If you have decided to fix your intact female after her first heat cycle, have a hysterectomy done, or this is just your first female and your first heat cycle, then here are a few things to know and prepare for!
Heat cycles can happen anywhere from 6 months to 24 months. Depending on the size of the dog and maturity, your dog’s first heat cycle can happen around a wide range of time. Generally smaller dogs have their first heat cycles earlier, because they are done growing earlier. My 80lb Beauceron had her first heat cycle at a year old, whereas my friend’s Belgian Malinois had hers around 9 months. So being prepared is key!
A dog’s heat cycle can last for about 4 weeks. There will be bloody discharge for a few weeks, and during the time where she is receptive to breeding the discharge becomes clear to brown. Her vulva will also become swollen. During her heat, your dog will also pee a lot! This releases pheromones to attract male dogs.
Swollen vulva on a bitch in heat
Non-swollen vulva on a bitch
Your dog will flag her tail to show she is ready or interested in breeding. Flagging is a behavior where the female moves her tail to the side for easier access and to show the males she is ready to breed.
Your dog may go through mood changes. During this time lots of hormones are released. Your dog may get grumpy, or exhibit strange behavior. They can be more driven or some can even lose focus. For example, a friend of mine had a Frenchie who would carry around a stuffed toy like a baby during her heat cycles. My dog became grumpy towards other females and did not like them near her “area.” Remember that it can be a sensitive time and give your dog some slack!
Keep a close eye on your dog! If you live in a multi-dog household be sure to separate your dogs when you are not there. Even if you leave the house for a little bit, make sure to crate your dogs. I would even suggest crating in separate rooms, especially if one of your dogs is an unfixed male. Make sure the other dog is contained because an accidental litter could happen. Even if you own a fixed male or another female, keep them separated if you are unsure how your dog will act or if the dogs cannot be supervised. Fights can and will happen. If you do sports with your dogs or take your dog to public places, such as parks, make sure that other people have control of their dogs and you have control of your own.
Buy doggie diapers! Most dogs are actually quite clean and will lick themselves clean. However, doggie diapers are a great back-up as your dog cannot be licking themselves 24/7. They are great to put on your dog if you are taking them into a public space, do sports, or just don’t want to clean up the occasional drip here and there.
Beware of pyometra. This is a serious infection of the uterus. It is more common in older dogs because as they become older and have more and more heat cycles, the uterus becomes more susceptible to bacterial infection. Some symptoms are: the dog will leak smelly pus from her private region and have trouble urinating. There will also be an increase in water intake. If your dog’s vulva remains swollen for an extended period of time after her heat or she is acting abnormal (not eating, lethargy) take her to a vet immediately. Pyometra can be warded off if caught early, however, it is a very aggressive and quick acting infection that can result in death.
The most important thing during your dog’s heat cycle is to be patient with her! Remember that there are a lot of hormones that can cause behavioral changes. Be sure to keep an eye on her so no accidental litters or any kind of fights happen! Although it can be a pain in the butt, that rush of hormones that comes with a heat cycle is necessary for proper and healthy development of a dog.