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My dog is on heat, Now what?

Having your female dog in season for the first time could come as a bit of a shock. Her body is preparing for reproduction and this causes changes in both her body and her behaviour. Here we have put together everything you need to know about the dog heat cycle and have also included some tips on how to manage the situation.

What happens to a dog on heat?

Your dog will come on heat for the first time as soon as she enters puberty. In smaller dog breeds this could occur as early as six months of age, while in larger breeds it may take up to ten to sixteen months. The larger the breed, the longer it will take for the dog to come into heat for the first time. Your dog’s body has to be fully grown before she comes into season for the first time.

A dog on heat shows that her body is preparing for mating. Her uterus prepares for fertilisation and the rest of her body is getting ready to attract males. How often a dog comes on heat differs between breeds but it usually happens twice a year. Some dog breeds only come on heat once a year. The dog heat cycle usually lasts about three weeks, but during this time she is only fertile for a few days.

Your dog will come on heat throughout her life, but an old dog in season is much less fertile than a younger dog. So when you bring a female dog into your home, you should keep in mind that this is a process that you will have to deal with regularly. Read on to find out what you can expect.<.p>

For how long is a dog on heat?

To really know what is happening with your dog on heat you should understand the four different phases of the dog heat cycle. Briefly, these four phases are as follows:

Phase 1: Pre-estrus

During this phase your dog's body is preparing for the fertile period. This can last anywhere from 9 to 17 days. Your dog's vulva will start swelling and sometimes you might notice some blood.. Your dog is not fertile yet and so isn’t interested in mating at this stage. Concerning her behaviour, you might notice that she is a bit restless.

Phase 2: Estrus

Ovulation takes place in this phase and now your dog is fertile. This stage lasts between four days and two weeks. Males become interested in your female dog and the feeling is mutual. Your dog will actively look for a partner to mate with. One indication that your dog is ready for mating is that she pulls her tail to the side when another dog starts sniffing. You have to be extra careful at this stage if you don't want your dog to mate with any random male.

Phase 3: Metestrus

The signs of your dog being in season decrease during this phase. She is no longer fertile and the symptoms of a dog in season will gradually disappear. An important distinction must be made at this point - namely whether your dog is pregnant or not.

A dog that is not pregnant yet could still conceive in this period. You can read more about this in our article “Dog pregnancy - find all the information here”. If conception did not take place, most female dogs return to normal within six to ten weeks.

Phase 4: Anestrus

This phase refers to the times when a dog is not on heat. At this point your dog’s body and behaviour are normal and she is not fertile either. It generally lasts for anything from 100 to 140 days, but could last longer in larger dog breeds. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, this phase is much shorter in German Shepherds.

Dog heat cycle abnormalities

Sometimes it’s difficult for an owner to determine whether they are dealing with a dog in season because the signs are not always the same in all dogs.

There are dogs that have a silent heat. This means that they show none of the physical symptoms of a dog in season and their behaviour hardly changes. When this happens it is impossible to determine when your dog is fertile, which also makes it difficult to avoid mating. If this describes your dog, ask your vet for guidance if you don’t have any plans to breed with her.

A split dog heat cycle is another possibility. The first phase starts but then stops and resumes later which delays the next phase. This also makes it difficult to determine when your dog is fertile as ovulation occurs much later than when the process is linear.

Finally, it could also happen that your dog doesn’t ovulate at all and becomes stuck in the pre-estrus phase. This can last from six to eight weeks. Missed ovulations are often caused by an abnormality so if you suspect that this is happening to your dog a veterinary consultation is recommended.

Signs that a dog is on heat

You can recognize a dog in season by the physical changes and also through changes in their behaviour.

Physical changes you should look out for are vulval swelling and, in some females, the presence of blood. The amount of blood discharged differs between dogs. Sometimes you don’t notice when your dog is on heat because she is very clean and licks the blood away very quickly.

The changes in the behaviour of a dog on heat differs between breeds. In general you will notice that your dog is more easily distracted and can’t concentrate very well. She could also become restless and possibly moody. Some dogs might urinate more often during their heat because they feel a need to spread their scent. Your dog might even suddenly start urinating in the house because everything feels different than normal.

You could also notice from the behaviour of other dogs that you are dealing with a dog on heat. She will attract the attention of male dogs, in particular, and they will show increased interest in her. So if you realise that your female dog is getting more attention from other dogs, there is a good chance that she is on heat. Other female dogs might also show more interest in your dog when she is in season. Your dog could react to this in different ways - she could start sniffing as well or tend to snarl.

Tips for dealing with a dog on heat

When your dog is on heat, she wants to be mated and will always be looking out for a suitable male. She emits an inviting scent to attract males which can drive them wild. So it will be wise to keep her on a leash while walking and not allow her to run free where she might encounter male dogs. You might even adjust your walking route and times to reduce the chances of meeting up with a male dog. Mating between dogs is very quick and once it has started, you can't stop it.

Do you have both a dog on heat and a male dog at home? You should preferably keep them separated. This might be complicated but it is the only way you can prevent your female dog from mating while you are not paying attention. You could also put special pants on your female dog to prevent mating. Usually this isn’t enough to stop mating completely but will give you more time to separate the male and female dogs. These pants also help to absorb the blood discharged by your dog.

Finally, don’t expect too much from a dog on heat. She is going through a difficult time, both physically and mentally, so don’t try and teach her new things now. You don't have to allow what is not normally allowed, but don't set your standards too high.

Preventing dog heat cycles

If you don't want to breed with your dog, sterilisation is the most effective way to prevent your dog from coming into season. During the operation her ovaries are removed. This stops ovulation so the dog will no longer come on heat.

Female dog sterilisation has a number of other advantages:

  • Reduced risk of mammary tumours
  • A calming effect on the dog
  • Lower risk of uterine infections
  • No risk of phantom pregnancies
  • Reduced risk of diabetes and acromegaly, a hormonal disorder in dogs.

There are also a few disadvantages to having your dog sterilised. For example, she is more likely to gain weight and the texture of her coat could change.

Ideally you should have your dog sterilised before she comes on heat for the first time. Generally vets recommend that this should be done at five to six months of age. Ask your vet for advice - they will be able to discuss the pros and cons with you.

There are also various options for preventing your dog from coming on heat if you still want to breed with her in the future. It is generally advised that you should only start breeding with a dog when they are at least two-and-a-half years old and their body is fully grown. Until then, you should allow your dog to go on heat or suppress it.

You can consult your vet for contraceptive hormone treatments, either in the form of tablets or an injection. Hormonal contraception should be under veterinary supervision as there could be unpleasant side effects. For example, possible side effects of the hormonal injection include uterine inflammation, diabetes and kidney disorders.

Does a dog on heat need different food?

We have discussed that a dog on heat can display abnormal behaviours. For example, her appetite could decrease for a while, but generally you don’t have to worry about this. Usually your dog just needs a few days to get used to her new condition and then she will start eating normally again.

A dog in season does not need a different type or amount of food. You can still feed her the amount suggested on the back of the Yarrah dog food packaging. You could, of course, decide to treat your dog a bit. Our organic mini snacks for dogs are free of chemical fragrances, colours and flavours, and free from pesticides or GMO. So with these snacks you can be guilt-free when you feed your dog on heat these healthy treats.

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My dog is on heat, Now what?

Here we have put together everything you need to know about the dog heat cycle and have also included some tips.