The estrous cycle or the heat cycle in female dogs kicks in at different times, depending on their breed, size, and health condition. But on average, according to VCA Hospitals, smaller breeds tend to go into heat for the first time around 6 months of age, while larger dogs can be 18 months to 2 years old before they come into heat.
If your dog has just come into heat, you may be asking yourself how long does a dog stay in heat? Here are some things you should know to help both of you get through it.
"Smaller breeds tend to go into heat for the first time around six months of age, while larger dogs can be two years old before they come into heat."
Signs Your Dog Is in Heat
Here are the most common signs to know your fur-baby is in her estrous:
- The vulva will become swollen (up to four times its regular size) and you will most likely notice your dog licking the area more often
- More affectionate with you and may seek more of your attention
- More attention to male dogs
- Mucus-like bloody discharge, but thins and turns pinkish-red in color later in the cycle
- Numerous attempts to mount other dogs
How Long Will the Estrus Cycle Last?
Like people, all dogs are different and the length of their heat cycles will vary. Having said that and given that your fur-baby does not have any reproductive issues, the estrous cycle typically lasts between 2 and 4 weeks.
Here are the different stages of a dog’s full estrous cycle:
Proestrus. This is the stage where most pet parents say, “My dog is in heat!”. Lasting for an average of nine days, this is the stage where male dogs will be attracted to your fur-baby but your female dog will not feel the same way. The levels of estrogen are will start to rise, the vulva will begin swelling, and a blood-tinged discharge will be present but only in small amounts.
Estrus. This stage is where your female dog will become responsive to the males lurking around her. Estrus is the stage where your dog will be most fertile and will usually last from an average of 9 days.
This is the best stage to breed your dog, given that it’s not her first or second heat and she is both physically & mentally prepared for pregnancy. If she is not, then you might consider taking pregnancy prevention methods.
Diestrus. The third stage of the estrous cycle where your dog will no longer be fertile and receptive to the male dogs. Your dog’s hormones will begin going back to their normal levels, given she is not pregnant.
Anestrus. If your dog is not pregnant, this is the dormant stage of the estrous cycle, waiting for the next proestrus to begin. Most dogs will go into heat twice a year but certain breeds, like the Rhodesian ridgeback and the Basenji, only go into heat once a year. Additionally, Pets WebMD says that the frequency of estrous cycles depends on your dog, but should be consistent. If it isn’t, talk to your vet so they can determine why your dog is having irregularities.
However, if she is pregnant, she will be giving birth in about 62 to 64 days. It’s a good idea to speak with your veterinarian about your dog so you know what to expect.
More Things to Know About a Dog in Heat
- Your fur-baby can only experience an estrous cycle once or twice a year as it occurs in dogs every six to twelve months. If you observe that your dog is bleeding every now and then, it might be a sign that she has pyometra (an infection of the uterus). This is a medical emergency and you should contact your vet immediately.
- If you have a puppy, she can go in heat sooner than you expected. The earliest a dog can have her first heat cycle is at 6 months.
- Keep your dog in heat away from males for about 3 to 4 weeks. You can confine your dog, keep her inside the house (given you have all female dogs at home, you have male dogs but are neutered, or no other dogs at all) to avoid any unplanned breedings.
- Once the bloody discharge completely disappears, it still does not mean that your female dog is already safe from all lurking males. When the bleeding stops, that may actually be the prime fertility time. If you plan on breeding her, it's best to have her undergo a progesterone test after the bleeding has subsided to know what days she is most fertile.
- If you don't plan on breeding your dog anymore or don't plan on breeding her at all, consider spaying. Spaying decreases the risks of your fur-baby developing any infections and mammary cancer.
Keeping Your Dog Safe, Comfortable, and Healthy During Heat
During an estrous cycle, it’s important that you give your dog extra love and attention. Here are some things you may want to do:
Keep the Boys Away. If you want to prevent pregnancy, it’s important to keep intact males away. Males can smell a female in an estrous cycle from miles away and, if left to their own, will do whatever it takes to get to her and mate. Intact male dogs have even been known to jump and scale the fences of yards to get to the “girl next door”.
Never let your female dog out into the backyard by herself, and, when walking her, make sure she is always on a lead.
Pay Attention to Her Energy Levels. Many females in heat will not be as active as usual. This is normal. This doesn’t mean, however, that your dog shouldn’t get any exercise for those weeks. Continue to play with your dog and take her for walks, paying attention to her energy levels. If you normally walk for half an hour in the morning but notice she is dragging after 10 minutes, then cut your walks shorter during her cycle.
Keep Her Groomed. Depending on the breed, many dogs will need to be groomed while in their estrous cycle, with a focus on the coat surrounding the private parts, so that bloody discharge doesn't dry in the fur. If this happens, it means additional clean-up and potential infections.
Get Some Doggie Diapers. There’s no pretty way to say this… But while in heat, your dog will have bloody discharge. This discharge can and will get on your carpet, furniture, and floors. Pet Parents® Washable Dog Diapers are a perfect solution to keep your house clean and mess-free. Our diapers for dogs come in many different sizes and colors so you’re sure to find a solution that fits your dog just right.
Support her with pads and blankets. You may want to consider using Pawtect® Blankets as these blankets are made to help protect your couches and car seats from getting soiled by your dog’s bloody discharge. Additionally, Pawtect® Pads can also be used as bedding to your fur-baby's bed and crate or place it on the floor where she usually lies down. So, if accidental leaks happen, the pad soaks up the mess and her favorite place to rest stays clean and dry.
Consider Spaying Your Dog. Consider spaying your dog. Spaying is not only a great way for your dog to no longer experience estrous cycles but also controls the homeless pet population. It also helps in keeping your dog healthy and improve their quality of life. Spayed female dogs show a lower incidence of breast, ovarian, and cervical cancers, and typically live longer.
Speak with your vet to find out more. Now when your pup goes into her first heat you won't have to frantically ask, “How long does my dog's heat last?”. But instead, you'll be able to identify the signs and prepare all the necessary things for a happy and healthy cycle.
Your dog's estrous cycle isn't really as bad as you think it is, especially when you are educated enough and know what to do... so that even in her heat, she's still able to live a happier and healthier life.
"Spaying is not only a great way to control the homeless pet population, but it’s also how you can keep your dog healthy and prevent various forms of tumors and cancer from developing."