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How To Handle The Dog Heat Cycle

November 18, 2023 0 comments

Understanding and navigating your dog's heat cycle is essential for their well-being and your peace of mind as a pet owner. This natural biological process, unique to female dogs, involves several stages and behaviors that can sometimes be confusing or challenging to manage.

When a female dog enters her heat cycle, commonly known as being "in heat," it signifies her readiness for mating and the release of mating hormones. Recognizing this phase is crucial, as signs indicating a dog in heat may include decreased energy levels, alterations in behavior, changes in urination postures, increased frequency of urination, and occasionally attempting to leave home. Notably, unlike male dogs, females undergo these heat cycles.

Lack of awareness about your dog entering heat or unfamiliarity with the signs can lead to an unintended pregnancy. However, understanding how to handle your dog during this cycle can assist in adequately preparing for the possibility of a new addition to your furry family, should you wish to proceed with the pregnancy.

In this article, we'll delve into the various phases of the dog heat cycle, providing insights, tips, and practical advice on how to best care for your furry companion during this period. From recognizing the signs of heat to handling behavioral changes and ensuring proper health measures, let's explore the best ways to support your dog through their heat cycle.

Signs Your Dog Is in Heat

When a dog is in heat, it means she's at the time when she's able to have puppies. It's the phase in her life when she's fertile and can have babies. Keep an eye out – during this period, your dog might behave differently, showing signs that she's in heat. Your dog may act funny, showcasing the classic symptoms of a dog in heat, which we listed below. So, read further to learn more about common behaviors of a female dog in heat. Because she can mate during this time, there's a chance she could get pregnant. So, you might want to do something to avoid having puppies if you're not planning for them. The cycle when a dog is in heat is also called the 4-stage estrus cycle in dogs.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

When Should I Expect My Dog's First Heat?

A female dog might encounter her first heat cycle around six months old, although this timing varies among breeds. Smaller dogs tend to experience this phase earlier compared to larger ones, which might not undergo it until around two years old. These cycles persist throughout a female dog’s life, yet the duration between each cycle gradually extends as she ages. Unlike humans, female dogs do not undergo menopause.

What are the Stages of the Canine Heat Cycle?

The dog heat cycle, also called the estrus cycle, is when a female dog is ready for having puppies. It usually lasts two to four weeks and happens about every six months. Throughout this time, your dog might act differently and have physical changes.

There are four parts to this cycle:

  • Proestrus: This starts the cycle and lasts 3 to 17 days. The dog's back area might swell. She might avoid male dogs and show changes in how she behaves and eats.
  • Estrus: This is when she's most fertile and wants to mate. It can last 3 to 17 days. She might lift her rear toward male dogs.
  • Diestrus: If she's pregnant, this follows estrus and lasts until the puppies are born (around 60 days). She won't be as interested in flirting, and the swelling will go down.
  • Anestrus: This is the longest part, lasting 100 to 150 days. It's like a resting period before the cycle starts again.

Understanding these stages can help you know when your female dog might be going into heat.

What Signs Indicate That My Dog Is in Heat?

The better you understand your dog's cycle, the better equipped you'll be to handle any shifts in both behavior and physical aspects. Throughout each stage of her heat cycle, you'll notice distinct behaviors and specific physical signs she displays. There are four stages. For instance, your dog may exhibit changes in personality, appetite, and more frequent tail tucking during the first stage. It is important to pay attention to these behaviors of dogs. We will describe the other stages that occur with the dog, but the signs of the first stage are the most noticeable.

Common Behaviors of a Female Dog in Heat

Not sure if your dog is in heat? Keep an eye out for vaginal bleeding, which could be the first sign. Here are a few common behaviors and symptoms of a female dog in heat to look for:

Excessive licking

While dogs often clean themselves by licking, if you notice your unspayed female dog excessively licking her private parts, it's a sign she might be in heat! This behavior is a response to the swelling and bloody discharge during her reproductive cycle. Most dogs manage to stay clean, but if it's messy, consider using heat diapers or dog wipes.

Changes in urination habits

A female dog ready to mate might urinate differently. This could mean:

  • Peeing more frequently than usual.
  • Lifting her leg differently while urinating, especially around male dogs.
  • Urinating more often when near male dogs.

If your dog's peeing patterns suddenly change, it could be a sign she's in heat.

Increasing Affection Towards Male Dogs:

Another sign that your dog is in heat is when she becomes friendlier and more open to male dogs. She might act more warmly towards them, while they also become more interested in her. For instance, during heat, she might let male dogs sniff or lick her private parts, something she wouldn't usually allow. Wagging her tail excessively also shows she's welcoming physical contact from male dogs.

Change in Body Posture and Tail Position:

In the second phase of the heat cycle, called estrus, female dogs show they're ready to mate through their body language. Your dog might adopt a suggestive posture, signaling to male dogs. You'll notice her slightly raise and move her tail to the side, especially when touched.

Mounting and Thrusting:

When in heat, aroused female dogs may mount, hump, or thrust—it's not just male dogs. This behavior is a clear indicator of a dog in heat. She might do this to both male and female dogs or even other things she mistakes for a dog.

Additionally, a dog in heat might become very active. If your dog tries to escape or pulls on the leash to find a mate, using an e-collar might be a solution.

Feelings of Worry, Restlessness, and Preparing a Nest:

Towards the end of her mating phase, a female dog might feel worried or sometimes even angry. Often, she'll start making a cozy space for possible pregnancy, showing nesting behaviors.

These aren't all the signs of a dog in heat, though. Your dog might also become more loving towards you, act lazier or more excited, show signs of being upset or relaxed, or even try to leave. How a dog behaves when in heat varies from dog to dog, depending a lot on their own personality and nature.

Dog on Bed

Physical Signs of Female Dogs in Heat

Female dogs do experience bleeding as a part of their reproductive cycle. However, unlike women who have a monthly cycle, unspayed female dogs bleed during the estrus phase of their cycle.

During heat, dogs will have a discharge that's tinged with blood and a swollen vulva. This period can last up to three weeks. Initially, the bloody discharge tends to be dark and then gradually becomes lighter as time passes.

How Often Will My Dog Go into Heat?

Generally, female dogs experience heat cycles every six to eight months, but this can vary. Smaller breeds may go into heat more frequently, sometimes every four months, while larger breeds might have longer intervals between cycles. Factors like breed, age, and individual differences influence the frequency and regularity of a dog's heat cycles.

What Should I Do if My Dog Is in Heat?

  1. Ensure your dog's safety by never leaving her alone in the yard. Accompany her outside during her heat cycle to prevent contact with male dogs and the risk of unwanted pregnancy. Using a leash could also be a helpful precaution. Additionally, you may think about dog fence collar, which may provide you relief during this time.
  2. Keep your dog leashed during walks, even if she's well-trained. Off-leash walks are not advisable when your dog is in heat as natural instincts can override obedience training. Additionally, you may use electronic training collars, which are highly effective, provide your dog with safe freedom. Vibration mode or shock mode grabs your dog’s attention.
  3. Find a balance between exercise and rest. Dogs react differently during heat; some may feel tired, while others might become restless. Observing your dog's behavior will help you determine the right amount of activity and rest to keep her comfortable.
  4. Seek advice from a vet. Although being in heat isn't an illness, consulting your vet about caring for your dog during this period can provide guidance in case unexpected issues arise.
  5. Try using menthol on her tail tip when outdoors to mask her scent. This could be handy if a male dog suddenly appears nearby, helping to conceal your female dog's heat scent.

Border Collie with leash

At What Age Should I Spay My Dog?

The ideal age for spaying a dog varies based on factors like breed, size, and overall health. However, veterinarians often recommend spaying between six to nine months of age. Larger breeds might benefit from waiting a bit longer, while smaller breeds may reach maturity earlier. It's best to consult your vet to determine the most suitable timing for spaying based on your dog's individual needs and health status.


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