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If you have an intact female dog, you can expect that she is going to come into heat at least once a year. For most females, you can expect 2 heats in any given year, although smaller breeds may come into heat 3 times a year, and very large breeds may only come into heat every 18 months. Regardless of the frequency, heats are not a lot of fun for the dog’s owner, so if you are not planning on breeding, spaying is the right solution.
You may not know if your dog is coming into heat, but you can be sure that all the male dogs in the neighborhood will know. Thanks to that wonderful canine sense of smell, a male can tell if a female is in heat from as far away as three and a half miles, and you had better believe that they will come calling. Unless you want an unplanned breeding to an undesirable dog, you should take measures to keep your female confined. It also couldn’t hurt to be able to identify the signs of heat, and to have some general knowledge about the heat cycle.
There are four phases to the heat cycle. If you know the signs, you can tell when your dog is in her heat, and know when you need to take precautions.
This is the first stage, in which your dog undergoes some physical changes in order to prepare for ovulation. You will notice a swelling in the vulva, and a bloody discharge. She will show interest in male dogs, but she will not allow them to mount her.
At this point, your dog will allow mounting. That is why the estrus phase is also called “standing heat.” This period usually lasts about nine days, and during this time, your girl will be fertile.
Now, something interesting about the estrus phase – have you ever wondered why some bitches will have litters of maybe three or four puppies, while others produce a dozen or more? Your dog is different than you are. When a human female becomes pregnant, the body says “Okay, all done, good to go,” and no further fertilization will take place. Your dog, on the other hand, can actually conceive many times during her heat. She will give birth to all the puppies at the same time, but they could have been conceived over a period of several days. So if you are breeding, and you want a large litter, the longer she is exposed to the male, chances are the larger the litter.
At this point, the male may still be interested, but the female will probably try to drive him away. The bleeding will slow and finally stop, and your dog will return to normal behavior. If she is pregnant, you can expect a litter usually 63 days after the first exposure to the male.
At this point, the reproductive glands get a rest if the dog is not bred. The pituitary gland, though, is getting ready for the next heat. Male dogs will be on a “friends only” basis with your female for the next six months or so.
You may find that even the most pleasant female can be irritable when in heat. She may also experience loss of appetite. If that happens, you can try adding a bit of liver or chicken to her food to boost her interest in eating.
Now that you know how to identify the signs of heat in your dog, your job, if you do not want a breeding, will be to protect her from persistent male dogs. And believe me, they will be persistent. They will leave “pee mail” all over your yard, and there will be no reward too great and no punishment too severe to keep them away.
You will probably hear of all manner of ways to mask the smell of a bitch in heat. Some breeders advise dabbing a bit of Vick’s Vaporub around the female’s hindquarters, near the tail. Others suggest giving the female chlorophyll tablets.There are also sprays on the market that, theoretically, make the female smell as if she is already pregnant. You can try any or all of these methods, but I have to say I wouldn’t count on getting the result you want.
Your best course of action is, of course, to keep your female confined until the heat passes. Make sure to watch her at all times, and don’t even let her into the yard off-leash – a female in heat, even if she has never bolted before, is likely to do it now. Fences that used to be obstacles can also be circumvented with amazing ease when the urge is strong.
If you do not want to have your female dog bred, then you would be doing her a kindness (and also preventing a bloody mess in your home every six months or so) by having her spayed. If you want a breeding, but not just yet, you need to learn how to identify the four stages of the heat cycle, and be prepared to react accordingly.