic here, and your dog doesn’t have much of a say in how her body responds.
She is producing potent pheromones that male dogs can literally pick up on from miles away. These pheromones will call potential male suitors to her, and male dogs will likely try to mount the female if they’re given a chance.
Also, remember that a dog in heat can be extra cantankerous around other dogs during this time. You may see signs of aggression and annoyance that are abnormal for your dog during other times.
Your dog will likely be pretty consumed by the hormonal changes she’s experiencing in her cycle. So much so that you may even notice her neglecting to eat or drink during this time. It’s a great idea to set out a few extra water dishes or offer her water or food at a moment when she seems calm and quiet. Keeping her well-hydrated and nourished will help her feel her best as she navigates her heat cycle.
Finally, your dog may enjoy staying home and having the time she needs for extra self-care when her hormones are running high. Your dog will have some bloody discharge during her heat cycle, and she’ll be licking and cleaning herself frequently as a result. If you’re worried about the mess the discharge might create in your home, you can check out your local pet retailer or Chewy.com for a wide range of diaper and underwear options.
It’s not forbidden to take your dog out during her cycle, of course. You may find she even enjoys the fresh air and exercise of going for a walk. Just remember that even if she’s ordinarily okay to accompany you sans leash, during this time especially, no off-leash outings should be allowed.
Getting Your Dog Spayed
Now that you know the details on what heat is, what will happen during the canine estrus cycle, and how often it will occur, this seems like a great place to mention the perks of spaying your female furry friend.
The ASPCA is a big proponent of the benefits of spaying and neutering pets. They report that millions of healthy animals are euthanized each year for lack of a good home to call their own. That’s why they encourage spaying and neutering as proactive reproductive healthcare to help prevent higher numbers of homeless pets.
Why Should I Get My Pet Spayed?
There are a few other good reasons to consider spaying, as well. With female dogs, you can literally avoid the mess of estrus. Plus, you’ll be lengthening the lifespan of your best furry friend and sparing your pup the pain of birthing a litter and the toll of raising their own pups. Birthing puppies can be much more taxing on a momma dog than you think, says WebMD for Pets. The birth of a litter can cause premature aging or even death. Plus, they say there’s no hard evidence behind the old wive’s tale that says you should wait until after a dog has her first litter before spaying.
It’s also worth knowing that you may even be preventing potential future health problems if you spay your pup prior to their first estrus. Female dogs who go unspayed are more likely to experience uterine infections or mammary gland tumors later in life.
Additionally, there’s a legitimate cost-benefit analysis here, and the numbers add up in favor of spaying. The cost of the procedure to spay your female furry friend is a one-time expense that is infinitely less costly than caring for a pregnant dog and the puppies she births in her litter.
When Should I Spay My Pet?
The ASPCA says that spaying is most commonly performed between six and nine months, although it can be done as early as 8 weeks in dogs who have a clean bill of health. Spaying your pet earlier rather than later on is advisable as well. Adult dogs have a slightly higher risk of infection and post-surgery complications, especially if they’re overweight or have other existing health conditions.
Considerations About Your Dog’s Reproductive Health
Now that we’ve covered the basics of the heat cycle and how your dog will respond to the hormonal changes she will experience during this time, you can consider yourself well-informed and prepared for your dog going into heat. Remember, if you choose not to spay your pet, or you’ve adopted a new fur baby into your home only to find she’s unspayed, you’ll be experiencing this cycle right along with her.
It may seem like a big task to prepare yourself, your home, and your pet for this time. It helps to remember that this is a totally natural process that all dogs experience, and as a pet parent, it’s just another part of your day-to-day responsibilities to your dog. If you’re a woman, you can likely sympathize with the fact that the estrus cycle is no walk in the park for your pet either. Try to be extra patient, loving, and attentive to your pet during her cycle.
Your dog’s behavior will undoubtedly be affected by the hormonal changes she experiences during her estrus cycle, and she may seem different and unpredictable during this time. Some dogs, even those who usually are homebodies, may try to run away from home during this time. An excellent option for helping you keep track of what’s up with your pup during this time is using a pet-tracking device.
More than just GPS locators, these devices showcase some pretty sophisticated tail-wagger tracking technology. You can check out our list of top dog trackers here. All of these devices offer options for tracking where your dog is, which will come in handy if she makes a break for it. Many of them have additional health-tracking features that can be especially useful for keeping up with how your doggo is doing during her cycle.
Finally, remember that estrus can be avoided by spaying and that spaying has all the additional benefits that we mentioned above. As with any important decisions regarding your pet’s health and happiness, we always recommend a visit to the vet to discuss the best way to care for your dog during heat or to make the decision to spay your pet.