If you own an intact female dog, you know that you are in for heat cycles as often as twice per year. During these seasons, your dog will experience a number of different emotional and physiological changes in her body. If you are a multi-dog household, you may notice your normally happy little girl is snippy and irritable with her canine siblings. Yet within a few days, she becomes an amorous little flirt, ready to mate with any male that even breathes in her direction. You may also notice that it seems your favorite little canine pal can’t seem to get close enough to you. Wherever you are is where she wants to be, and the closer she can get, the better. It can feel a little like you are sharing a home with a real live version of a canine Jekyll and Hyde.
There is no doubt that a female’s first heat cycle can be very confusing for her, and the patience and support of her loving owner will go a long way to helping her feel more calm and settled. For many owners, learning how to care for a female in heat requires research. They aren’t certain what to do. Of course, the most important thing any owner must consider is the proper precautions to prevent an unwanted canine pregnancy. When in heat, your little girl will give off a scent potent enough to draw all of the intact male dogs in a ten mile radius. With thousands of unwanted dogs dying in shelters on a daily basis, indiscriminate breedings are to be avoided at all costs. For this reason, every owner of an intact female dog has a great responsibility to ensure that their girl is never left in a position where an oops breeding could occur.
Heat Cycle Basics
The average canine heat cycle lasts up to 30 days. Though most dogs are only fertile for a small portion of their season, pregnancy can occur at any time during the 30 days since it is impossible to determine at which point ovulation has occurred without the use of progesterone testing. Because of this, owners must be prepared to keep their intact female indoors and under direct supervision at the first sight she is in season right up until a week or so after all symptoms of her heat cycle disappear.
The First Stage
Typically, the first evidence your dog is in heat is a discharge accompanied by an initial swelling of the vulva. Most owners notice the change in their dog at the first appearance of little droplets of blood on their floors or in their dog’s bedding. Once bleeding has begun, it will intensify over the next few days, and the vulva will continue to increase in size. It is important to contain your female as soon as you notice signs that she is beginning her heat cycle. Since her body will begin to release potent pheromones to attract potential mates to her, it is critical that she never be left unsupervised. This cannot be overestimated. Dogs are equipped with a powerful desire to reproduce and will do whatever is necessary to thwart any precautions you put in place. The only secure method to avoid pregnancy is one hundred percent supervision and complete containment. Please bear in mind that dogs in heat and their suitors have gone to tremendous lengths to accomplish their mission. This includes breaking down of doors, scaling tremendous heights, and even breeding through fences and crates. If you own an intact male, complete separation at the first sight of blood is absolutely necessary, and it is unthinkable to allow your girl in the yard alone. During her season, it is best to take her out on lead when she needs to go outside for a potty break.
Many owners typically like to purchase panties for their female dogs to use when they are in season. The discharge can be very messy for your flooring and furniture. Some dogs also exhibit a powerful smell that can easily be detected by humans as well as dogs. Dog panties come in a variety of styles and colors to reflect your little girl’s personality. Buy several pair to allow you to wash them as needed. You can line the panties with panty liners for quick removal when the pad becomes soiled. This will help contain any residual mess and will also act as somewhat of a deterrent to any potential suitors. Always bear in mind that dog panties are easy to push aside or for a dog to remove, so they are not an effective means of canine birth control.
During this initial heat cycle phase, female dogs typically become very clingy with their owners and snippy with other dogs. If a male attempts to mount them in the early days of their cycle, your normally calm and sweet female may even snap to send a message to the male to back up. This is normal behavior and will very soon pass. Some female dogs will also pace or even hump other dogs, including any females in the house.
The Second Stage
The second stage is the period of time when your little girl begins to flirt with other males and displays intense amorous behavior towards them. Typical activities include a pushing of the tail to one side (called “flagging”) to alert the male to the “target,” pawing, and backing the rear up into the face of the male. It is during this period of time that the female is usually most fertile, and any male who attempts to mount her will find that she is not only willing to stand for him, she is also a very eager participant. It is of the utmost importance that your female be kept securely contained during this time. This includes no visits to public spaces, no dog walks, and no unsupervised outdoor play time.
The Third Stage
During this phase, any remaining discharge is usually straw colored. Your little girl is no longer interested in standing, and her vulva begins to return to its normal size. Though it is still possible for her to become pregnant during this time if ovulation has occurred later in her cycle, it is not as likely. Still, for the utmost in safety precautions, it is best to keep your female isolated for the full 30 days her cycle could last.
What you can do
So, armed with a better understanding of the female canine lifestyle, it’s now time to try to determine what you can do to help her “weather” the storm.
Here are some tips that might provide some relief for your special girl:
Line her crate with soft, comfortable bedding.
Just as women sometimes suffer with menstrual cramps, your little girl may feel sore and uncomfortable. Since she will spending a lot of time in her crate or isolated inside the house, it is best to make her living space a luxurious and relaxing space for her. If you have a temperature-controlled heating pad, your dog may enjoy having that underneath her bedding to help alleviate any pain she may be experiencing.
Give her toys, bones, or other chews to alleviate boredom.
Let’s face it; siting on a tuffet is boring! Unfortunately, your dog’s exercise requirements will need to be severely limited during her heat cycle, and this leads to boredom. To help stave off frustration from being cooped up, provide your dog with toys, bones, or other items that help keep her mind stimulated. If your dog is an only dog, you can certainly allow her free access within your home and continue her physical activity with rousing games of ball or tug.
Never allow her outside alone.
Since an accidental breeding can happen in the blink of an eye, it cannot be overstated how important it is to ensure that your dog is never outside without supervision. She may opt to jump, climb, or dig under your fence. And if she can’t get out, her suitors will do whatever is necessary to get to her!
Disguise the scent.
Disguising the scent is one great way to help reduce the smell that drives paramours to your back door. One of the most effective tools is to give your female dog some liquid chlorophyll. In order for this method to work, it is important that you begin the treatment at the first sight of heat symptoms. Administer 1 tsp of liquid chlorophyll once daily for the duration of your girl’s heat cycle.
Additionally, it helps to keep your girl very clean. A gentle wipedown with a very dilute solution of apple cider vinegar and water will help to reduce any residual odors that may be trapped in hair or on skin.
Provide extra love and attention.
Now more than ever, your dog needs extra love and affection from you. Make time to cuddle up with her and stroke her coat to let her know how much you cherish her. Your presence is very comforting for your little girl.
Eliminate any outings to public places.
During a heat cycle, it is important that you never take your dog into public places. It is not only uncomfortable and dangerous for your dog, it also puts other dogs at risk. Dog fights commonly occur between intact males in competition for the same female. At the very least, the presence of an intact female in heat is stressful for other dogs. To prevent unwanted pregnancies and/or confrontations, leave your girl at home in her crate if you must go out. This means no dog walks, no dog parks, no pet stores, and no yard time alone. If it is necessary to make a veterinary visit, call ahead to inform your vet that your dog is in heat and ask for their instructions as to how to safely bring her into the clinic and return her to your vehicle to cause the least disruption.
If you are not a committed, experienced breeder, consider spaying your girl.
Breeding is not for the faint of heart. Thousands of dogs suffer accidental pregnancies due to careless owners. They produce puppies who are not health-tested and may not be of sound temperament, leading to puppies that are difficult to place and which may even be ill-suited to family life. This contributes to the already devastating problem of overflowing shelters, and dogs destined for the “blue solution.” The best solution to pet overpopulation is to leave breeding to committed, experienced, and knowledgeable breeders who are best able to bring sound and healthy puppies into the world to homes that are expectantly waiting for them.
One of the best things you can do for your girl is to spay her. She will be happier, and so will you.
If your female is in heat, she may seem like she’s not quite herself until her cycle ends. Follow these tips to help keep her comfortable until her season ends and life can resume as normal for your happy little girl!