Dog in heat.

Puppies are cute, but the process to get them is not always so adorable. If you have an intact female dog, you may be wondering what to do when your dog is in heat, how long it will last, and how to tell when it is happening. Not to worry; Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital is here to help you through it. 

All About Estrus

Being “in heat” or “in season” is the layman’s term for the phase of the female reproductive cycle known as estrus.

Most dogs experience their first estrus cycle between five months and twelve months of age. Smaller breed dogs tend to have a heat earlier, while larger breeds don’t reach reproductive maturity until later. Some giant breeds may not have a heat until around 18 months of age.

When your dog has a heat, it may not be as obvious as you might think. Signs that a dog is in estrus can include:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Signs of anxiety (panting, pacing, restlessness)
  • Urinating more often
  • Swelling of the vulva and/or mammary tissue
  • Licking the vaginal area
  • Bloody or straw-colored vulvar discharge

Most dogs have an estrus cycle twice a year, about every six months. People commonly want to know how long a dog is in heat for. Dogs tend to be in active heat between two and four weeks. 

Female dogs continue to experience estrus cycles throughout their whole life, though they may become less frequent as they age.

Estrus cycles can also predispose dogs to mammary cancer and lead to a life threatening uterus infection called pyometra. This is why we recommend spaying all dogs who will not be bred. 

What to Do When Your Dog is in Heat

You may be wondering what to do when your dog is in heat. You can definitely make this time period easier on you and your dog by taking some extra precautions and preparing.

Be sure to:

  • Reassure her as some dogs can be very distressed during estrus
  • Allow her some space if she seems to want to be along
  • Encourage other pets to leave her alone
  • Protect her from intact males who are not wanted mates
  • Avoid leaving her alone outdoors where males may find her
  • Not stressing about changes in eating habits
  • Protect your belongings with washable coverings like towels and blankets
  • Consider a doggy diaper to help keep any mess contained

Having a dog in heat can be a little stressful to navigate, but is doable with a little foresight. Feel free to contact us if you feel something isn’t quite right or if you have questions about your pet.