Can a female dog get pregnant while bleeding?

Can a dog get pregnant while bleeding? The answer may surprise you. There is a widespread belief that a dog can’t get pregnant during the first days of her heat cycle. Many pet owners that visit our vet clinic with their first female dog are confused by their dog’s heat cycle. This article is about your female puppy and the risks at the start of her heat cycle.

In this article, you’ll learn if a dog can get pregnant while bleeding, the 4 stages of heat, how to know she is in heat, and are dogs fertile while bleeding.

Female french bulldog looking at you with her head tilted
Your little girl’s heat cycle is different than a human’s menstrual cycle

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  1. If you want to learn as much as you can, feel free to read the entire article which starts after the Table of Contents
  2. If you have specific questions or topics you are interested in, you can click on the topic heading of your choosing in the Table of Contents below.
  3. If you are a visual learner, you can get the highlights by watching the video below.

Can dogs get pregnant when they are bleeding?

Yes. Your dog can become pregnant while bleeding. This is because bleeding is the first sign of her estrus cycle which is the proestrus stage. This stage lasts between 7-10 days. Bleeding or a bloody discharge is the most common sign her regular cycle has started.  Ovulation occurs on the 9th day during the Estrus phase due to a rise in hormone levels.  Fun fact: dog semen can survive for up to 7 days inside a dog’s uterus.  So it’s possible your dog can get pregnant while bleeding.  Even if breeding occurred on the first day of her heat. While this would be unusual, it can happen.

The first misunderstanding about the canine reproductive cycle is the “beginning”. It’s very common to assume that the first days of your dogs estrous cycle is that it’s just starting and there’s no need to worry. The reason is that we like to compare your dog’s estrous cycle of female dogs to menstruation in humans. However, it’s a very different thing as there are 4 distinct stages of the canine estrus cycle.  Yes, it’s called the estrus cycle where the 2nd stage or phase is called the Estrus stage.  The thing to note is that this is the phase where your dog is fertile and receptive to mating.

4 Stages of the dog heat cycle:

  1. Proestrus stage: The preparatory stage. Bloody vaginal discharge may occur. Lasts 7-10 days
  2. Estrus stage: Mating period. Receptive to mating, pregnancy can happen. Lasts 5-10 days.
  3. Diestrus stage: Supports pregnancy. If not, rest & recovery. Lasts 10-140 days.
  4. Anestrus stage: Downtime between heat cycle. Lasts about 6 months.

How long does the dog heat cycle last?

2 to 3 weeks.  The entire cycle starting with the Proestrus phase, is often tricky to time as the signs can be subtle or even hidden (see below). This is for normal cycles.  Most dogs have 2 cycles per year. There are irregular heat cycles such as a split heat and a silent heat cycle. 

How do I know if my dog is in heat?

Our female chocolate labrador retriever with her first litter of puppies
This is our female Chocolate Labrador Retriever with her first litter of puppies. We used colored ribbons as collars for the puppies to tell them apart. Please understand that this was a carefully planned breeding.

The symptoms your female puppy an exhibit may differ than another dog. Knowing when your dog’s estrus cycle starts and ends as we’ve discussed is a little tricky. This can be frustrating if you are trying to breed her. We had one experience where we were breeding our female dog as she was a show winner and exceptional at obedience trials. She was also as sweet and calm as can be. All the qualities we wanted in a new puppy. So we had a successful pregnancy after a few tries. Figuring out when to breed was the hard part. This is because there is no breeding season for dogs like cats have. Further, she was one of the giant breeds of dogs which cycle less frequently than smaller breeds. For more details please refer to our article on Symptoms of a female dog in heat.

The start of your dog’s cycle is the start of your pup’s fertile days. Where in humans, it’s the end of them. And, even if we consider the first days of the Estrus phase as the  warm-up phase, you cannot relax. Your female puppy is in her fertile stage and can still get pregnant if there is an unneutered male dog around.

Signs your dog is in heat

When your female dog goes into heat, there are noticeable signs she is in heat. During the proestrus stage, one of the physical signs is that her vulva will become swollen and enlarged.  This is one of the earliest sign of estrus. She may have some dark, colored bloody discharge. She may even have pinkish discharge. As she progresses to the estrus stage, this discharge becomes lighter and eventually watery. Hormone fluctuations can cause discomfort for some dogs as well similar to period cramps in humans. It’s common for your dog to clean herself by licking her genitals.  This makes seeing the discharge harder, but the cleaning is a good sign of being in heat.

Behavioral changes are another key sign when your dog is in heat. Your dog will become more receptive to male dogs.  They may become very interested or territorial around her due to their strong instincts to mate. You may need to take extra care when letting your pet out into open spaces with other dogs around. We recommend to always keep your female dog on leash when out.  Avoid any areas where male dogs are such as dog parks. Even if you have a fenced yard, monitor her when she is outside.  The urge to procreate is relentless and nature will find a way.  Meaning, interested males may jump your fence to get to your little girl.

Are dogs fertile while bleeding?

Yes, she can be. Your dog has reached sexual maturity when she has her first cycle.  This typically occurs at 6 to 9 months of age for normal size dogs. Larger dogs  cycle later, as much as 12 months of age.  Smaller breeds, they are closer to the 6 month age range.

Here are the key reasons:

  • Red (bloody discharge) vaginal discharge occurs in the Proestrus stage of a dog’s heat cycle. It is not the same as menstruation in women. Human menstruation means that the ova did not get fertilized and is now being flushed from the body. This process happens right after the fertile period and a woman can’t get pregnant during this time. However, so-called “bleeding” in dogs is not the same thing. The bleeding happens before, not after the fertile days. This means, when your female puppy is bleeding, you have to be careful to avoid an unwanted litter of puppies In other words, keep your female dog away from any male dog that is not neutered.
  • Yes, it’s a little tricky to predict ovulation. Technically the first days of estrus are safer in terms of avoiding an unwanted pregnancy. Insemination by a male dog will not occur during the early days because it cannot happen before the ovulation. Ovulation is triggered by hormones several days after the beginning of the heat. While on average, dogs ovulate in the ninth day of the heat during the Estrus stage, it can occur anywhere from the 3rd and 17th day. That’s why it’s tricky because of the possible three day window. It’s even worse if you don’t know when the heat started.
  • It’s easy to miss the beginning of the heat. The first sign of the heat is a bloody discharge from the dog’s swollen vulva, often incorrectly labelled as bleeding. But what if the bloody vaginal discharge is not red, but pink or yellow? Another confusing thing is your female puppy may clean herself so you don’t see any vaginal bleeding. Noticing the start of the heat is hard. Therefore you can’t quite know when to start counting the days. And even if your vet takes blood tests to monitor ovulation, there is one more thing why breeding can still result in a pregnant dog. And that is…
  • Male dog sperm can survive up to 7 days inside the uterus. This works as evolutionary insurance since breeding in nature is not that predictable. Breeding as we know happens when two dogs meet, not when ovulation occurs. That’s why a male dog’s sperm is remarkably viable and can survive in the uterus of a female pup for up to 7 days. This means, forget about potential three day window that might be safe at the beginning of the heat. If your female dog has reached sexual maturity, any breeding can result in an unplanned pregnancy. Nature finds a way.

For more information on the heat cycle of female dogs

We understand there are reasons to not spay your female dog. You may want to do responsible breeding with her, you are waiting until she is old enough, etc. For reference on when to breed your female dog, here are the guidelines we use and they are consistent with the AAHA recommendations. In larger breeds (over 45 pounds for example), we recommend waiting until they are grown up enough. For smaller dogs, we recommend to spay at 6 months or just prior to their first heat. Please work with your vet on the best timing for spay surgery. Okay, off of our spay/neuter soapbox.

You have learned if a dog can get pregnant while bleeding, the 4 stages of heat, how to know she is in heat, and are dogs fertile while bleeding. This will go a long way towards a healthy and happy life for your pet dog. And keeping your Pet Happy is what we all want.

We have written an entire series all about female dogs in heat. You can learn more about the heat cycle in female dogs here.

Next: How to calm a female dog in heat
Previous: Tips to handle a dog in heat

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