Summary: We review the 4 stages of the dog heat cycle. Part of this article discusses the signs of heat you should be watching for to tell if your dog is in heat. Don't stress about unwanted pregnancies, know what to do if you are not going to have your dog spayed.
What are the Signs of a Dog in Heat?
One of the problems that many dog owners face is preventing unwanted pregnancy. If you own a male (also called a Sire), you may never know where your dog has sewn his “wild oats”. If you have a female (also called a Dam or a Bitch), you will certainly know about the pregnancy, especially when you suddenly find several puppies hiding under their mom's fur. While the responsibility to prevent improper pregnancy lies with owners of all dogs, it seems the majority of the work is on the part of the bitch’s owners.
To prevent (or encourage) pregnancy, it’s important to know when your dog can become pregnant. Your Dam can get pregnant during her “heat” cycle (or estrus). Dogs DO NOT go through menopause the way humans do. As they grow older they are less fertile, but it is possible for your older dog to become pregnant. Dogs typically have two heats per year. Each dog differs in length of heat, discharge amount, messiness, and personality changes. Watch your dog and learn her cycle. If you are a professional breeder, or someone considering breeding your dog, you should wait until your dog is in her third heat before breeding. She should be vet checked and up-to-date on her shots. Choose her mate carefully, focusing on improving your chosen breed. Request that he is vet checked and up-to-date on his shots as well.
There are four stages of the heat cycle.
Your dog is not fertile during the first days of proestrus. But keep in mind that male sperm can live for several days. It’s important to watch her closely and consider buying some diapers or pants to protect her from mating with unwanted suitors. This can compromise your dogs health and the genetics of the puppies. There are several types of doggie diapers and pants available. OR you can get creative, and make some yourself. Using a diaper can prevent the staining of carpet and furniture.
It’s important to know when your dog it coming into heat and going out of heat. There are some clear signs and some subtle clues. Pay attention to your dog and learn her behavior. This will help you understand what’s going on when she 'does' come into heat.
This stage of dog heat can last from 4-20 days. The average is 7-10 days. There are 3 common signs for a dog in heat
during this stage:
- Swollen Vulva: This is one of the best ways to spot the beginning of a dog heat cycle. The swelling is a significant difference over her “normal” appearance. Her teats may also swell slightly, but this is not a great heat indicator and can be tricky to spot.
- Discharge: Your female may suddenly spend a lot of time licking herself. Take a tissue and wipe her vulva. If you notice red discharge, and her vulva is swollen, that’s a pretty good indicator that your dog is definitely coming into heat. It’s important to check this, since timing is everything when it comes to mating (or preventing a mating) your dog. The first day you notice the bloody discharge is called "DAY 1". Mark it on your calendar.
- Suitors The third sign of heat is not found on your dog, but in the presence of other dogs. You may notice neighbor dogs hanging out around your house. They can smell your female's heat cycle. You may notice that your dog will tuck her tail often, protecting herself. She is not ready to accept a sire.
The Estrus Stage of the Dog Heat Cycle typically last from 5-14 days. The time your dog is fertile (her actual heat). At this stage, the discharge typically changes from red to straw colored. In many dogs it’s still somewhat pink, but you will notice a definite difference in color from the beginning of proestrus. This change usually occurs around day 8 or 9. Your dog will also be willing to accept a sire during this stage. She will switch her tail to the side. She may whimper and try to be outside more often than is normal for her. She is following her instinct to breed. Keep a close eye on her. Even if she is in a kennel, she can still end up pregnant.
Dogs get VERY creative during this stage. If you notice strange males in your yard, stay away from them. Bring your dog inside and wait for them to leave. When males are anxious to breed, they can be much more likely to bite. Don’t take your female to the pet store or the dog park. You can inadvertently cause problems that you really don’t want. It’s best just to keep her secluded to your yard and home. We have even seen a male sire impregnate a bitch through the holes in a chain link fence - so be very protective and cautious. Otherwise, you are going to be ordering DNA testing kits. To determine the dog's due date, use our Dog Mating Calculator.
The Diestrus Stage of the Dog Heat Cycle usually begins around day 24. This stage can last from 60-90 days. Your dog is no longer fertile at this point. Her discharge will change from straw colored to red and then stop completely. She still has a scent and can still attract unwanted attention, so wait until she has completely stopped bleeding before venturing into public places.
This is the fourth and final stage of the dog heat cycle when your dog is “normal”. This stage last about 60-90 days, at the end of which, the entire heat cycle starts again.
In conclusion, pay attention to your dog. Watch her dog heat signs. Know where she is at all times to prevent unwanted suitors from mating with your dog. Have her vet checked and be sure that you are willing to go through all the work necessary to raise puppies BEFORE breeding her. If you have a male dog and have no interest in using him as a stud dog, please consider neutering.
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