Female Dog in Heat: A Guide for Owners

As a dog owner, you must know when your female dog is in heat, the signs, and what to expect in terms of their behavioral changes. Dog keepers must be ready to help their female dog transit easier and better.

During the heat period, female dogs go through different phases, including increased estrogen production, being receptive to males for breeding, and then hormone levels dropping off. A female dog’s heat cycle comes with special demands. This article is a resource that will help achieve this.

dog in heat

The Female Dog’s Heat Cycle

A female dog’s heat cycle, also known as estrus, is a normal biological process she experiences as part of her reproductive system. Unlike human women who experience periods around once a month, female dogs come into heat around every 6 months. The heat cycle lasts about 3 weeks and involves both physiological changes and changes to the dog’s behavior and temperament.

During the heat cycle, hormones cause the dog’s reproductive tract to come into a fertile state that is receptive to mating with a male dog. Her vulva will swell and she will have bleeding from her vulvar area. Your female dog will also exhibit behavioral changes like restlessness, nervousness, increased urination, and attractiveness to male dogs. The heat cycle prepares the dog’s body for a potential pregnancy.

The heat cycle occurs every 6-12 months once the dog reaches sexual maturity. Dogs do not experience menopause and will continue to go into heat cycles their entire lives unless they are spayed. A female dog’s heat cycle involves four stages; proestrus, estrus, diestrus, and anestrus. These stages regulate her fertility window and prepare her body for potential pregnancy and birth.

Signs of Heat

A female dog in heat will exhibit several behavioral and physical changes. The most noticeable sign is changes in her behavior. As her heat approaches, she will become more affectionate, and clingy, and begin seeking attention from male dogs. She may try to escape or roam to find male dogs. Her activity level may increase as well.

You’ll also notice physical changes in your dog when she goes into heat. Most noticeably, there will be a bloody discharge from her vulva. The discharge may start off bloody and then become watery and straw-colored near the end of her heat. Her vulva will become swollen and enlarged. Some female dogs will frequently lick their genital area when in heat.

When Do Females Go Into Heat?

Female dogs go into heat for the first time when they reach puberty, which is around 6-12 months of age. The exact time varies between breeds and individual dogs. Smaller breeds tend to have their first heat cycle sooner, starting as early as 6 months old. Large and giant breeds enter heat later, around 12-24 months old.

Once a female dog reaches sexual maturity, she will go into heat approximately every 6-8 months. The interval between heat cycles tends to be 4-12 months. Again, this varies between individual dogs. Some female dogs will routinely go into heat every 6 months, while others may go 8-10 months between cycles.

The frequency of heat cycles depends on the dog’s health, breed, and whether or not she has had puppies before. Having a litter can alter the cycle for several months.

Stages and Duration of a Female Dog’s Heat

A female dog’s heat cycle can last 18-21 days on average, though it may range from as short as 10 days to as long as 4 weeks or more. The heat cycle is broken into 4 stages, namely:

– Proestrus: This first stage lasts an average of 7-10 days. During this stage, the vulva will swell and bleed lightly. The female will attract males but not allow breeding.

– Estrus: The next phase lasts 5-10 days on average. This is the period where the female is receptive to breeding. There is heavy vaginal bleeding and she will allow mating.

– Diestrus: This stage lasts 60-90 days on average. The female’s discharge changes from bloody to watery. She will no longer allow mating. Pregnancy can occur during this stage. 

– Anestrus: This final resting stage lasts 4-5 months on average. The female will have no discharge and show no sexual behavior. Once this stage ends, the cycle begins again.

The total heat cycle from the start of proestrus to the end of anestrus lasts an average of 6-8 months. This cycle repeats every 6-12 months unless pregnancy occurs to pause the cycle. As a dog keeper, you should monitor your dog’s behavior and discharge to identify each transition between stages.

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Bleeding During Heat

When a female dog is in heat, she will experience some bleeding or discharge. This is a normal part of her heat cycle. The amount of discharge can vary between dogs. Some dogs have very light bleeding that is barely noticeable, while others have heavier discharge. Here’s what to expect:

– The bleeding tends to be heaviest during the first week or so of heat. It may start off looking bloody and then become pink or straw-colored near the end of the heat.

– The discharge comes from the vulva. Owners may notice spots of blood around the house if the dog’s tail moves the discharge around.

– An average heat cycle will result in about 1-2 tablespoons of discharge over the full 18-24 days. However, some dogs bleed a lot more heavily.

– The discharge can stain fabric, bedding, and floors. Wash any stained items in an enzyme-based pet odor neutralizer to fully remove stains and odor.

– Gently wipe the vulva area twice daily with pet-safe unscented baby wipes to keep the area clean. Do not use harsh soaps.

– Place disposable pads or diapers lined with maxi pads under the dog when she is resting indoors. Change frequently.

dog diaper

– Confine the dog to an easy-to-clean room or pen with washable floors if the discharge is heavy.

While bleeding during the heat is normal, contact your vet if it seems excessively heavy or lasts more than 3 weeks. They can examine her and recommend the next steps.

How To Comfort a Dog in Heat

Female dogs in heat can feel uncomfortable or agitated. Here are some tips for keeping your dog comfortable during this time:

– Provide a quiet, calm environment. Limit exciting stimuli and activities that could cause anxiety or restlessness. Let your dog relax in a comfortable, familiar area.

– Offer chew toys or puzzles with treats to provide distraction and mental stimulation. Food puzzles can keep your dog occupied and comforted.

– Consider calming supplements or pheromone products. Talk to your vet about anti-anxiety medication or natural calming aids that may help relieve symptoms.

– Give your dog ample outdoor time for bathroom breaks. Take short, frequent walks to let your dog relieve herself and get fresh air.

– Groom your dog regularly to remove her hair and keep her coat clean. Brushing distributes natural oils for skin relief.

– Ensure your dog stays hydrated and eats normally. Meet nutritional needs to avoid discomfort from hunger or dehydration.

– Pet or massage your dog gently. Use soothing strokes along her back, between her shoulders, and behind her ears to provide affection.

– Limit baths during heat. Bathing strips natural oils from the skin and may cause additional irritation. Only bathe if heavily soiled.

– Watch for licking, chewing, or aggression. If excessive, talk to your vet about solutions to relieve discomfort or anxiety causing these behaviors.

– Prepare a comfortable bed and rest area. Provide soft bedding and a quiet corner where your dog can relax undisturbed.

With some extra patience, care, and attention, you can keep your dog as comfortable as possible as she goes through her heat cycle. Relieving symptoms will help her feel more at ease.

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