If you are the proud owner of a male or female dog that hasn’t been neutered or spayed, then it is very important to understand the signs of a dog in heat. Understanding and recognizing these specific signs will help you be better prepared for when it happens, avoid dangerous and unpredictable changes in your dog, and prevent unwanted pregnancies. Let’s read on to learn about dogs in heat, both male and female.
Recognizing a Heat Period
You’ll want to know what to look for if you have an unsprayed female dog. Signs she may be in heat are as follows:
- More frequent urination
• Raising her leg when she spots a male dog or when urinating
• Swelling of the vulva
• Excessive licking of the genital area
• Red, vaginal discharge, much like menstrual blood
• Becoming more affectionate or hiding away
• Paying closer attention to male dogs
• Nervous or aggressive behavior
• Changes in tail position
• Marking her territory with urine
While female dogs go into heat, male dogs simply react to it. Being “in heat” is in reference to a female dog’s reproductive cycle, known as the estrus period. This is the time that a female dog is willing to mate with a male. If you have an unneutered male dog, you can look for signs that he is neglecting food and water if you are worried he will breed with a female in heat. A male dog will become hyper-focused on mating- to the point he will even run away from home to search for a female in heat. According to the AKC, a male dog can mate year-round after they reach 6-months old.
Individual dog breeds will vary, but most females can go into heat about every six months. The period of heat, or “estrus period”, will last around 18 days. While a male dog will become attracted to a female dog in heat for the full time of 18-days, the female is typically only receptive to the male dog for half that time.
The Estrous Cycle
While most female dogs come into estrous by the time they reach puberty, different breeds may take a couple of years to have their first heat. The first sign of estrus is typically the swelling and engorgement of the vulva. However, it’s not always as obvious as you would like it to be. Many pet owners do not realize that their female dog is in heat until they see a bloody vaginal discharge around their home, especially if they are not familiar with the other symptoms and signs.
The amount of this discharge will depend on the dog. In the beginning, it will be very bloody. As the days go by the discharge starts to thin out to a more watery consistency and will begin to appear pinkish-red in color. A female dog in estrous will often urinate in smaller amounts more frequently, much like the male dog does when he marks his territory around town. During the estrous cycle, the urine of the female gives off pheromones and hormones that signal her condition to male dogs. A male dog can detect females in heat from far away. They may even urinate on your property on purpose as an attempt to claim their territory.
Handling a Female Dog in Heat
If you don’t plan to mate your female dog to produce puppies, it is important to get her spayed after her first heat. Not only does this protect against unwanted pregnancies, but spaying your female dog helps prevent breast tumors and uterine infections, both of which can be cancerous or malignant in a large percentage of dogs. If you have a male dog, neutering him will prevent testicular cancer as well as some prostate issues.
If your dog isn’t spayed yet, you should pay close attention to them when they are about to go into heat. Let’s look at tips on handling a female dog in heat:
- Never let your dog off of the leash when going for walks or let her loose in a dog park
- Stay outdoors in the yard with her at all times-consider using a leash in case she tries to run away
- Observe her behavior closely-many dogs get very tired during their heat cycles
- Keep male dogs away from her
Even the best obedience training in the world will disappear when a female or male dog is faced with its natural mating instincts. If you walk your female dog often, an old trick is to put menthol on the very tip of her tail. It is said to hide the scent of the heat if there happens to be a male dog nearby.
Remember, consult your vet if you have questions about your female in heat. They can give you additional tips on what to look for and what to do.
Male Dogs and Heat
As stated above, only the female goes into the heat cycle. However, keeping your dog away from a female in heat will be an issue you will have if you own an unneutered male dog. If you own both male and female dogs, make sure you know when the female will be going into heat so that you can keep the males separated from her. A male dog will get excited and try to get to a female in heat no matter how well-behaved or trained he is. Benadryl can calm down a dog who wants to mate if a female is nearby. Talk to your veterinarian about the dose if you decide to go this route.
Keeping Your Dog Comfortable While in Heat
Dogs do not understand what is going on with their bodies the way we do. She will need some extra attention and love during her heat. Make sure you spend lots of time giving your female cuddles and pets. Have plenty of toys on hand that she can chew for a sense of security. Always make sure she is drinking plenty of water and eating the right amount for her size.
Remember, your dog can’t help the bloody messes she may make inside. Consider diapers made for females during the heat period if you are worried about the mess.