A Dog in Heat – Everything You Need To Know

A Dog in Heat – Everything You Need To Know

Realising that your dog is in heat can be a little alarming for those who have never handled the symptoms before. A bitch’s estrus cycle can be a stressful time for both you and your pup. Knowing how best to care for her at this new and confusing junction can significantly reduce her anxiety and help her to ride it out more easily. If you have a female dog in heat and are wanting to know more, or looking into breeding your dog, you’ve come to the right place. Here we’ll answer some of the more common questions about dogs in heat. We’ll also take an in-depth look into what happens when your dog is on her “period”. 

What does “in heat” mean?

While we humans deal with a menstrual cycle, dogs have what is called an estrus cycle. There are quite a few differences between the two. Possibly the biggest difference is that whilst human periods signifies the end of our cycle, dog periods signify the beginning of theirs. The start of a bitch’s period is known as the proestrus cycle. The Proestrus cycle, along with the estrus phase, is what is commonly referred to as a dog “in heat”. There are a few additional symptoms alongside bleeding, which typically include:

  • A swollen vulva.
  • A more timid or nervous bitch, which can lead to mild aggression.
  • Frequent licking of their vulva.
  • More vocalising – whether through barking, howling, or whining. 
  • More frequent urination.
  • Lethargy.
  • Nesting in preparation for potential puppies.
  • Dogs becoming interested in your bitch.
dogs in heat
Image credit: Canva

During the estrus phase, in particular, your dog will be much more fertile. As such, if you’re not looking to breed your pup, now is the time to hide them away from the neighbouring dog. Otherwise, they may begin to show a little more aggressive or sexual behaviour toward your bitch. A massive amount of pheromones are released by your bitch through their sweat and urine (hence the increased need to urinate). This scent becomes irresistible for their male counterparts. If your pooch hasn’t managed to become pregnant during her cycle, the remaining hormones will be reabsorbed into her body at the end.

How long will my dog’s cycle last?

On average, your dog’s cycle will last for around 180 days in total. This can depend on a number of factors, however. If you have any concerns or questions about the wellbeing of your bitch during her cycle, do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian. Even if you simply have questions you want to be answered in order to understand your dog’s estrus cycle better.

During the average 180-day cycle, your dog’s period (proestrus phase) can last anywhere between 5-55 days depending on the breed. Your dog will more actively seek a mate during the estrus phase, which typically lasts between 3-13 days. She will then enter the Diestrus phase, in which her body will begin to return to normal. This can take a week or so in order for her to winds down gently. The Anestrus phase, which is the fourth and final phase, is the time between heat cycles.

Are dog periods regular?

Again, like humans, your bitch’s cycle may take a while to even out and become steady. Of course, if you feel that your dog is bleeding too frequently- or not frequently enough- it may be time to take her to the vet to ensure that her hormones are well-balanced and there are no underlying problems. After a couple of years, you will likely spot a pattern. Knowing her pattern can help you to prepare for the next season (if you don’t have her spayed).

When do dogs go into heat?

When a dog goes into season or heat is dependant on a series of factors. Things like dog breed, size and heritage come into play, alongside various environmental factors. The average time for a dog to first come into heat is anywhere between 6 and 18 months. Larger breeds tend to reach maturity later in life. This means they would be more likely to come into season are the 12-month mark. That said, there some dogs that come into heat for the first time at a much later or much earlier date than this, so don’t assume it won’t happen if it hasn’t happened yet!

When is my dog ready to breed?

As above, this can depend on many factors. The most important of which is that your dog is safe, happy, and healthy. To get more specifics, it is always important to speak with your vet to ensure your dog is fit and strong enough to get through her first period. Your vet can provide you with any advice that may be essential to helping with her first experience of going through heat. This can include vitamin recommendations or dietary requirements to keep her balanced.

Image credit: canva

It’s always a good idea to let your dog’s first cycle pass without being bred. In fact, it would be worth avoiding breeding in her second season as well. This allows your pup to grow into maturity without placing too much stress on her body before she is ready. It also means that any puppies born in the following cycles will have a better chance of being born strong and healthy. After all, isn’t a happy, healthy dog what we all want?

Is my dog in pain when in heat?

It’s likely that your dog in heat will be experiencing some unpleasantries during her proestrus and estrus phases. This will likely include; cramping, mood swings and a general feeling and discomfort and unease. Unfortunately for us owners, we don’t have any way of knowing what our pups are thinking. This may make recognising pain difficult. But if you have come to know your bitch’s regular behaviour, you may spot the inconsistencies that could signify discomfort.

Even so, it’s never a bad idea to give your dog some extra cuddles. If your pup is feeling sorry for herself, sometimes a cuddle can be just what she needs. It is also worth watching her body language and behaviour for any signs that she may be struggling. If she appears to be having a hard time with it then there is no harm in asking your vet for advice.

How can I help my dog in heat?

The best thing to do is to observe your canine companion. If she wants to be left alone for a little peace and quiet, then it’s a good idea to let her do just that. Likewise, if your dog wants a lot of affection and cuddles, then don’t be afraid to snuggle up on the sofa with her. Similarly, some dogs may wish to have a little more exercise to burn off some pent up energy. Others may not want to leave the house at all.

It’s important to get to know her likes/dislikes during her periods. Particularly in the first few cycles, when she is most hormonal and anxious. Make sure she knows you’re still around and that she’s still a good dog. It may even be worth considering a holistic approach. There are several methods available, including using CBD (without THC) to help ease anxiety and weighted dog coats which can help her to feel comforted. Additionally, there are essential oils and scents available online, specifically designed for female dogs in heat!

Last thoughts

If you think your bitch is on her period, don’t panic. Dogs are super-intuitive to our emotions and can easily pick up on our stress, which can add to their own stress, vulnerability, and anxiety. There are plenty of options out there for dog owners who are looking to help their dog in heat, so do a little digging and a little research to find the best option that works for your family. 

The most important thing to consider with a female dog in heat is whether or not you plan to breed her. If breeding is not an option, you should look to have her spayed. Most vets recommend waiting for at least one cycle to pass before doing this, to give her time to finish developing. If you are just looking to understand your dog’s estrus cycle better, then we hope this has proven helpful to you. Remember, if you have any doubts at all, be sure to make an appointment with your local vet for professional advice.



Editor-in-chief, lover of UX/UI and copywriter by trade. Wendy can usually be found ranting to herself over on Twitter, educating herself about health and wellness, parenting or gaming. Luckily, she doesn't do all of these things at the same time - though you'd be surprised how often they cross over.

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