If you have a unspayed female dog, then she will go into heat. To avoid becoming an unexpected dog grandparent, here is everything you need to know about preparing for a dog in heat.
When Do Dogs Go into Heat?
When a female dog is “in heat,” it means she is ovulating and can breed and get pregnant. Dogs can experience their first heat cycle as young as 6-8 months of age, which means if they go into heat and have sex with a male dog, then they can get pregnant, even if they themselves are growing still.
The first heat cycle often is missed by pet parents, which is why many veterinarians advocate for spay surgery at 6 months of age to prevent unwanted pregnancies. While heat cycles can vary depending on the dog’s age and breed, it is normal for a pup to be in heat for around three weeks every six months.
How Can I Tell if My Dog Is in Heat?
There are physical signs and behavioral clues that tell you a female dog is in heat.
Physically, she might have a swollen vulva and bloody vaginal discharge—it will look like she is on the dog equivalent of a human period.
Behaviorally, she might act differently or do things that are out of character. She may want to get out of the house or yard to go find a male dog to mate with. She might be more temperamental, growl at humans or pick fights with other dogs in the household, especially any other intact female dogs.
In heat, female dogs might bite or fight. She also might become aloof and not want to be petted, or she may become more affectionate. Pet parents often report behavior changes in a dog in heat, and all of these are clues you can watch for.
How to Prepare for a Dog in Heat
If you have an unaltered female dog who is experiencing heat cycles, then you must prepare ahead of time to prevent unwanted pregnancies, bloody messes, escapes or aggression.
First and foremost, track your dog’s heat cycles so you have an idea of when they are coming. Your best tool for tracking your dog in heat is your smartphone calendar. Record the day your dog’s heat cycle started, and then set a reminder for 6 months in the future with a 1-week alert ahead of time so you know it is coming.
If you have an indoor dog or you just don’t want her leaving a bloody mess, then keep some dog diapers on hand. As with human babies, you can get washable diapers, like Pet Parents washable dog diapers, or disposable diapers, like All Kind leak-proof disposable female diapers. You also can purchase human diapers and make them dog-friendly by cutting a hole for her tail.
If your dog has a hard time getting along with other canines while in heat, or if she tries to escape during her heat, then you might want to consider separating her in a secure area until she is done. You can accomplish this simply by using Regato’s walk-through pet gate to keep her contained in another room.
Keeping Your Dog in Heat Happy
The most important things to remember when a female dog is in heat is that if she is around an unfixed male dog, she can get pregnant. She wants to breed, and she might be grouchy, so use these tips to keep your dog in heat content.
- Make sure she is kept in a secure enclosure or house, separate from other dogs, to prevent unwanted pregnancies or hormone-related aggression.
- Use doggie diapers to keep messes to a minimum, and give her what she wants, whether it is attention or space.
- Make sure she has her own food bowl, water bowl and bedding in her space.
- If you intend to breed her, then this is the time. Talk with your veterinarian about best practices for breeding.
Some dog parents schedule their pups for spay surgery when she is in heat, but this is a very bad idea. When a dog is in heat, the uterus is big, bloody and fragile due to hormones. This makes the surgery more difficult, dangerous and expensive.
Unless medically necessary, do not schedule your dog to be spayed while she is in heat. Ideally, schedule the spay for one month after her heat cycle ends. Learn about what happens during a spay surgery here.
With proper attention and tools, your dog’s heat cycle can be easy to manage. Please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if you notice that your dog’s heat cycle is irregular, if there is extended bleeding or discharge, if you think your dog might be pregnant, or if your dog shows abnormal behavioral changes.