When you become a pet parent, there’s a lot to learn, especially if you adopt a puppy and are with your furry friend from the very beginning. Dogs are complex creatures who need quite a lot of love, support, and care to thrive.
If you’re planning to welcome a female puppy into your home, it’s important to know about the dog heat cycle, how long it lasts, what a dog’s heat cycle means for you as a parent, and a few other tips to help keep your pup happy and healthy in the process.
Dog Heat: What Is It & What Does it Mean?
Heat is a cycle that occurs in a female dog’s body when they reach sexual maturity, or puberty. This cycle is medically referred to as the estrous cycle, and it is basically a female dog’s reproductive cycle.
When female dogs reach six months old, heat begins taking place roughly every six months. Most female dogs tend to reach puberty by six months of age, but some dogs can start as early as four months old. This means even younger puppies can start heat — this is especially true for smaller breeds, whereas giant breeds tend to start later.
Heat, or the estrus stage, is the stage when female dogs are responsive to mating and can become pregnant.
How Often Do Female Dogs Experience Heat?
Most dogs go through heat two times each year, or every six months. This time isn’t always exact, so your dog may take longer or shorter to experience heat.
There are some cases where dogs experience heat more or less often. For instance, smaller dogs can experience heat up to three times each year. Similarly, larger dogs may only go into heat once a year.
Your dog’s cycle may not be regular, and that’s okay, too. It can take a few years for your female dog to develop a schedule or rhythm for their cycles.
How Long Does Heat Last?
Heat can last anywhere from two to four weeks in most dogs. While a dog’s cycle is complicated and ever-changing, the estrus stage has normal rises, falls, and cyclical patterns in itself.
At the beginning of heat, female dogs may be less receptive to male dogs in their attempts to mate. Your female dog may not be open to mating until the end of her cycle, or the middle of her cycle depending on her specific hormonal changes.
The middle of heat is when your female dog will be the most fertile. This is often signaled by more water discharge with a lighter pink color, compared to the bloody discharge and swollen vulva that are indicative of the proestrus stage, which is the very first stage of the heat cycle.
Sperm can live for up to a week in the reproductive tract and still fertilize the eggs, so your dog can still become pregnant during other times of her heat cycle.
Does Heat End?
Unlike humans, female dogs have a cycle for their whole lives. It can take a few years to become regular, but once it is, their cycle will occur every six months for the duration of their life.
Most pet parents opt for spay surgery for their dogs. If a female dog is spayed, she will not go through heat. However, if you’re a breeder or want a litter of puppies, your furry friend will continue the heat cycle throughout her lifetime.
What Are the Signs of Heat?
If you own a female dog, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of heat so you can be prepared.
The first symptom your pup will experience is the swelling of the vulva. This isn’t always noticeable in some dogs, but this is the first sign that will occur when your pup goes into heat.
The most noticeable sign that your pup is in heat is bloody vaginal discharge, though this can sometimes occur days after your dog has already entered heat. It’s important to keep a lookout for other signs and symptoms in addition to bleeding.
The amount of blood and discharge your dog may experience can vary from dog to dog. Some dogs may benefit from using diapers or cloth covers, while others won’t bleed enough to need these items.
When your female pup is in heat, she may also urinate more frequently and begin marking her territory during walks or even around the home. She may also attract more male dogs to her than normal as her urine and discharge emit pheromones to other dogs that she is in a reproductive state.
What To Do When Your Pup Goes Into Heat
If you choose to spay your pup, you likely won’t encounter heat. However, if you’re interested in breeding your pup, here’s what you should do when your pup goes into heat.
Know What To Expect
If your pup does go into heat, it’s important to know what you should expect. Your dog’s behavior will likely change. They may display marking behaviors and have to go to the bathroom more frequently than normal.
Your pup may also feel more cuddly and want to be closer and more affectionate with you. Many dog owners like to offer comfort toys and blankets during heat as their pups like to have a spot to curl up in. Female dogs may also enjoy chewing on a tough toy to relieve some discomfort.
When your pup goes into heat, it’s important to know how to practice good hygiene. The first sign you’ll notice when your pup is in heat is blood, so it can help to know how to keep your dog clean and your house clean while you support your fur baby.
Consider investing in doggy diapers to contain blood and discharge that occur during estrus. This can help minimize messes around the house, especially if your pup sleeps in the bed with you. Depending on what size and dog breed you have, standard diapers may not fit. You can find suspenders of bodysuits for pups in heat, too, to help diapers stay on!
For some pups, it may be a good idea to lay some extra puppy pads out or make bathroom breaks more frequent. Dogs in heat may feel the urge to urinate more often, so these can make clean-up easier.
Keep extra wipes, towels, and clean-up tools handy throughout the day to make cleaning up easier!
Offer Proper Nutrition and Hydration
While all pups need proper nutrition and hydration all the time, these are especially important during heat. Some dogs may even lose appetite during heat, so getting as many nutrients in their dog food as possible is critical to supporting your pup’s health.
Look for dog food packed with protein, healthy fats, and whole fruits and vegetables to give your pup the nutritional support she needs during estrus. Our Lamb and Rice Recipe is rich in protein, whole grains, berries, and other nutrients that support immunity, muscle strength, and energy.
Similarly, our Salmon and Brown Rice Recipe is rich in fiber, prebiotics, protein, as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These are excellent for health and wellness, especially during heat.
What If My Dog Becomes Pregnant?
If your dog does become pregnant during heat, you can expect her pregnancy to last an average of nine weeks, or 63 days.
If you want to avoid pregnancy, the most effective method is to get your pup spayed. This procedure is a surgical method of sterilization known as an ovariohysterectomy. Most veterinarian professionals will advise getting your dog spayed before they are six months old so you can avoid her first heat cycle.