Your Dog In Heat – Caring For Your Female Dog During Her Season

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Your Dog In Heat - A Complete Guide To Care

‘Your Dog In Heat’ is a complete guide to the female dog heat cycle and the care of a female dog while she is in season.

If your female puppy is nearing maturity and hasn’t been neutered, she is about to undergo some changes.

“Do dogs have periods?” and “How long does a dog stay in heat?” are common questions asked by female Labrador owners.

Along with “will it be messy?” and “how do I stop my dog getting pregnant?”.

Answering all your questions about dogs in heat is what today’s article is all about.

We are going to dive into the world of female dogs and discover what a dog heat cycle involves.

And how female dogs behave when they are in heat.

You’ll find out what to expect from a dog’s first season, and how you can best care for your dog during this time.

Managing your Labrador in season is an important responsibility, but with a little knowledge and planning, your dog’s time in heat shouldn’t have to cause you too many problems.

Do dogs have periods?

Girl dogs don’t have a monthly periods or bleed in the same way that human females do. Bleeding is a natural part of a dog’s reproductive cycle but only takes place on average twice each year.

The time during which this bleed takes place is called a dog’s ‘heat’ or ‘season’, and it only takes place in dogs that have not been spayed. We’ll talk a bit more about spaying as a means of preventing dogs coming into ‘season’ later on

Unlike most human females during a period, a female dog is highly fertile during their heat. This is the only time of the year during which dogs will mate and can conceive.

So your Lab must be managed carefully during her heat in order to avoid pregnancy.

Your dog’s first heat

Unless she is neutered at a very young age, your dog will have at least one season in her life, and you’ll want to know when to expect it. And what to expect from it.

An unspayed Lab will likely have her first season any time from six months of age onwards.

The average age is between nine and twelve months.How to care for a dog in heat - a complete guide to your female dog's heat cycle and needs

Some large breed female dogs won’t have their first heat until as late as eighteen to twenty four months old.

How often do dogs go into heat?

Your female Lab’s season will normally form a fairly regular pattern. Although the pattern may vary widely from dog to dog.

The space in between seasons will usually be somewhere between every six months and annually.

One of our girls is every six months like clockwork. Another has only one season per year.

An eight to ten month cycle is longer than average but still considered to be normal, and occasionally a female dog will come into season every three or four months.

Although variations in heat cycles is normal, it is a good idea to chat to your vet if your girl’s heat cycles are very different from the average six monthly interval, and especially if they suddenly change to a new pattern.

This is just a precaution in case there is an underlying health issue that needs looking at

Before we look at what to expect when your dog is in heat, you might find it helpful to understand how the dog heat cycle works.

The dog heat cycle – oestrus and proestrus

The hormones your female dog produces as she reaches maturity set in motion a rhythm or pattern of hormonal balance which control the fertility of your girl and which carries on throughout her life.

This hormonal cycle is composed of four parts

  • Anoestrus
  • Proestrus
  • Oestrus
  • Dioestrus

Anoestrus is the period of time when your female is not in season – it literally means ‘no heat’. During this period your Labrador is not sexually attractive to male dogs and she cannot get pregnant.

You can still have fun when with your dog in heat. Find out how to exercise her and keep her safe during her season
Being in season doesn’t mean no more fun – you’ll just need to exercise your dog in safe areas for a few weeks

Proestrus is the first part of her heat cycle. The time when her uterus (or womb) is being prepared for pregnancy. This is the part where her vulva swells and she starts to bleed and you become aware that she is in heat.

During proestrus your female dog will be attractive to male dogs but not yet likely to willingly permit a male dog to mate with her.

Oestrus is the second part of the heat cycle. This is when your dog becomes fertile. At this point her bloody discharge may become paler and more watery, and she will probably be willing to stand and allow a male dog to mate with her.

Indeed she may be very flirtatious and encouraging to male dogs and some females will actively seek to escape from their homes to find the boy dog of their dreams.

Dioestrus is the part of the cycle following oestrus and in a wild dog will almost always embrace pregnancy and whelping.

In domestic dogs, we usually prevent pregnancy. Most Labradors never have puppies, and during dioestrus the hormonal levels of progesterone in the dog which would normally support a pregnancy, can cause problems.

False pregnancy and infections of the uterus (pyometra) are very common during this period.

At the end of dioestrus your girl’s hormones fall and she returns to anoestrus again, until the next season comes along.

How to tell if a dog is in heat

There are usually some clear signs when your dog is in season, but it is not always obvious so if you think she might be approaching that time you need to keep an eye on her.

Physical appearance and swelling

The first thing you are likely to notice is that your female dog’s vulva (external genitalia) becomes very swollen and puffy. It may be literally three or four times it’s normal size.

Bleeding

Together with a bloody discharge, these symptoms tell you that your girl has come into season.

As your girl move into her fertile phase, the bleeding may stop or become more watery
Although you might expect the main sign to be profuse bleeding, it isn’t always obvious. In fact, sometimes all you will see are very small markings on the floor or in the dog’s bed.

Increased cleaning and licking

Most Labs are very good at keeping themselves clean. Which can provide another good sign that she is in season. If she is swollen and she is licking her genitals considerably more than usual, her heat has probably started. feeding2

A quick test

If you are not sure whether or not your Labrador is bleeding, gently wipe a piece of clean cotton wool or a white tissue over her vulva.

You’ll probably see some pink staining if she is on heat, even if she is keeping herself pretty clean

Female dog in heat behavior

You might notice a slight change in her temperament in the few days before you see any physical signs that your girl is coming into season.

Find out how your dog will feel and behave when she is in heat
How will she feel and how will she behave? Don’t worry, she will be okay

These could include increased sleepiness, or her showing more of an inclination to ‘be together’. Some female dogs will be very clingy to their owners around this time.

Others will be more excitable than normal in response to the changes in estrogen. They may also show some odd behavior, such as cocking a leg to pee in the manner of a male dog.

Humping and flagging

Many female dogs will also hump other dogs, male or female, when they are on heat. Some female dogs, especially puppies, will hump other dogs in play, so if there are no other symptoms, humping does not mean your dog is in season.

Flagging is when she turns her tail to one side when you run your hand down her back and over her rump. This behavior usually takes place during oestrus when she is ready to mate.

How do I know my dog is in season?

If your female Lab is over four months old, has a swollen vulva, pink staining when you wipe her vulva with a clean white tissue or cotton wool, she is almost certainly on heat.

What to expect when your female dog is in heat for the very first timeIf you are worried or not sure, do chat to your vet over the phone, but don’t take her into his surgery without talking to him first, in case there are male dogs in the waiting room.

Your priority now is to make sure your dog in heat does not become pregnant. We’ll look at that in a moment. But first let’s find out – how long are dogs in heat.

How long does a dog stay in heat

The length of a season may vary. But on average, a female dog’s heat will last approximately three to four weeks.

The time that she will ovulate is about ten days to a fortnight in.

At this point the colour of her discharge may change from pink to colorless and her flagging will increase.

How long your a female dog spends in each stage of her heat (proestrus and oestrus) varies widely from dog to dog.

On average oestrus begins 7-10 days after the start of your girl’s season, but you simply cannot assume that she will be average.

Without getting your vet to carry out tests, it is very difficult to tell exactly when your girl is fertile, and for that reason, you have to assume she could get pregnant at any point after the first symptoms of heat appear and for the next three to four weeks.

Keeping track of your dog’s heat cycles

It is a very good idea to record the date in your diary when your dog comes on heat, and make a note that she may come on heat again in about six month’s time.

That way you’ll be prepared and ready to look out for the signs in future.

Many dogs do have a regular pattern to their cycles, which you will be able to spot with careful record keeping.

Can My Female Have Puppies in her First Season?

There is a risk of pregnancy during any time that your female dog comes into season. Including the very first time.

If she is on heat, she will be susceptible to male advances, and may conceive if mated. But this does not mean that this is a good idea.

Most Labs are still puppies, very young and physically immature at the time they have their first season, and it is not good for them to be mated at this stage. There is also a greater risk of problems during whelping if they do concieve.

If this is only her first season, your young Labrador Retriever is likely to still be far too immature to cope with a litter of puppies or to show good maternal instincts.

You will also find that some of the health tests you will need to have carried out to ensure the future safety of your dog’s puppies cannot be screened by this point.

If you are thinking of breeding from your Lab at some point, do check out this article for more help and guidance on making the right decisions.

What to do when your dog is in heat

There are several important things you need to consider when your dog is in season.

  • Preventing pregnancy
  • Caring for your girl, and your home during her season
  • Ensuring your female dog remains healthy in the weeks afterwards

Let’s take pregnancy first

How to prevent your female dog getting pregnant

A serious word of caution is required if you are intending to keep an entire male dog with an un-spayed girl.

During her season they will need to be kept completely apart, ideally in a different house! Here’s why.

Separating your own dogs while your dog is on heat

You can try and separate your dogs at home using barriers such as tall dog gates.

But this can be a bit risky, depending upon your dog’s personality.  It is also very easy to underestimate just how high a dog can jump if he really wants something special!

It is amazing just how quickly dogs can mate when you don’t want them to, and it only needs one person to leave the door open for a couple of minutes.

Male dogs may become distressed

Your male dog will be able to tell that his female friend is on heat, and will be even more keen than normal to be in her company.

He may scratch and howl at the doors between them relentlessly, or pace up and down whining.

This is both stressful for you to watch and listen to, and upsetting to both of your dogs.

Will brother and sister dogs mate?

YES! Please note, that dogs have no concept of ‘incest’.

The fact that your dogs are brother and sister will not prevent them mating and if they do mate, any puppies will be greatly at risk from inherited diseases due to their similar genetic make up.

The presence of a dog in heat in the house can also cause a male dog to mark the area with urine. An act which can continue even after her season has been complete!

So I strongly recommend that you send your male dog to stay with a friend for the next four weeks. Neutering him once your girl is in season will not help at this point, as he will still be fertile for the next few weeks.

But what about the morning after pill for dogs?

You might think that there will be an injection or pill that will put things right if you make a mistake and your dogs get together.

But in dogs these hormonal injections have been found to be very risky and they are no longer used.

So if your dog gets mated, there is no easy way out the situation. You must keep your female dog in heat away from any male dog that has not been neutered. Which brings us to another important way of preventing pregnancy

Neutering

Neutering your dog will prevent her coming into season in the future. This involves a significant operation which is referred to as ‘spaying’.

The important point for this article, is that if you girl is on heat, you will need to cope with this heat because she cannot be spayed right now.

This is because during her season, your girl’s (womb) is very swollen and the surgical procedure is more risky.

It is far better for your female dog to be spayed during anoestrus so your vet will want you to wait until about three months after the first day of her season.

The idea is to spay her mid-way between seasons. This is the safest time.

The topic of neutering is not as clear cut as was once thought, so we’ll look at this in more detail below when we discuss the best age to spay your dog.

How to exercise a dog in heat

When your Lab is in season, it is very important that you do not walk her anywhere that you might come across another dog.

Exercise at home with lots of fetch – a Chuckit is great for keeping you going without tiring out your arm!

That means no public parks or beaches for the next few weeks.

Even the best trained entire male dog, with all the will in the world, will be tempted to pay a special visit to your pet.

Dogs can smell female hormones and will range vast distances to find them, becoming very ‘enthusiastic’ if they manage to gain access.

Not only will you find it hard to deter any passing male dog’s efforts to impregnate your girl, but you will find that his owner will probably have a few choice words to say to you about bringing her out at all.

It’s therefore best to keep your pet in totally secure areas for this time.

Keeping your dog in heat safe

Before she comes into season make sure that your garden is secure . Entire male dogs will try very hard to get into contact with a female dog in season.

They will jump gates and wiggle under fences that would have had no appeal normally.

Make sure there is no way an unwanted intruder can come in, or that your girl can get out.

Using sprays for dogs in heat

You can by deoderant sprays which may reduce the appeal of your female dog in heat to male dogs and help avoid queues of male dogs lining up outside your yard or at your garden gate.

They may also help you out in an emergency if your girl comes on heat unexpectedly while you are on holiday for example.

Or if she is still attracting male attention after her season is over.

They are not, however, a substitute for keeping your female dog safely away from male dogs and should not be relied on to keep your girls safe when walking in public. Something I strongly advise you not to do.

So if you can’t take her to the park, how are you supposed to exercise your girl?

Alternatives to walks for dogs in season

A lot of people wrongly believe that it is harmful for their dog in heat not to be walked. This simply is not true provided the lack of exercise is temporary.

Treat dispensing toys like this ball can exercise your dog’s brain.

As long as she can stretch her legs in the back yard, and is well stimulated mentally and physically with ball games or interactive toys, your female dog will be fine going without a romp in the woods for a few weeks.

Plenty of dogs have to go on crate rest for weeks after surgery and survive without any ill effects. And there are other ways to keep your dog occupied.

It’s a good opportunity to work on your training in a confined area, practicing heelwork and sit/stays, retrieving etc.

Clicker training is great for this, as it is a fun, rewarding way of improving training and occupying your dog’s brain too.

If your dog doesn’t retrieve, you could even use this opportunity to teach her to fetch while she is confined to home and yard.

How to care for your dog in season at home

If you do not have any intact male dogs in the house, you should not have to change your girl’s living arrangements too much.

She should be expected to behave as normal, but might need extra toilet breaks as she will want to urinate more often. Occasionally a normally clean Labrador will wee in the house when she is on heat, even though she is fine the rest of the time.

Despite our best hopes, some of our Labrador ladies simply are not interested in keeping themselves clean. And some can be quite messy

However, most of us don’t want to exclude our four legged friend from the family for several weeks. So we need to find ways of coping.

Cleaning up after your dog in heat

Cleaning up after your girl when she is in heat is important. Both for general cleanliness and hygiene reasons.

Most of our Labs live indoors, and if you have easily wiped flooring in all the rooms your dog in heat has access to, then the simplest thing may be to just increase your cleaning routine.

Hygiene pants for Labs in season

Another alternative is to buy hygiene pants for your girl to wear indoors for the next few weeks.

hygiene pants2These are a bit like diapers.

They help to avoid stains on your carpets and furniture and enable you to let your dog have access to all areas of your home as usual.

Some dogs in heat won’t tolerate hygiene pants and will tear them off. In which case you might want to consider a system of barriers.

Keeping your in season dog off the carpets and furniture

If your girl is bleeding heavily you may need to keep her off any carpeted floors for the next few weeks, and protect your furniture with washable throws if she regularly sleeps on chairs or the sofa.

protect furniture from in season dogYou might want to get her used to spending time in just these other rooms before the season arrives.

That way you won’t have the trouble of adjusting her habits instantly the moment she is on heat.

If your Labrador is used to a crate this can be a big help for short periods of time if you need to have doors open to carpeted rooms, or if you want your Labrador to join you in the living room during the evening but don’t want her on the furniture.

If your Lab travels in the back of the car you will probably want to invest in some car seat covers too.

Caring for your Lab after her season

Every female dog is at risk from pyometra (infection of the uterus or womb) in the weeks that follow the end of a season. This is potentially fatal

If you don’t intend to spay your dog, please read up on this risk so that you are aware of the symptoms.  Early treatment is essential and life saving.

Do senior female dogs have a menopause?

People sometimes ask if their dog’s heat cycles will come to a halt when they reach middle age, or get old.

The answer is no. Dogs continue to cycle through the four hormonal phases throughout their entire life.

So, if you don’t have your girl spayed, she will continue to come into season every six months or so.

When should I have my dog spayed?

The right time to spay your dog is mid-way between cycles, once she is mature, and once you are fully aware of (and have considered) the risks and benefits of neutering.

We know a lot more about the effects of neutering on dogs than we once did, and we now know that neutering is not always in the best interests of every dog.  So you need to weigh up the pros and cons, which will depend on your individual situation.

You can find out more in this article: Should I neuter my dog – the latest evidence.

Your dog in heat – a summary and more information

Managing a female dog in heat is not too complicated. You need to make sure that your home and garden is secure, and avoid taking your girl to places where there may be entire male dogs.

Many female dogs keep themselves very clean during their season and you will hardly notice any mess at all. If you are worried about mess there are hygiene products you can buy or you can simply keep your girl away from carpeted rooms for a few weeks.

Most dogs in heat remain in great health and good spirits throughout their season, which will be over before you know it.

Remember, female dogs are vulnerable to health issues during the few weeks following each season, so you need to keep a close eye on your female at this time. We call this period “pyo watch” – this link provides you with a lot more information

If your dog is coming into heat any more frequently than every four months it is worth speaking to your vet, as this can be indicative of health problems.

The Labrador HandbookYou can find out more about the day to day care of both male and female Labrador in Pippa’s best selling title – The Labrador Handbook

How about you?

Do you make any changes to your home routine to cope with your Lab when she is in season?

Share your tips for managing a dog in heat with other readers in the comments box below.

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Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of several books on dogs. She is the founder of the Labrador Site and a regular contributor. She is passionate about helping people enjoy their Labradors and lives in Hampshire with her husband and four dogs.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Doggy menopause. My old girl Hannah had 13 happy years. She was never spade and had one litter. That’s a lot of heats! If I had known about pyro I would have had her spade in middle age. However her heats became shorter and then farther apart and then stopped at ten years old.

  2. Hi, my lab was 8 months old when she began her first season….that was almost 2 months ago! Her vulva is still very swollen…is this normal or should I get her checked out

  3. my female is now 2 years old. I do not think she has come into season at all. At 1 year she was acting like it, but not fully.
    Is there anything I can do to bring her in? I would truly like to have a litter from this exceptional animal.

    • Hi Elaine, it is possible, but if she doesn’t eat for more than 24 hours or seems uncomfortable, or unwell, you really need to take her to the vet.

    • I Elaine,

      Would only suggest you to please get your girl checked up for Pyometra as going off of water or loss of appetite is the early sign for the same.

  4. My lab puppy started her first season on Feburary 1st, a week short of her first birthday. Everything seemed normal…bleeding for 11 days, then pinkish for a few days. Swelling went down, but we waited a full 4 weeks. We took her on outings on starting on the 28th. She started bleeding again on March 5th and was very swollen. She is still swollen and bleeding. I am assuming this is a case of back to back seasons. Will she still be fertile for 21 days?

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