Like most female mammals, female dogs have an intricate hormonal reproductive cycle which brings them into ‘heat’ 1-2 times a year. Being ‘in heat’ means that dogs are within their most fertile window and therefore are more likely to fall pregnant.
It is important to keep your dog safe and comfortable during this time. She is more vulnerable during heat, and heightened sensitivity can make her feel uneasy. There are lots of things you can do as a pet parent to ensure your sweet girl feels calm and protected during this time.
When Do Dogs Go Into Heat?
Being ‘in heat’ is the term used to describe a female dog’s fertile window which occurs once or twice per year. A dog will usually come into her first heat at about 6 months old, and will then repeat this every 6-7 months until your dog is spayed.
When your dog is in heat, she will exhibit certain physical and behavioral indicators:
Vaginal bleeding and discharge - You may notice that your dog may have some vaginal discharge or bleeding, similar to a period. These are healthy and normal indicators that your pup is in heat.
Physical changes - You female dog will experience certain physical changes - she may become more sensitive, start licking of the genitals more frequently, and her vulva may also appear swollen.
Changes in mood and behavior - Dogs can become more forthright, eager or submissive, particularly around male dogs. She will likely become quite restless or skittish, and may also exhibit nesting behaviors.
The 4 Stages of the Dog Heat Cycle
Similarly to the hormonal cycle of female humans, a dog’s reproductive cycle consists of 4 vital stages known as the Estrous cycle. Here’s a breakdown of each individual stage:
1. Proestrus stage
Lasting 9 days on average, the proestrus stage can be characterized as the beginning of the reproductive cycle. During this time, the vulva becomes swollen and she may begin to bleed, the dog may start tucking her tail between her legs to protect her genitals, and she may show changes in appetite and personality, perhaps becoming more clingy or bad-tempered.
2. Estrus Stage
This next stage also averagely lasts around the 9 day mark, and this is where the dog is fully in heat and at her most fertile. Bleeding, discharge and swelling will lessen, and she will start to become more flirtatious, her natural instincts leading her to find a mate and breed.
If you are not wanting to breed your dog, this is the time to be particularly protective of her, making sure she is safe and secure.
3. Diestrus Stage
A 60-90 day stage, this is when the dog comes to the end of her heat and is no longer fertile. Submissive or flirting behaviors will cease along with other physical and behavioral changes.
4. Anestrus Stage
And so it starts all over again! The final anestrus stage, lasting around 100-150 days, is often referred to as ‘the resting stage’, meaning that your dog’s reproductive cycle is not gearing up and getting ready to begin the cycle again at the end of the rest period.
How long does a dog stay in heat and how often?
Typically, dogs will have 1-2 heats per year, and a female dog will stay ‘in heat’ for around 3-21 days, within which time she is fertile and able to get pregnant.
While these are the average numbers, each female dog’s cycle will differ slightly. Depending on your dog’s size, breed and age, she may have slightly longer heat periods, longer rest periods, different amounts of bleeding and various behaviors or mood changes.
Always consult your vet if you are at all concerned about your dog’s symptoms.
Do dogs have periods and how long do dog periods last?
The short answer? Yes!
While a dog’s ‘period’ is usually quite light, she will still likely have some vaginal bleeding and discharge. Her genitals will become very sensitive during this time, and she will probably be very protective of herself, perhaps licking herself often.
One of the biggest symptoms that indicate a dog’s ‘period’ are mood changes. You may notice a change in personality - she may become more defensive or skittish, bad-tempered, or can even grow quite clingy and restless.
As we’ve mentioned before, a dog’s heat can last from anywhere between 3-21 days. The proestrus stage is where your dog is most likely to experience bleeding, and this will wane during the estrus stage.
Do male dogs go into heat?
Male dogs do not go into heat. Once a male dog reaches adulthood, he will be fertile all year round and able to breed at any time of the year.
However, male dogs are particularly in-tune to female dogs in heat, and can sense that she is within her fertile window. He will therefore seek her out and perhaps try and make his “move”, meaning it is vital to keep your female dog protected during this vulnerable period.
Common behaviors of a female dog in heat
One of the biggest indicators of a female dog in heat is changes in mood and personality, which you are likely to notice from being similar with your dog’s usual temperament.
Some common behaviors of a female dog in heat include:
1. Excessive licking
A female dog’s genitals can become more sensitive and swollen during heat, and so you may find she licks herself more than usual. This may also be to keep herself clean whilst in the bleeding stages.
2. Change in urination habits
It is not uncommon for a female dog to urinate more frequently whilst in heat. Just be sure that if you are taking her out in public to go potty, you are able to protect her from male dogs.
3. Getting more friendly with male dogs
Flirting and submissive behavior may become more obvious in your dog as her natural instincts start to tell her to breed. Think…slinky movements and rolling onto her back.
4. Change in posture and tail position
A female dog may tuck her tail between her legs to protect her genitals, and later in her cycle may become more open and submissive when her body tells her she is ready to breed.
5. Mounting and humping
An increased need to reproduce may result in your female dog humping or mounting toys or household objects. So best to keep your precious childhood teddy bear well clear!
6. Anxiety, agitation and nesting
Your dog may become more anxious or agitated whilst in heat, as if she doesn’t quite know what to do with herself. Try and maintain a calm and comforting environment for her so she can be happy in her own space.
Here’s a guideline of simple rules to follow, to prevent an unwanted dog impregnation:
1. Never let your dog out in the yard alone
A female dog’s scent will be very strong when she is in heat and is more likely to attract the attention of male dogs. If you are not planning on welcoming a litter of puppies anytime soon, be sure to keep an eye on your girl when she is outdoors.
2. Keep your dog on a leash during walks
It is always best to keep your female dog on a leash during heat when on walks, that way you can make sure she doesn’t run off and is kept away from male dogs. Also, aim to walk her during times of the day she is less likely to encounter other dogs (i.e. very early or later in the evening.)
3. Balance between exercise and rest
Hormonal changes can be rough, and so it is important that your dog gets her rest in. Keeping her stimulated and distracted can be a great tactic to minimize anxiety and restlessness, just make sure she gets some good cozy time too.
4. Consult a vet
Your vet will be able to best advise you on how to best support your female dog whilst she is in heat, and if you are ever worried about your dog, consulting the vet is the best port of call.
5. Get some doggie diapers
Dog diapers are a great option for female dogs in the height of their heat. Not only can they protect your furniture from blood and discharge, they can also provide an extra layer of protection against vaginal licking and the advances of male dogs. They can also be quite comforting for your dog, making her feel snug and secure.
6. Support her with pads and blankets
Keeping some absorbent pads around the house can be helpful to catch any excess blood, discharge or more frequent urination, whilst waterproof blankets are a good choice for maximum bed-coziness and leak protection.
Dogs and menopause
Dogs do not go through menopause. In fact, female dogs can continue to get pregnant into their senior years.
As they age, their heat periods may become fewer and farther between, and she may have less energy to pursue her urges, however if she stops going into heat altogether then it is vital that you consult with your vet.
The best way to stop your dog from going into heat and therefore ensuring they cannot get pregnant is by getting your dog spayed. Many will decide to do this when their dog is a puppy, and so if this is the case then your dog will not enter heat.
Female dogs need care and protection during the different stages of their reproductive cycle. By following these few handy tips you will be helping to keep your sweet girl calm, happy and comfortable.
It’s important to keep your pup secure during this time, especially steering clear of dog parks where she may encounter the unwanted attentions of male dogs. To keep your home clean from blood and discharge, doggy diapers and reusable potty pads are essential tools.
And remember, if you have any lingering questions or concerns, make sure to reach out to a qualified professional for their support.
Learn how Potty Buddy™ products help pet-parents keep their homes clean and their pets comfortable
Leak-Free Potty Pad
A durable and super-absorbent potty pad that can be washed and reused for years. It saves money and the planet.