If you’ve never had a dog in heat, or estrus, it can be very difficult to know what to expect. You want the best for your pup, of course, but what exactly should you do in order to help her?
Some people choose to ignore the issue entirely, while others panic. But, here’s some great information that can help you handle this time of your dog’s life in the calmest, most effective manner possible.
Know the Signs
The first sign of estrus in a female dog is swelling of the vaginal area. But the most noticeable sign is bleeding. Your girl will likely bleed from this area, but the discharge might not start until she’s already been in heat for a few days. There’s no set-in-stone guideline for how much she’ll bleed. Some dogs bleed quite a bit, while others hardly bleed at all. And if your dog’s fur is long and dark, you might not even know she’s bleeding.1
Also, the type of discharge can help you determine where in the cycle your dog might be. For example, it will probably be very bloody at first. As the estrus cycle enters the 7-10 day mark, it will turn more watery and pink in color.2
Another sign your female dog is in heat is that she’ll be urinating more than normal.
And she might “mark” her territory.
A female in estrus will typically urinate on objects in your home or when you take her outside. During this time, a female’s urine contains compounds that signal males she’s in estrus. This is why males might suddenly show up near your home or yard.3
Also, some dogs in heat will experience an increase in body temperature.4 If you happen to notice this sign, see your vet to be on the safe side. He or she will be able to recommend safe methods of taking your dog’s temperature at home.
How to Help Your Dog During Estrus
There are quite a few things you can do in order to help keep your dog as safe and comfortable while she’s in heat. Here are just a few.
1. Stop Training
One of the unfortunate effects of the heat cycle is that you’ll want to keep your dog away from any male dog whenever possible. This means that if you’re in the middle of a training session that includes other pooches, you’ll need to take a break until the cycle ends.5
2. Always Keep an Eye on Her
You’ll have to be extra vigilant during this time. Of course, that includes accompanying her at all times – even in your own yard. Whether you plan to breed her or not, you need to avoid an unwanted litter of puppies. Go out to the yard with her and put her on a leash if necessary. If you leave her outside by herself, a male could easily jump your fence. In some cases, male dogs will mate with a female through a chain link fence.6
3. Keep Her on Leash When Walking
Your dog might be so well trained that you can easily walk her off leash. But you simply can’t do this when she’s in heat. Her natural instinct to mate will be more powerful than any training.7
4. Keep Her Calm
Estrus is a very trying time for a dog. She might become extremely anxious, and possibly agitated. Talk to her in soothing tones and give her a lot of extra attention whenever you can.
Try to make time to brush her coat and mix in a massage and some extra scratches behind the ears. And you should keep any excitement to a minimum. If you have small children, do whatever it takes to make sure they don’t play with her in too rough a manner.8
5. Close Your Windows and Doors
It’s amazing how perceptive a dog’s nose can be. And this is especially the case with male dogs who know there’s a female in heat close by. If you like to air out your house now and then, that won’t be a good idea if your dog is in estrus. Keep your doors and windows shut until her cycle is complete. Otherwise, you might have some unwanted visitors showing up.9
How Long Will This Last?
A female dog will typically go through estrus every six months. So if spaying isn’t an option for you, get ready to deal with your dog going into heat two times a year. Some smaller breeds can go into heat as many as four times a year. Dogs will usually go into estrus for the first time between 9-12 months of age.10
Heat cycles usually last anywhere from two weeks to a month. Dogs are typically at their most fertile about 10 days into their cycle. This high-fertility period lasts about five days. However, a dog can still become pregnant up until the last day of estrus.11
One Final Note
Estrus isn’t a health problem. It’s a normal, natural part of a dog’s life.
While it can be troubling to see your dog go through heat, remember to do what you can to make sure she remains as comfortable as possible. And you should also remember to take the precautions needed to keep her safe. Or, if you’re not planning to breed her, just get your dog spayed to avoid the issue altogether.