If you bring a female puppy into your home, it will probably experience at least one heat period while in your care. During one part of the cycle, the dog is fertile and could become pregnant. Pups are great fun, but no one wants an unplanned litter. Raising and caring for the mother dog and her puppies can be seen as a full-time job and then you have to find suitable owners for the puppies, otherwise you can suddenly have 12 dogs. Plus, it is not healthy for a dog who’s too young to become a mother, as often the dog’s own growth stops and it maintains a puppy-like body after pregnancy. And if your dog is old enough and you decide to want a litter, it is wise to think carefully about which male would suit your pet well.
So it's important that you keep a close eye on your dog when she's in heat. In this article, we will tell you how to you recognize when your dog is in heat, what phases of the cycle there are and how you can get through it.
How often is a dog in heat?
When and how often a dog is in heat varies from individual to individual. It is true that if you have several bitches in the house, they often go into heat about the same time. Generally, small breed dogs go into heat for the first time when they are between six and ten months old and then, if not neutered, they will experience heat about twice a year. Dogs of large breeds go into heat when they are between ten and sixteen months old and some don’t experience their first heat until after their second birthday. Larger dog breeds can go into heat once or twice a year. The heat lasts about three weeks but the dog is only fertile for a few days during this period.
Recognize the symptoms of a dog in heat
During heat, the behavior of your dog and the dogs around her changes. Your pet may sniff her surroundings more, many females suddenly start making small puddles very often, in order to spread their scent well. She will also start to smell attractive to males but other females may also become curious. When your dog is in heat, her vulva will swell and blood will come out of it. The amount of blood and its visibility will vary - some dogs will lick themselves clean once even a drop of blood appears, others will just let the blood drip. So pay attention if your dog or other dogs start to behave 'strangely'. When in doubt, you can see if your dog is already losing blood by wiping your dog’s genitals with clean toilet paper.
Dog heat stages
The heat starts with pre-estrus, this is preparation for the fertile period. The female's vulva swells and she starts losing blood. She is not yet fertile during this period and she does not want to mate yet. The dog already smells good to males and most of them will already be interested. This phase can last from a few days to two weeks.
Then the female will enter estrus. During this period, ovulation takes place and the dog is fertile. The bloody discharge changes color and fades. Your dog will have a strong urge to mate during this period and some females even run away during this period if they get the chance. When they come across a male, some dogs will 'get ready' by turning their butt towards the male and putting their tails to the side. Not only males but also many females will find the smell of a dog in heat interesting. This period lasts four to fifteen days.
Dealing with a dog in heat
It is wise, especially the first time, to keep your female on a leash throughout the heat. The exact time when the dog will be fertile differs depending on the individual and can even differ from time to time. Some dogs in heat are not interested in males at all but may suddenly start actively trying to mate in the next heat.
If necessary, try to adjust your route and walk times, so that you encounter as few stray dogs as possible. A dog in heat smells so attractive to many males that, even if they normally listen carefully, they can run away from their owners. This is not pleasant for the owner and can also be challenging for you if you have to keep a herd of dogs away from your female.
Most females are also more distracted during their heat. Training can become frustrating for both parties. This does not mean that your dog is suddenly allowed to do anything but it is not the time to start learning new difficult things. Bitches in heat are also not allowed in many dog competitions, because they would distract the males too much.
Some females are so clean that you won't be bothered by their heat indoors but the majority still lose at least an occasional drop of blood. Depending on the floor material in your home and the quantity of blood, you can decide to just wipe it away but if that is not desirable or feasible, there are solutions for sale. For example, in-heat pants for dogs or dog diapers.