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Signs Your Dog Is in Heat (and Basic Pregnancy Prevention)

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.

How to tell when your dog is in heat and how to keep her from getting pregnant.

How to tell when your dog is in heat and how to keep her from getting pregnant.

How to Take Care of a Dog in Heat

You may not know exactly when your female dog is in heat, but rest assured that if you live in a rural setting where dogs roam free, you will soon notice several intact male dogs showing up at your doorstep right in time. Expect to see a few coyotes as well, if you live deep down in the country.

Blessed with a superior sense of smell, it is estimated that canines are capable of perceiving a female dog in heat from up to 3.5 miles away, explains the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Therefore, you may want to keep your female dog securely locked up during this time to prevent any unwanted pregnancies. However, if you are attentive enough, you may be able to recognize some early signs of heat in your dog so you can be better prepared and prevent any mishaps from happening in the first place.

Signs of Female Dogs in Heat

Generally, the first heat cycle in dogs takes place anywhere between six and ten months of age, but this varies from dog to dog. Small dog breeds tend to have an earlier heat cycle than large or giant dog breeds, explains veterinarian Margaret V. Root Kustritz in her book The Dog Breeder's Guide to Successful Breeding and Health Management.

The 4 Phases of the Canine Heat Cycle

The dog's heat cycle encompasses four distinct phases: pro-estrus, estrus, diestrus, and anaestrus. By familiarizing yourself with these phases, you can tell if your dog is nearing the estrus cycle and when you need to take some extra precautions.

1. Proestrus

During proestrus, physical changes take place in preparation for ovulation. This phase generally lasts an average of nine days but this can vary and last up to 17 days. Physical signs suggesting pro-estrus include swelling and firming up of the vulva and the exudation of a bloody discharge.

Male dogs are already interested in a female dog at this stage of heat. They will examine the female's urine and be attracted due to her production of pheromones. Some males may urinate over the urine produced by a dam in heat possibly to hide the smell from any potential competing males, explains Margaret V. Root Kustritz. A female in proestrus will generally accept the presence of males and their investigations but will not allow mounting as of yet.

2. Estrus

This phase is also known as ''standing heat'' because your dog will ultimately allow mounting during this phase. This phase generally lasts an average of nine days, but again, no generalizations can be made. The vulva now will appear soft and the bloody exudation will be replaced at this point with a straw-colored discharge. She may engage in ''flagging,'' which is the act of pulling the tail to the side when stimulated.

If with the male, a female in heat may flirt and play with the male engaging in soliciting behavior such as licking the male, presenting the rump and then running away, playful mounting, and more. During this time, females are at the peak of their fertility, and therefore, dog owners must be very careful to keep them contained.

3. Diestrus

During this phase, the female dog generally shows no more interest in the male, while the male may still linger around for some time. Normally, in other species, if the animal is not impregnated, the production of progesterone secretions ceases.

However, in dogs, progesterone secretions last for another 60 days regardless of pregnancy, making it difficult to determine early pregnancy. The signs of estrus generally subside during this time, and the female may then resume normal behaviors.

4. Anestrus

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This is a time of reproductive inactivity during which the reproductive organs finally get to rest. While this phase, which lasts between 100 to150 days, sounds like an inactive phase, in reality, the dog's pituitary gland and ovaries are already getting ready for the next heat cycle. Male dogs should be disinterested in females during this time.

When your dog is in heat, expect males to show up at your doorstep. If this guy shows up, you're in trouble!

When your dog is in heat, expect males to show up at your doorstep. If this guy shows up, you're in trouble!

How to Keep Your Female Dog Safe From Unwanted Pregnancies

Now that you are aware of the times when your female is in heat, you must work on managing your dog's environment in order to keep her away from persistent males. A good starting tip is to keep the windows closed to minimize the risks of male dogs showing up at the doorstep to get her attention.

Of course, it also helps greatly to have her urinate only in an enclosed yard versus having her leave ''pee business cards'' all over the neighborhood.

Mask the "Scent"

The smell of a female in heat may be masked by using a little dab of Vick's, explains Chris Walkowicz, a breeder of bearded collies in Sherrard, Illinois, and co-author of the book The Atlas of Dog Breeds of the World and Successful Dog Breeding.

Simply place a little bit on the fur near the tail (make sure she cannot access or lick the product and double-check all ingredients and essential oils for toxicity to canines before applying).

Use "Lust Buster" Spray

Another interesting product is a spray known as ''Lust Buster''. This spray is supposed to make a female dog smell as if she's already been bred, which causes males to lose interest.

Keep Her Out of Reach

Of course, keeping your female out of reach is a must. If you walk her, keep her leashed. Be careful when opening doors as she may bolt even if she never has had any interest in doing so before. Never trust fences as males have been known to jump over fences, and some are even capable of breeding through a chain-link fence, according to Dr. Whiteley.

Use Absorbent Pads

If you are concerned about your dog leaving bloodstains around your home, invest in absorbent pads she can wear during her estrus cycle. These are often known as ''britches'', dog panties, or diapers for dogs in season. Most pet stores should carry a few samples.

The heat cycle at times may cause grumpy behavior and a loss of appetite in some dams. If your dog is refusing her food, it does not hurt to tempt her by using some additions that may entice her to eat. Try adding a bit of Iams Savory sauce to her meal or giving her some baby food with no onion or garlic added. A few bits of cooked liver added to her food may also work wonders.

Be a responsible dog owner, and keep your female out of the reach of intact males. If all of this sounds too much work and too challenging, your best bet is to get your female spayed to nip all these problems in the bud.

Keep Your Dog Comfortable and Clean

Further Reading

  • Pyometra symptoms and treatment in dogs
    The simple thought of having a female dog potentially go through a condition as serious as pyometra, should allow new owners to quickly make the decision of having their dog spayed. Pyometra is basically a life threatening infection in the...
  • The Dog's Heat Cycle Explained
    A dog's heat cycle may appear to be something quite difficult to understand. Unlike other species, the heat cycle of canines does not seem to follow any logic such as following a specific seasonality or...

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2011 Adrienne Farricelli


Hassan Musbau Atanda on July 11, 2020:

I would like to know if a Rottweiler be of same bloodline can be bred.

Best regards.

Sally Branche from Only In Texas! on November 11, 2011:

Well, there's a simple solution to this! SPAY! There are plenty of good dogs looking for homes in the world and absolutely NO reason to leave a male or female dog intact. People who are stuck on a specific breed need to get over it. People who are making money breeding dogs need to find a new line of work.

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