Heat in female dogs, the oestrus cycle

Posted by Argos, 28 April 2014, last updated 10 September 2020.

While owning any animal is a big responsibility, those owning female animals have an extra concern to think of – heat and mating.

Here, we take a look at the oestrus cycle and heat in bitches.

A mother Golden Retriever dog with her puppies

What is heat?

If you own a female dog (bitch) that is unspayed, then after reaching maturity it is likely that she will come into season or into ‘heat’ about every six months. In smaller breeds, the first season can occur at any age from six months onwards whilst in bigger breeds it can take two years. Your dog will remain ‘in heat’ for an average of three weeks at a time.

Caring for dogs in heat is slightly more complicated than caring for spayed ones, so if you don’t intend to breed from her then having her neutered is the responsible thing to do. If you do intend to breed from your dog, it is useful to find out how to take care of her whilst she is in season.

The four stages of the cycle

The first stage of a dog coming in to heat is ‘pro-oestrus’. During the first seven to ten days your dog may experience bleeding or spotting. Her vulva may become swollen and it is likely she will pass urine more often. She will be more attractive to male dogs and as result she may want to roam; it is unlikely she will get pregnant (or indeed want to mate) at this stage.

The second stage ‘oestrus’ begins ten to thirteen days later. Her discharge will become pink and watery, her vulva will swell and she will roam in search of a mate.

During this nine day stage, she will seek to ‘tie’ with a male. A ‘tie’ is the natural phenomenon whereby the male’s penis swells inside the bitch’s vagina and the dogs become locked together for around fifteen to twenty minutes whilst ejaculation takes place. During this stage, it is highly likely she will become pregnant.

If your dog does not become pregnant then the third stage is ‘dioestrus’. During this period, the dog is coming out of heat and will not be inclined to mate. This stage lasts two to three months and leads to the final stage ‘anoestrus’ where she is out of heat for four to five months. The cycle will then begin again.

A litter of puppies

How can I care for my dog whilst she is in heat?

As your bitch may be especially anxious for several weeks, exercise additional patience and shower her with TLC.

Brush her regularly to comfort her, offer soothing massages and wash any soiled bedding to reduce your pet’s distress.

If you worry about your furniture or upholstery, there are special pants available for your pet to wear which will catch any blood. This may make the whole experience less stressful for you and your pet.

If you have other concerns, don’t hesitate to consult your vet.

In addition to caring for your dog’s immediate needs, be sure to keep any garden gates secured to keep male dogs away from her and to prevent her from roaming. When outside, it is best not to leave her unattended.

Knowing how to care for your female dog whilst she is on heat is important, as is keeping her protected with Argos Pet Insurance provided by Pinnacle Insurance plc. Explore our dog insurance policies today.

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