Updated: Sep 18
It has come to my attention that not everyone is aware of a female dog’s estrus or commonly known as heat cycle or season. There’s no reason to feel dumb or apologize. If you don't know, you don't know. We can’t change that. Hopefully, this will educate those of you a little and if you want to learn more you can certainly contact me or research the topic on your own.
There comes a time in an intact female dog when she is ready to breed. This period is what most call “being in heat.” This cycle has distinct physical and behavioral signs. Its nature and there is no way to avoid it unless you spay the dog. Many factors such has frequency, length, and severity all depend on the dog’s age and breed.
What are the signs?
I have had one dog that will become hormonal about 2 weeks before her heat cycle would begin. Not every dog does this, but for her this was my first sign. The most obvious sign is when the dog’s vulva’s is large, red, or swollen with some bleeding or blood-tinted discharge. Generally, large dogs bleed more than smaller dogs, but it varies. Some dogs bleed very little. If your dog grooms herself often then you probably won’t find much spotting. Other behavioral changes may include: overly friendly with other dogs, seeking out males, mount or hump (yes female dogs do this too), or turn her tail to the side.
When does the first cycle begin?
It all depends. We can’t predict when exactly your dog will start her first cycle. Mother nature says when. Typically, on average between 6-18 months old is when the first heat cycle will occur. Even though they are old enough to get pregnant is does NOT mean she should be bred. The dog’s eggs aren’t fully matured, and the dog isn’t physically matured.
How often does a female go into heat? Again, this depends on the size, breed, and age of your dog. On average every 6 months or twice a year. She will be in heat for a total of 3-4 weeks. We say 4 weeks just to be safe. In the beginning some young dogs may be irregular then after they have had a couple cycles, they get on track every 6-8 months. Completely normal. The older the dog gets, the frequency of her cycles may slow down or she will have cycles her whole life. Remember, even if she is 10 years old and has a heat cycle she CAN get pregnant.
4 Stages of Estrus
1. Proestrus: the beginning of heat lasts 7-10 days. This is when the vulva swells and bleeding occurs. She will start attracting male dogs, but she isn’t ready to mate.
2. Estrus/Ovulation: This is the mating period of the heat cycle. Some refer it to a female dog being in her “prime.” It lasts an average of 5-10 days. Bleeding may be reduced or stop. It extra important to not leave your dog unsupervised during this stage.
3. Diestrus: This stage following estrus and the female is no longer receptive to a male. This stage lasts about 2 months. Your dog may be pregnant during this stage if bred.
4. Anestrus: This is when she is preparing for the next heat cycle, lasting around 4-6 months.
If your dog is in heat, she will require a little extra supervision and care. It is important to never leave her unsupervised. A male dog can smell her from 3 miles away and will seek her. This is how unwanted pregnancies happen. Always keep her leashed to prevent her from seeking a male. When you leave, it is best to crate her. Purchasing reusable diapers helps reduce the mess. These can be found on Amazon. They are easy to use and wash. Remember to remove the diaper when she has to potty. If your dog is moody, remember that is normal. If she needs to be separated from the other dogs during this time, respect that, and keep her separated if and when needed.