Dog In Heat? Here’s Everything You Need To Know.

6 May 2022

Dogs in heat need to be treated with care. Do you know how to recognize the signs of a dog in heat? Get informed and be prepared for what’s to follow.

two brown and white dogs sniffing each other in the grass

Do you have a male or female dog, which has not yet been spayed or neutered? In this case, knowing the signs of a dog in heat is very important for both male and female dog parents. This can help you to do the following:

  • be better prepared for the experience
  • prevent unwanted pregnancy/new puppies
  • plan for puppies when you do want them
  • avoid dangerous situations; dogs in heat can be very unpredictable and even run away from home
  • keep track of your dog

So what are the most common symptoms of a dog in heat? What can you expect when your dog is in heat? Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions on dogs in heat.

Female dog period: What you need to know

Just as female humans have a natural menstrual and fertility cycle, so do female dogs. However, the female dog period is different than that of humans. A female dog will experience her first period once she has reached puberty.

On average, most dogs reach puberty by the age of six months, but this can vary. The same applies to the regularity of the female dog period. Most female dogs will have have their first periods irregularly, but the cycle tends to normalize in the first two years.

Sexually mature female dogs go into heat twice a year, for a period of two to three weeks. On the other hand, unneutered male dogs do not go into heat but are sexually active year round.

How to recognize if your dog is in heat

Know the following signs and symptoms of a dog in heat. Your female dog might …

  • urinate more often
  • raise her leg differently while urinating – or when she sees a male dog
  • pay more attention to male dogs
  • become more affectionate
  • become lazier or aroused
  • handle her heat period well by herself or not really know how to react
  • run away, to practice hiding from male dogs

Your male dog might even neglect opportunities for food or water, since his instinct is very much focused on mating. Get some tips on how to persuade your dog to drink water in order to avoid dehydration.

two dogs outside sniffing each other with leaves on the ground

Dog behavior while in heat

To better understand the signs of a female dog in heat, it’s best to break down the various stages of the average 21-day heat cycle. 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 hormonal changes.

Interesting facts show that some female dogs in heat even run away from home. But they are not the only unpredictable actors in this process. Male dogs are also affected when a female dog is in heat. Very often, they sense the heat cycle of a female dog and start to track it. Once discovered, there is no fence high enough for your male dog. He will find a way to get away! What can you do about it?

Use a Tractive GPS tracker to keep an eye on your dog during the heat cycle. This way, you’ll never have to worry where your dog is. Should your furry friend run away, you can use the LIVE Tracking feature of the GPS tracker from the convenience of your smartphone and find your four-legged friend in no time.

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Learn the 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 3 to 17 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.
The 4 stages of the dog in heat cycle - infographic by Tractive

2. Estrus Stage

The estrus stage typically last from 3-21 days and lasts 9 days on average. 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 female dog will be willing to accept 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.
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

Anestrus 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 long are dogs in heat?

Female dogs in heat in the estrus phase of the heat cycle usually display the signs of heat for 3 – 21 days or 9 days on average. For more information see the detailed explanation above. Dogs will typically have two heats per year, but each dog differs in length of heat, discharge amount and hormonal changes.

young woman kneeled down petting a brown dog which is laying on the grass outside in a park

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.

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The dog mating process explained

This following infographic illustrates the act of sex or mating between two dogs.  The different stages and duration of the dog mating process are as follows:

  1. First Stage Coitus (approximately 2 minutes)
  2. The Turn (approx. 5 seconds)
  3. Second Stage Coitus (5-45 minutes)

First, the male dog will sit on the female dog (first state coitus). Should they keep this initial position, they would suffer from severe cramps. For this reason, they will change positions (the turn), and the dogs will continue mating (second stage coitus) as illustrated in the infographic below. The uterus, vagina, bulb, vulva and penis are all involved in the sexual act between dogs.

dog in heat mating process explained

One of the main takeaways from the infographic is the fact that it is forbidden to separate dogs during the mating act, since this can lead to serious consequences.

Dog heat pants: Where do they (not) help

Female dogs are, similar to humans, very neat during the heat period. Still, this behavior can also vary from dog to dog.

Good to know: Some dogs will clean themselves very meticulously, while others can be very neglectful. In the same way, the intensity of their bleeding can vary.

There are special dog heat pants, which catch the menstruation of your female dog. Of course, you need to give your dog time to get used to this first. You could start preparing your dog for the new clothing item, before the period kicks in.

The dog heat pants don’t protect your female dog from the mating act!

Pay attention: Many dog males are very creative during this hormone explosion period and manage to mate with female dogs despite the dog heat pants.

The mating act: Am I allowed to separate dogs while mating?

There is a clear answer to this: NO, under no circumstances! You can easily harm both dogs, since the limb of your dog is swelling, while the muscles of your female dog are contracted.

The mating act should not be mistaken as a light encounter. This process can last up to 30 minutes and might often look embarrassing for humans.

Top tips for handling a dog in heat

Dogs and menopause: Is this a real topic?

Your female dog is fertile until the end. A missed heat period can be a sign of illness in dogs. Should you notice this happening, make sure to pay your vet a visit.

Undesired dog pregnancy? Available abortion options

Despite all tips and measures, your furry friend could become pregnant. Here are your options, in case of an unplanned dog pregnancy:

  • Abortion shot: This option is not without risks and should be only used in extreme emergency cases.
  • Hormonal suppression: With this treatment, one can provoke various uterus illnesses to the female dog. Should this option be the only way, your vet is only allowed to give the shot during the hormonal pause period, in order not to harm your dog’s uterus.

If you think your dog may be going into heat soon, consider investing in a dog tracker to always keep your furry friend safe.

For more insights on female dogs in heat, check out the video below:

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