When a female dog is coming into her heat cycle, many a dog owner usually handles this situation in one of two ways. One is to flee in a panic, not knowing what to do. Should I take time off from work? How do I care for her? How long will this last? When should I… The second approach is to ignore the fact and treat their dog though nothing is happening. The smart, loving pet owner learns about what their pet is going through so they can get through it together. And no. The estrus cycle has nothing to do with your dog’s temperature.
As a part of our series for female dog owners, you will learn how to handle a female dog when she is in her heat cycle.
What are the stages of a dog heat cycle?
Female dogs go through different stages of being in heat. Those are:
This is the beginning of your dog’s heat cycle. Her body is getting ready to mate. You can tell by some of the signs such as she may have a swollen vulva, more/excessive licking of her genital area, blood in her discharge, and even unusual aggression towards male dogs. This stage of estrus can be as short as 3-4 days or as long as two weeks.
This is her mating stage. You might notice she pees more often. This is because she is leaving a scent trail to prospective male suitors. Her vaginal discharge may slow. She may be less friendly to downright aggressive to a female dog that she normally is friendly with. Her hormones are in full rage mode. This stage of estrus usually lasts about 10 days.
This is post “estrus cycle” or where her body either returns to normal or she is pregnant. All the previous signs will disappear. This stage of estrus lasts about 2 months.
This is the time when she is totally normal. This stage of estrus lasts until her next heat period or about 2-3 months.
Benefit of spaying your dog.
We recommend to all our patients that spaying your female dog before your dogs first heat. This has many benefits for her. The reduced responsibilities on you are just a bonus. These are:
- Healthier, longer life. Less chances of cancers and uterine infections.
- Eliminate unwanted pregnancies.
- Reduce the issues with her estrus cycle. No more “fun” every 6 months for you and her.
When should I spay my dog?
We recommend to spay her before your dogs first heat first. The age you should spay her depends on how much she will weigh when full grown. We use the AAHA recommendations for this. For smaller breeds of less than 45 pounds when fully grown, you’ll want to spay her at 5-6 months of age. For larger breeds over 45 pounds, this is 5-15 months of age. Again, please consult with your veterinarian. Again, spaying before your dogs first heat is the key. When you bring her in for her first shots is when we introduce this topic to our patients if they don’t bring it up. This is a common and simple surgery procedure but it is still surgery. For How to care for a dog after surgery, please see our article on this.
Top 11 tips when your dog is in heat
Never let your dog out in the yard alone. Protecting your dog from a male dog and unwanted pregnancy is the most important thing to do when your dog is in heat. It doesn’t matter if you plan to breed your dog at this time or not. With our female dog, we were tempted to let her into the yard and watch her through the window. That is especially tempting when it’s cold outside. However, this is a risk. What if a male dog suddenly appears nearby or if our dog jumps over the fence. Go out into the yard with your dog when she’s in heat. Depending on her activity, you might even consider using a leash.
- No off-leash walks. Despite common misconceptions, you can walk a female dog when she is in heat. She needs walks. However, some precautions are necessary; the most crucial is always to walk your dog on a leash. Even if you consider your dog exceptionally well trained, walking off-leash is a “no-no” when your dog is in heat. No obedience training is as strong as instincts. A harness or strong collar is recommended in this case. A strong leash like this Baapet 5 foot leash with a padded handle is ideal for this situation. Best of all, it comes in different colors and your hands will appreciate the padding.
For harnesses, our patients and we have had good luck with the padded types. The rabbitgoo Dog Harness is soft, padded, and has reflectors just for good measure.
3. Balance between exercise and rest.Different dogs react differently to heat. While some may feel tired all day, most dogs are restless during the heat, and owners must add exercises and take other measures to calm her down. Others may feel tired all day, while others may become restless. Observing your dog’s behavior and choosing the right amount of rest and exercise (walking, running, playing, etc.) is essential to keep your dog comfortable. If your dog wants to sleep, you should grant her wish, but if she is restless, you can find tips to calm her down here .
4. Extra attention. Avoid events in which other dogs are involved. The scent that female dogs produce is distracting to male dogs and will impede their performance. Most male owners become angry (a very reasonable response, if you ask us) if someone disrespects this “law” and appears in a dog show with a dog in heat. You may ask event organizers if you can obtain a refund if your dog comes suddenly into heat right before the event. Some event holders grant a full or partial refund if a dog comes into heat or becomes ill.
5. No group training or dog shows. Avoid events in which other dogs are involved. The scent that female dogs produce is distracting to male dogs and will impede their performance. Most male owners become angry (a very reasonable response, if you ask us) if someone disrespects this “law” and appears in a dog show with a dog in heat. You may ask event organizers if you can obtain a refund if your dog comes suddenly into heat right before the event. Some event holders grant a full or partial refund if a dog comes into heat or becomes ill.
6. Leave toys or chews. If you have to leave your dog alone for a while, leave her inside with toys or chews. The repetitive action of chewing helps dogs to cope with stress, which is why stress is a common reason why dogs chew objects. Here are 9 steps to stop your dog from chewing the house. Put them away when you return home, to retain her interest till the next time. This will help to drive her restless thoughts away and keep her busy when you are not present. Our dogs and many of our patients pups enjoy these Nylabone flavored chews. Our little girl (and boys) love Nylabone products. They are designed to allow small shavings to come off which easily pass through their digestive track. An additional benefit is the feathering that is left on the chew toy helps keep their teeth clean.
7. Hide her trail back to your home from male dogs. If you are walking outdoors with your dog in heat, it would be wise to break up the trail leading back home. The best approach is to put your dog in a car and drive to the walking spot. This way, male dogs won’t track your dog to your house. We have tried it ourselves a lot, and it works very well.
8. Put menthol on the tip of her tail.When walking outdoors, this technique may help to mask the scent. It may become handy if a male dog suddenly appears nearby, so he does not detect your female in heat from a distance. However, if he comes closer, this method doesn’t work as well. Bathing her more often will also help reduce her scent.
9. Use a dog diaper. One of the most common heat symptoms in dogs is a bloody discharge from your dog’s vulva. This may make a mess in the house for sure. While your dog may not like them at first, dog diapers or pants can help in many ways. They may help to mask the odor outdoors and prevent males from following your you and her back to your house. Important note, doggie pants won’t stop your dog from mating. Do not let male dogs approach during walks. Many of our patients have had good luck using these Paw Inspired disposable dog diapers. They come in a 32 pack and different sizes.
10. Consult with your vet. Your dogs in is not an illness and should not be treated as one. Talking with your may help if unexpected trouble occurs.
11. Consider spaying your dog. We strongly recommended that you your if you are not planning to her. While some may say that is not natural, we believe that not allowing her to mate whenever she wants is one you as a responsible, loving . There are many advantages to a as we’ve discussed. The most important ones are behavior changes a reduced risk of mammary tumors. Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of a dog here .
Please understand that you don’t have to do all of the above when your dog is in heat. Dogs differ in terms of restlessness, activity, symptom strength, attraction to males, etc.
That said, the more you take advantage of the above ideas, the more comfortable your dog (and you) will feel. If you are an owner of a , you will find our series about dogs in heat useful. Not only will your female dog be happy, so will you.
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