Your cart is currently empty.
What to Do When Your Dog is in Heat: Essential Care Tips - PawSafe

What to Do When Your Dog is in Heat: Essential Care Tips

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

what to do when your dog is in heat

When your female dog enters her heat cycle, which is also known as estrus, it can be a trying time for both of you. During this period, which happens about every six months, your dog exhibits several signs indicating she is in heat. She may become more affectionate, have a swollen vulva, or show changes in appetite. Spotting or bleeding is also a common symptom. Understanding her cycle and what to expect helps you manage this natural process with care and responsibility.

To navigate through your dog’s heat, keeping her comfortable and safe is key. She will be more prone to wander in search of a mate, so it’s crucial to ensure she’s securely contained when outside and supervised during walks. To soothe any anxiety or discomfort she may experience, you can provide a quiet space and extra attention. If you’re considering breeding your dog, remember that this process should be done ethically and responsibly.

Insights from experts like Dr. Pat Concannon, who dedicated his life to understanding the nuances of canine reproduction, can help you make informed decisions. Whether you intend to breed your dog or prevent an unwanted pregnancy, knowing the ins and outs of the heat cycle ensures you’re providing the best care for your canine companion.

When your female dog is in heat, there are several steps you can take to manage her care and comfort.

Keep a Clean Environment

  • Use doggy diapers to prevent stains in your home.
  • Clean any soiled areas immediately to prevent smells.

Limit Your Dog’s Interaction with Male Dogs

  • Keep your dog on a leash during walks.
  • Secure your yard to prevent unwanted visitors.

Provide Comfort

  • Give your dog a cozy space to rest.
  • Offer extra attention to keep her calm.

Monitor Health and Behavior

  • Watch for signs of distress or illness.
  • Contact your vet if you notice anything unusual.

Regular Exercise

  • Keep to your usual routine but be mindful of other dogs.
  • Avoid dog parks where male dogs can be attracted.

Remember, being in heat can be stressful for your dog, so patience and attention during this time are key.

Understanding the Heat Cycle

Male dog sniffing female pit bull in heat

When your dog reaches sexual maturity, you’ll notice changes indicating she’s entering her reproductive cycle. Understanding the heat cycle is essential to manage your dog’s health and prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Phases of the Heat Cycle

The heat cycle consists of four main stages:

  1. Proestrus: This is the beginning of the heat cycle, lasting about 9 days. Your dog’s body prepares for breeding, and you may notice a swollen vulva and bloody discharge. Males will be attracted, but she will not be receptive.
  2. Estrus: This phase lasts 3-21 days and is when your dog is fertile and receptive to male dogs. The discharge lightens in color.
  3. Diestrus: Following estrus, diestrus begins. If your dog has been impregnated, pregnancy will last during this 60-day phase. If not, her body slowly returns to normal.
  4. Anestrus: This is a period of inactivity between heat cycles, typically lasting around 6 months before the next proestrus phase.

The complete cycle repeats approximately every six months, though this can vary by breed and each individual dog.

Recognizing When Your Dog Is Entering Heat

First heat can be observed as early as six months or later, depending on the size and breed of your dog. Larger breeds may mature more slowly than smaller ones. Signs that your dog is entering heat include:

  • Swollen vulva;
  • Bloody discharge;
  • Increased urination; and
  • Behavioral changes, such as nervousness or affection.

If you’re unsure about the changes occurring or the length of bleeding, consulting with a vet is advised. They can provide guidance on what to expect throughout each heat cycle stage and discuss whether and when it is safe to spay your dog during this period. Being informed helps you provide better care for your furry friend during these times.

Physical and Behavioral Changes When Your Dog Is In Heat

German short haired pointer dogs sniffing each other in heat

When your dog enters her heat cycle, you’ll notice she begins to exhibit some distinct physical and behavioral changes. These are the natural parts of her reproductive cycle, and understanding them can help you provide the care she needs.

Physical Signs of Heat

  1. Vulva Swelling: One of the first physical signs you might notice is a swollen vulva. The swelling can be quite significant and is a clear indicator that your female dog is coming into heat.
  2. Bloody Discharge: Don’t be alarmed by the sight of bleeding or bloody discharge. This is a normal symptom of the heat cycle, although the amount can vary from one dog to another.
  3. Appetite Changes: Some dogs experience changes in appetite. She may eat less or sometimes more, so monitor her food intake.
  4. Increased Urination: Your dog’s urination frequency might increase. This behavior is due to her body’s way of spreading pheromones to signal her receptiveness to males.

Behavioral Changes During Heat

  1. Clingy Behavior: It’s not uncommon for a dog in heat to become more affectionate or clingy. She may stick to your side more than usual and seek extra attention.
  2. Nervous or Aggressive: Fluctuating hormones, like estrogen, can make her feel nervous or even display aggression toward other pets.
  3. Tail Positioning: Watch for changes in tail positioning. Your dog might hold her tail to the side to signal her receptiveness to male dogs.

Recognizing these changes can help you support your dog through her heat cycle. Keep her environment calm and offer plenty of comfort to ease any nervousness. If you do not plan to breed your dog, consider having her spayed to avoid the heat cycle and associated behaviors.

Caring for a Dog in Heat

caring for a dog in heat

When your dog is in heat, which is also known as the estrus cycle, it is important to maintain hygiene, manage male attention, and handle bleeding with care. This will ensure your dog’s comfort and health.

Maintaining Hygiene

During her heat cycle, your dog may experience blood-tinged discharge. Keep her clean by using doggy diapers or towels to manage the discharge. Change these frequently to prevent irritation and infection. Keep her bedding and resting area clean, and use mild dog-safe cleansers.

Managing Male Attention

Intact male dogs can detect the pheromone produced by your female dog. To avoid unwanted attention, keep your dog on a leash during walks and supervise her closely while outside. Limit her exercise to secure, preferably fenced areas, to prevent male dogs from approaching.

Handling Bleeding

During estrus, it’s normal for your dog to have a blood-tinged discharge. Keep dog diapers on hand to protect your home and to keep your dog comfortable. Consult with your vet on the best practices for your dog, especially if it’s her first heat. Make sure to replace diapers as needed to reduce the risk of stress or infection.

Preventing Unwanted Pregnancy

When your dog is in heat, it’s crucial to be proactive about preventing unwanted pregnancy. An attentive approach can save you and your dog from the stress of an accidental pregnancy.

Responsible Management

Your first line of defense is responsible management. This means knowing when your dog is fertile. Typically, a female dog goes into heat twice a year, and this is when she’s most likely to get pregnant. During this period, it’s vital to keep her away from male dogs. If you’re not looking to breed her, spaying is the most effective way to prevent future heats and unwanted pregnancies. Spaying involves removing the ovaries and usually the uterus. It can prevent the risk of certain diseases and eliminate the chance of unplanned mating.

Avoiding Accidental Mating

Accidental mating can happen quicker than you might expect. It’s important to keep a close eye on your dog if she’s around male dogs. Male dogs can become very persistent when they detect a female in heat, so:

  • Keep your dog on a leash.
  • Secure your yard to prevent any male dogs from getting in.

Besides these immediate measures, you could consider neutering your male dog. Neutering is the removal of the testicles and will stop him from contributing to any unwanted pregnancies. It can also help curb some unwanted behaviors and nervousness often associated with intact males feeling the urge to mate.

Health Considerations During Heat

When your dog is in heat, it’s crucial to watch for health issues such as infections and the increased risk of diseases like mammary cancer. Your attention to her during this time can prevent complications.

Spotting Potential Health Risks

First heat cycle: Typically begins between 6 to 24 months of age. It’s important to be aware that the onset of the first heat cycle can also bring about stress and changes in behavior.

  • Stress: Your dog may seem more anxious than usual. Offer a quiet, comfortable space to help her relax.
  • Pyometra: This is a serious uterine infection that can occur after a heat cycle. It causes lethargy, loss of appetite, and unusual discharge.
  • Breast Cancer: Dogs in heat have a higher risk of developing mammary cancer, especially if they have not been spayed.

When to Visit the Veterinarian

If you notice any signs of discomfort, pain, or unusual behavior in your dog, you should schedule a visit with your veterinarian. Here’s when to act:

  1. Persistent discomfort or pain: If your dog seems to be in pain or is excessively grooming herself.
  2. Signs of pyometra or breast cancer: Symptoms like unusual discharge, a swollen abdomen, or lumps in the mammary glands are urgent signs.
  3. Stress-related behaviors: If your dog’s stress seems unmanageable or is affecting her health.

Remember, spaying your dog can prevent most of these health risks, and it’s generally recommended by veterinarians to protect your dog’s long-term health.

Behavioral and Environmental Enrichment

When your dog is in heat, it’s crucial to provide enrichment that addresses their changing needs. These strategies can help manage the unique behaviors and stress that come with the estrous cycle.

Reducing Anxiety and Stress

Offer your dog a variety of toys to keep her mind active and reduce stress. Puzzle toys that can be filled with treats are particularly effective for distraction. Ensure regular exercise to help your dog burn off excess energy, which can be heightened during this time. However, keep her on a leash to prevent an unwanted escape or interaction with male dogs.

  • Toys to consider:
    • Puzzle toys;
    • Chew toys; and
    • Treat-dispensing toys.
  • Exercise tips:
    • Leashed walks twice a day;
    • Play time in a secure area; and
    • Short training sessions to reinforce obedience.

Offering Comfort and Support

Create a comfortable nest where your dog can relax. Bedding or a special mat in a quiet corner can provide this space. Consider using doggy diapers if your dog is bleeding to keep her and your home clean; change them regularly to avoid infection. Avoid scolding your dog for hormonal-driven behavior; instead, offer gentle attention and reassurance. Remember to praise calm behavior to reinforce good obedience.

  • Comfort measures:
    • Cozy bedding in a designated spot;
    • Doggy diapers changed frequently; and
    • Calm and reassuring interaction.
  • Support strategies:
    • Praise for calm behavior;
    • Maintaining a routine to provide stability; and
    • Extra cuddles and pets to assure your dog.

Remember, enrichment during your dog’s heat cycle is about balancing behavioral signs with the right mix of play, attention, and a supportive environment.

After the Heat Cycle: Next Steps

Once your dog’s heat (estrus) is over, you’ll need to pay attention to her health and consider whether spaying is the right choice for your pet.

Monitoring for Post-Heat Changes

After your dog has gone through her heat cycle, keep an eye on her for any behavioral or physical changes. It’s normal for some dogs to have mild mood swings or physical changes post-heat, but if you notice anything more severe, it may require a visit to the vet. Look for signs such as:

  • Unusual tiredness or lethargy;
  • Change in appetite; and
  • Any abnormalities in their urination or signs of infections.

Considering Spaying Your Dog

Spaying your dog can prevent unplanned litters and may reduce the risk of certain health issues. If your dog has just experienced her first heat, talk with your vet about the best time to spay. Typically, vets recommend spaying before the first heat cycle, but it can be done after as well. Here are the key benefits:

  • Prevents future heat cycles: No more dealing with the signs of estrus every 6-9 months.
  • Reduces health risks: Spayed dogs are less prone to certain types of cancers and uterine diseases.
  • Behavioral stability: Spaying can lead to more consistent behavior outside of the hormonal changes associated with heat cycles.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When your dog is in heat, you might have a lot of questions about what to expect and how to provide the best care. Below you’ll find straightforward answers to some common concerns.

What can I do to comfort my dog while she’s in heat?

To comfort your dog, provide her with a quiet, cozy space and give her extra attention. Offer her a warm blanket to lie on and ensure she has a calm environment.

Are there any effective home remedies that can ease my dog’s heat cycle?

While there are no specific home remedies to ease her heat cycle, maintaining a routine and a calm environment can help. Avoid strenuous exercise and keep her hydrated.

How can I identify if my female dog is experiencing her first heat?

You’ll notice signs like vaginal bleeding, swelling of the vulva, more frequent urination, and a change in behavior. These are indicators that her heat cycle has begun.

What should I expect when my dog goes into heat and starts bleeding?

Expect to see light bleeding that may become a bit heavier, your dog may groom herself more often, and she might seem more agitated or attentive.

What behaviors are typical for a female dog during her heat cycle?

A female dog in heat may exhibit behaviors like restlessness, frequent tail flagging, and increased attention-seeking or affectionate behavior toward humans or other dogs.

How long will my dog continue to bleed while she’s in heat?

The bleeding can last anywhere from 7 to 10 days, but her entire heat cycle can last up to 3-4 weeks. You might not notice bleeding throughout the entire cycle.

Final Thoughts

When your dog is in heat, remember that patience and care are key. Here’s a quick checklist to keep track of:

  • Monitor Bleeding: Keep an eye on the duration of bleeding. It’s important to note that if your dog is bleeding for more than three weeks, it’s time to consult your vet.
  • Increase Supervision: Be extra vigilant. Your dog might try to escape or attract unwanted attention from male dogs.
  • Ensure Comfort:
    • Give your dog a comfy space to relax.
    • Maintain their routine to help them stay calm.
  • Be Understanding: Your dog may act differently during this time. They rely on you to be understanding and supportive.
  • Professional Advice: If you’re unsure about anything, a vet is just a phone call away. Don’t hesitate to reach out.

Take each day at a time and provide plenty of love and support. Your furry friend depends on you!

Meet Your Experts

Avatar of author

Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.