What to do when your dog is in heat
A dog’s first season is not a fun time for you, or your pooch. It’s messy, lengthy, and not all that comfortable for your pup but, unless you get your dog spayed, it’s an inevitable part of their lives.
So, let’s take a closer look at a dog’s heat cycle, the tell-tale signs that your canine companion is in season and some top tips on keeping her comfortable during this time.
How often do dogs go into heat?
Most female dogs come into heat every six months, but this can depend on their breed and size. Some dogs have longer, some have shorter seasons, and it can take time for them to develop regular cycles before it becomes easier for you to keep track of when they’ll arrive.
How long is a dog in season?
All dogs are different, but a season usually lasts around two to three weeks. It’s important to note that some dogs may not show obvious signs that they are in season throughout their entire heat cycle, so a keen eye can be crucial.
Signs a dog is coming into season
A dog’s heat cycle can be broken down into four key stages. These are:
- Proestrus (swelling of the vulva followed by light to heavy bleeding)
- Estrus (when the dog is fertile and willing to accept male company)
- Diestrus (the dog is no longer fertile and might start feeling more like themselves again)
- Anestrus (the resting stage that lasts 100-150 days before the entire heat cycle starts again)
While some dogs may not show any obvious signs of being in heat, the behavioural clues and physical symptoms usually include:
- A large, red, swollen vulva
- Bleeding from the vulva
- Excessive grooming and licking of genitals
- Urinating more than usual
Changes in behaviour
As their hormone levels change, you might see this reflected in your dog’s behaviour. It varies between every dog and the current stage of their cycle but may include:
- being over-friendly with other dogs
- roaming or eager to get outside
- mounting other dogs
- moving their tail when touched
- gathering toys in their sleeping area
- becoming anxious
- become less tolerant of dogs
Before your dog starts their cycle, you might notice that they seem on edge by pacing or panting more than they usually would. Some dogs can become less energetic as they go into heat and possibly start showing less of an interest in things they might usually have wanted to do.
When their cycle begins, you might see behaviours you’re not used to seeing in your dog including aggression towards both female and male dogs during proestrus (the first stage of their heat) and as your dog moves into estrus (the second phase), you'll see her flirt (watch what she does with her tail) with males.
As all dogs react differently to the changes happening to their bodies, it’s difficult to know how your pooch might act until they experience their very first heat. Once you know how your dog is likely to behave during their heat cycle, you can care for them in ways that will make the experience easier for you, your dog and others around them.
Care tips for dogs in heat
Your dog will be feeling hormonal and possibly a bit confused during her season, so it’s important to keep her comfortable and distracted. Here are just some ways to keep your pooch happy while in heat.
Change to their walks
Try and schedule your walks during less busy times of the day and find quiet areas to help avoid unwanted attention from potential suitors. Keep your dog on a lead to stop her running away from you as she tries to find a mate. Some local areas offer fenced fields that can be booked so your dog won’t be bothered by other canine friends on their walk.
Avoid stressful events
While your dog is on heat, try and avoid any stressful events or big changes such as staying in kennels, visits to busy places or moving to a new house.
Spend some time together
Keeping her entertained by playing games, giving her things to do in the house (such as a treat-filled toy) and taking her on walks can help keep your dog calm and distracted as her body changes.
Don’t get angry
Never scold your dog if she happens to make a bloody mess as this can make her feel worse than she already does. Just try to calmly reassure her while you clean it up and provide some cuddles afterwards if you can!
Keep them apart
If you own a male dog who’s not been neutered, you’ll need to keep them apart while your female dog is in season or else you could end up with a pregnant pooch. Place both dogs in separate rooms as far from each other as you can manage in your home, keep these doors shut and try not to let them out at the same time to help avoid any unplanned pregnancies.
Clean up hacks for dogs in heat
One of the signs of your dog being in heat is the blood spots they leave in their wake. Here are a few ways to make your life easier when it comes to keeping your house clean when your pooch is in season.
Invest in some dog nappies
If you are looking to prevent potential stains on carpets and furniture when your dog is in heat, you can buy dog specific nappies or period pants that can help contain the blood. These won’t work for all dogs so instead you may want to limit your dog’s access to carpeted areas, sofas and bedding or lay down some towels if these can’t be avoided or they won’t tolerate having to wear something throughout the day.
“As a big girl with a fairly large frame (we don't judge), none of the store-bought season diapers/pants fit Indie properly (see image below), they cut into her waist and made her more uncomfortable. As a result, we resorted to using an old pair of boxer shorts – the gap at the front making the perfect hole to poke her tail through. We also used a safety pin to secure the boxers so they didn't keep slipping off. As crude as a solution as it was, it saved any mess falling on my floor, furniture or carpets and as it was a loose fit, it didn’t bother Indie either.”
Use a designated blanket
If your dog likes to cuddle up to you on the sofa, try using one blanket throughout her cycle so that you don’t have too much washing to do at the end of her heat. You could use a different blanket for each of her favourite spots but make sure that everyone you live with knows not to sit there.
Quick clean up is best
Try to keep disposable wipes on hand so you can rapidly swipe across furniture or hard floors if you find any spots of blood. If carpets do become soiled, you should use stain removers to help remove any signs of their heat.
While being in heat is not an illness, discussing the process with your vet may help you prepare for any unexpected challenges that might occur.