If you have an unspayed female dog, knowing the symptoms of heat can be very important in order to manage her reproductive cycle. Learning the stages of the cycle will allow you to prepare for a dog in heat and the symptoms connected to the different stages. It could also help you prevent having new puppies when you actually didn’t plan for them and allow you to plan for puppies when you do want them.
Understand the heat cycle
To better understand the many symptoms of female dog in heat, it’s best to break down the various stages of the average 21 day heat cycle. But keep in mind that the 21 day cycle is just a guideline and every dog is different. Dogs typically have two heats per year, but each dog differs in length of heat, discharge amount and personality changes. The best you can do is watch your dog and learn her cycle.
4 stages of the dog heat cycle
1. Proestrus stage
The first stage of the dog heat cycle is called Proestrus. This stage can last from 7 to 10 days, but many dogs experience about 9 days in proestrus. The first sign of this stage is the swelling of the vulva. This is one of the best ways to spot the beginning of a dog heat cycle. During the Proestrus stage, you may notice the following symptoms:
- A personality change: Changes can range from quite mild to more severe. Sometimes a female dog will become more affectionate and clingy with her owner, other times she may seem a bit grumpy.
- Appetite changes: It’s not unusual for a dog to go off her food a bit during this first week, or she may get hungrier. Whatever the change is, taking note of it can be a significant clue that the heat cycle has begun.
- Swelling of the vulva: The amount of vulva swelling varies from dog to dog. Some dogs swell just a bit, while others swell quite a lot. Bleeding also varies, but typically bleeding is light during the first few days and grows a bit heavier mid-week.
- Tail tucking: This is a reaction to guard the vulva, either by tucking the tail between the leg or sitting down whenever another dog approaches.
2. Estrus Stage
The Estrus stage typically last from 5-14 days. This is the time your dog is fertile (her actual heat) and where the ovaries begin to release eggs for fertilization. During this stage the dog will be willing to accept a male company. She will switch her tail to the side and she might try to be outside more often than normally. She is following her instinct to breed. During this period, symptoms include:
- Lightened discharge: Previously bright red, the discharge now lightens to be somewhat pink.
- Softening of the vulva: Initial swelling subsides just enough to make the vulva soften enough for penetration.
- Flirting: Whereas she previously tucked her tail to push away male company, she now begins to behave flirtatiously. E.g. inviting the male by turning her rear toward him and holding the tail high and out of the way.
3. Diestrus Stage
As Diestrus takes over, the fertile part of the heat cycle comes to an end. This stage can last from 60-90 days and, at this point, the dog is no longer fertile. If the dog has been impregnated the Diestrus stage lasts from the end of the estrus until the birth of the puppies (around 60 days). Signs of the Diestrus stage include:
- Gradual disappearance of vulva swelling: Most of the swelling is gone within one week’s time, but the vulva may remain slightly enlarged.
- Less flirting: Whether pregnant or not, the dog now lacks the conditions to mate and is no longer interested in flirting.
4. Anestrus Stage
This is the final stage of the dog heat cycle, also known as the resting stage. This is the longest phase of a dog’s heat cycle, from 100-150 days, at the end of which the entire heat cycle starts again.
How to handle a female dog in heat
- Never let your dog out in the yard alone: Protect your dog from male dogs and unwanted pregnancy. Go out into the yard with your dog when she’s in heat. You might even consider using a leash.
- No off-leash walks: Even if you consider your dog extremely well trained, walking off-leash is a “no-no” when your dog is in heat. No obedience training is as strong as natural instincts.
- Balance between exercise and rest: Different dogs react differently to heat. Some may feel tired all day, while others may become restless. Observing your dog’s behavior and choosing the right amount of rest and exercise is important to keep your dog comfortable.
- Consult a vet: Even though being in heat is not an illness, having a chat with your veterinarian about things to take care of during heat may help you if unexpected trouble occurs.
- Menthol on the tip of her tail: When walking outdoors, this may be a good trick to hide the scent. It may become handy if a male dog suddenly appears nearby, so he does not detect your female in heat.
- Use a Tractive GPS tracker: If a dog in heat suddenly runs away in search of a mate, a Tractive GPS tracker will show you exactly where your dog is headed. That way you will quickly and easily find your female friend again and protect her from unwanted pregnancy.