We answer all these questions and more, in your complete guide to caring for your girl during her heat cycle.
Some dogs will stay in heat up to a week more. Some up to a week less.
Being in heat is also known as coming into season, and most female dogs will come into season twice a year throughout their lives unless they are neutered
These are averages however. Many factors which can influence the age at which your female dog starts her first heat, how long her heats last, and how often she comes into season
If your female puppy is nearing maturity and hasn’t been neutered, she is about to undergo some changes.
We are going to dive into the world of female dogs to discover what a dog’s heat cycle involves.
We’ll also explore 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.
- Do dogs have periods?
- Your dog’s first heat
- How often do dogs go into heat
- The dog heat cycle
- How to tell if a dog is in heat
- Female dog in heat behavior
- How long will my dog stay in heat
- Can my dog have puppies in her first season
- What to do when your dog is in heat
- How to prevent your dog getting pregnant
- Exercise and safety
- Hygiene and cleaning when a dog is in heat
- When should I have my dog spayed?
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’.
This 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.
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.
You’ll want to know what to expect and when to expect 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 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.
For example, 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. Occasionally a female dog will come into season every three or four months.
Although the average is six months, variations in heat cycles is normal.
However, it is a good idea to chat to your vet if your girl’s heat cycles are very different. This is especially true 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
The dog heat cycle – oestrus and proestrus
As she reaches maturity, your female dog produces hormones which sets a rhythm in motion.
This hormonal rhythm controls the fertility of your girl and carries on throughout her life.
This hormonal cycle is composed of four parts
This 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.
This is the first part of her heat cycle.
During this time her uterus (or womb) is being prepared for pregnancy.
As her vulva swells and she starts to bleed, 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.
This 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. 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.
Some females will actively seek to escape from their homes to find the boy dog of their dreams!
In a wild dog, this will almost always result in pregnancy and whelping.
In domestic dogs, we usually prevent pregnancy.
Indeed most Labradors never have puppies because Lab owners rarely breed their dogs.
During dioestrus the levels of progesterone that 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 as she returns to anoestrus.
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 its normal size.
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.
This can provide another good sign that she is in season.
If she is swollen as well as licking her genitals considerably more than usual, her heat has probably started.
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.
Female dog in heat behavior
You might notice a slight change in her temperament a few days before you see any physical signs that your girl is coming into season.
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 long does a dog stay in heat?
If your female Lab is over four months old, here are some signs you can check for.
One indicator is to check if she has a swollen vulva.
Another is to check for pink staining when you wipe her vulva. This should be done with a clean white tissue or cotton wool.
These are both signs that your girl is almost certainly on heat.
If you experience any unusual or worrying behavior such as throwing up or loss of appetite, please consult your vet. It’s worth noting that being in season doesn’t increase a female lab’s need for calories.
You can find out more about labrador puppy feeding here
If you are worried or not sure, do chat to your vet over the phone.
Don’t take her into his surgery without talking to the vet first, in case there are male dogs in the waiting room.
How long will my dog stay in heat
The length of a season may vary. 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.
For that reason, you must assume she could get pregnant at any point after the first symptoms of heat appear.
Indeed, for the next three to four weeks, you should assume she could get pregnant.
Keeping track of your dog’s heat cycles
Make sure to record the date in your diary when your dog comes on heat.
In addition, 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.
Can my dog have puppies in her first season
There is a risk of pregnancy during any time that your female dog comes into season. This includes the very first time.
If she is on heat, she will be susceptible to male advances, and may conceive if mated with.
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. 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 conceive.
During her first season, your Labrador Retriever is likely too immature to cope with a litter of puppies. Nor is she likely 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
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 unspayed 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.
However, 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.
All it takes is for 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.
He 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.
If they do mate, any puppies will be greatly at risk from inherited diseases due to their similar genetic makeup.
The presence of a dog in heat in the house can also cause a male dog to mark the area with urine.
This act can continue even after her season is 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.
Unfortunately, these hormonal injections have been found to be very risky for dogs 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.
This brings us to another important way of preventing pregnancy.
Neutering your dog will prevent her coming into season in the future. This involves a significant operation which is referred to as ‘spaying’.
A crucially important point to note, is that if your girl is on heat, you will need to cope with it. This is because she cannot be spayed while on heat.
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.
Exercise and Safety
When your Lab is in season, it is very important that you do not walk her anywhere that you might come across another dog.
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.
You find it hard to deter any passing male dog’s efforts to impregnate your girl.
As if that wasn’t enough, you will likely find that his owner will have a few choice words to say to you about bringing her out at all!
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 deodorant sprays which may reduce the appeal of your female dog in heat to male dogs.
This should 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.
They should not be relied on to keep your girls safe when walking in public. I cannot emphasize this enough.
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.
As long as she is well stimulated both mentally and physically, 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.
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.
That being said, she 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. Some can be quite messy
Without a doubt, it’s important to keep your dog out of the reach of good furniture (and potential suitors).
Hygiene and cleaning when a dog is 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.
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.
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.
You can protect your furniture with washable throws if she regularly sleeps on chairs or the sofa.
You 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.
Alternatively 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.
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.
There are numerous health benefits to having your dog spayed. For example, spayed dogs are at a greatly reduced risk of mammary (breast) cancer.
However, 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.
Your pup can be spayed from 2 months of age. It is best to consult with a vet to determine the best time for your girl.
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. Also 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.
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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David Yates and Rosa Leedham, Prepubertal neutering of dogs — some risks and benefits Companion Animal 2019 24:1, 38-42
Dendoncker, P., De Keuster, T., Diederich, C., Dewulf, J., Moons, CPH. (2019) On the origin of puppies: breeding and selling procedures relevant for canine behavioural development, Veterinary Record Published Online First: 29 January 2019
Our guide to your female dog in heat was written by Pippa Mattinson and has been revised and updated for 2019