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What To Do When Your Dog Is In Heat

So you’ve got yourself a puppy and you’re wondering when she will come in heat for the first time. Or perhaps you’ve had your fur kid a while, but since she only comes in season twice a year, you’ve forgotten how long a dog is in heat for.

Either way, let’s remember that unlike us, our dog daughters can’t complain to their friends about period stomach cramps and emotional menstruation outbursts – I like to give my girl a bit more attention when she is in heat, just in case she’s feeling rough. No, to date there is no indication that dogs get period pain, but it certainly messes up their hormones – more than enough reason for an extra hug or two I reckon.

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When will my dog come in heat for the first time?

When your pooch has its first heat period varies from one dog to another. Generally, the smaller the breed, the sooner your girl will enter in season for the first time. A small breed might begin at 6 months old. How well-developed your dog’s growth is will also affect the onset of the heat period.

Likewise, the number of times a dog is in heat per year varies. Typically, a dog will be in heat twice a year, but some breeds have only one heat period per year.

Dogs don’t have a menopause – your female pup will have heat periods all her life.

Stages of a dog in season

A dog’s heat period is marked by 4 phases, the first two are the ones that most concern us when our fur kids enter in season.

  • Pre-oestrus. Lasts approximately 7-10 days. Vaginal bleeding begins and your dog’s vulva will noticeably swell. She’ll probably reject male attention at this point.
  • Oestrus. The vulva doesn’t look as swollen in this phase, and the bloody discharge might lesson or appear more watery. This phase also typically lasts 7-10 days. Careful! She is now ready to mate.
  • Post-oestrus. The vulva returns to normal size and there is no bleeding. The dog is no longer fertile.
  • Anoestrus. This is a rest period as sexual hormones return to normal.

How do you know when a bitch is in season?

The pre-oestrus phase

The very first phase – pre-oestrus – is easily recognisable as it is characterised by the onset of vaginal bleeding. Some dogs bleed more than others. The bleeding during the pre-oestrus phase typically lasts 7-10 days, though it may be fewer, or more days, depending on your dog.

Male dogs will begin to show an interest in your girl during this time. She will most likely reject the advances of any male dog in the first few days. My fur-kid, Toxa, growls at Mino, my male dog, even to the point of snapping at him and chasing him away. She tucks her tail between her legs and won’t let him near her.

The oestrus phase

However, when your female dog stops rejecting all those gallant overtures, that’s a sure sign that she’s ready to mate. She’s now entering the oestrus phase of her heat period – also called the ‘standing heat’. Standing heat means when a bitch will let a male dog mate her.

During this phase, the vulva doesn’t look as swollen and the bloody discharge might lesson or appear more watery. However, your dog IS ready to mate and this is her fertile period. She will now ovulate several times over the next few days.

Your girl will stand by a male dog, lifting her tail out of the way, and elevating her vulva. If she’s like Toxa, she’ll positively push the male into mounting her. As you can see in this video, Toxa paws at Mino to get his attention. Usually he’s the one demanding attention, but not when she’s in heat!

The danger period

If you DON’T want your female dog to have a litter, you need to make sure there’s no male around during this phase, which generally lasts 7-10 days. However, since there’s no clear indication of when a dog passes from one phase to the next, you’ll not want to leave her unattended with another dog during the days before and after the bleeding. The oestrus phase can last for up to 2 weeks in some dogs.

Behaviour changes when a female dog is in heat

With all those hormone changes, you may find that your pooch becomes more aggressive, or more pushy, when she is in season. Some dogs can be jumpy and nervous.

In our house it’s definitely the former. Toxa turns into Miss Super Cheeky. It’s the only time in her life she gets away with eating from Mino’s bowl. Usually he’s very food dominant and she wouldn’t dream of approaching him when he’s eating.

Roll on the heat period though and she milks it for all she can get. She wolfs down her own food then makes her way over to his… and he just accepts it. Go for it girl!

What to do when your dog is in heat
What to do when your dog is in heat: tips and information.

How long does the bleeding last when a dog is in heat?

As we’ve seen above, a female dog will bleed during both the first and second phases, but the amount of time in each phase varies from one dog to another. Not a very precise answer if you were hoping to hear X amount of days! In Toxa’s case, her bleeding period across the 2 phases lasts around 2 weeks.

When can a female dog begin breeding?

Vets advise against breeding during a dog’s first season, since a bitch is not fully grown at that stage and so there are greater risks of difficulties arising during whelping.

Whats more, she is less likely to be an attentive mum to her newborns. Unfortunately, mother nature doesn’t always get things right – it would be great if a female pup didn’t come into season until she was physically ready to breed, right?

When can I spay my dog?

If you’ve made the decision to sterilise your dog, your vet will most likely not recommend doing it until at least 2 months after bleeding stops, which would put your pooch in the middle of her next reproductive cycle.

How to avoid your dog getting pregnant

Perhaps you don’t want to spay your lovely fur kid, but you don’t want a pack of little fur babies either. How can you manage the period when your dog is in season to avoid her mating?

  • Separate her from your other dogs, if you have others. Unfortunately, this is a tough one to manage, since they need to be separated for a month to avoid unwanted litters. Do you have friends or family who could help by looking after your male dog for some of that time? Or is your home big enough to effectively keep them apart? If so, put a strategy in place so that everyone in your home knows which areas are assigned to which dogs. Have a schedule for letting them out separately into the garden, for play time in the lounge with the family etcetera.
  • Walk her later in the evening or really early when there are fewer other dogs out being walked. The last thing you want is someone’s male mutt bounding over to you in the park…
    Play games with her at home or in the garden so she isn’t frustrated by the lack of exercise.
  • Try using a masking spray – this covers the smell of a bitch in heat to some extent so that male dogs are not so aware of her.

Blood spots – worried about your carpets when your dog is in heat?

If, like me, you live in a house with cream carpets (they were already there, honest – no one in their right mind puts down cream carpets when they own 2 dobermanns), you will need to protect the carpet from blood spots. I put sanitary pants for dogs on Toxa (you can buy them here) which work very well. I add a normal, woman’s panty liner to it and change that a couple of times a day.

photo of a dog with heat pants on.
When your dog is in heat, you can put dog heat pants on her to protect the floors, sofa covers and bedspreads from blood staining

You might want to practice your girl getting used to the menstruation pants BEFORE she comes in heat. Some dogs don’t tolerate clothing being put on them. Try popping the pants on for short periods of time and giving her some delicious dog treats as a reward while she has them on. You can find easy, home-made dog treat recipes right here.

Don’t think the pants are a modern chastity belt. They are not. A male dog will still manage to mate with your girl with the pants on.

Buy dog diapers / sanitary pants here

When Toxa’s in heat in the summer, the pants are a bit of a faff because she likes to go backwards and forwards to the garden a million times a day, and that means taking the pants off, putting them on again… In order to avoid that, I shut all the doors to the rooms apart from the kitchen, which DOES have ceramic tiles and leave her to run around without the pants. I spend less time mopping the floor than I would taking pants off and putting them on again.

Read more about the joys of keeping your house clean when you have dogs in this article.

My dog’s teats are swollen

During her second heat period, Toxa’s teats enlarged. Once the season finished, her teats stayed that way. Our vet said that it was nothing to worry about. They did go down a little since then in fact, but never quite returned to how they were originally.

Dogs on heat are NOISY

Despite Toxa and Mino making out every time she’s been in heat, they’ve never managed to pull it off. Mino has really poor aim, bless him. Plus, he’s a big, gorgeous, lump of a clutz, always bashing into things, knocking things over – not terribly coordinated in other words.

When he has been successful in his ‘target practice’ with Toxa, she freaks out the moment he’s knocking on her door and leaps away, yelping loudly. I often imagine at this time that our neighbours must think we beat our dogs, since her yelping is so high-pitched and urgent, and it sounds like some poor pooch suffering terribly.

Dobermanns are noisy per se. They whine. A lot. So when one of them is in season, the noise gets ramped up. She whines to get his attention. He whines because he wants it. They both whine because they never manage to get it together…

And then there’s the licking. He will lick her face, neck and ears all night when she is in season, something he never does normally. Since they sleep in my room, all I hear all night is a combination of whining and licking, whining and licking… It makes the heat period a funny, but VERY noisy, time in our house.

What to do when your dog is in heat
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