Your dog’s first season: caring for your bitch while she's in heat
A dog’s first season can be a messy and turbulent time for pets and owners alike, but if you’ve decided not to neuter your new puppy or if you plan to breed from her in the future, it’s an inevitable stage to be gotten through.
Let’s take a closer look at the dog heat cycle, understanding your bitch’s first season and how to make life easier for her during this time.
A brief summary...
- Many bitches have their first season aged 6 months
- Most heat cycles last 2-4 weeks, and occur every 6 months
- Bitches in heat typically bleed for 7-10 days
- Bitches’ behaviour may change while they’re in heat
- Aim to keep your bitch away from male dogs while she’s in season
- Consider investing in some dog pants to reduce mess
- If you aren't breeding from your bitch, ask your vet about neutering
Dog heat cycle: the stages of a bitch’s season
An un-neutered female dog will usually come into her first season at around 6 months old, although smaller breeds can come into season earlier and larger breeds a while later (sometimes not until they’re 12 months old).
From then on, she’ll have a season roughly every 6 months.
How long are dogs in heat – is it a lifetime thing?
Unlike humans, female dogs can go into heat throughout their lives – although the length of time between seasons will increase as they get older.
The typical heat cycle will last between 2 and 4 weeks.
The bitch will be fertile during this entire time but there is a small period, 9-10 days into the cycle, where they are especially fertile. Bitches may not be receptive towards male dogs during the first few days of their cycle but this varies from dog to dog.
Bitches usually bleed during the pro-oestrus period – where the body essentially gets itself ready for the season or ‘oestrus’ period. This occurs 7-10 days before she comes into season and usually stops once the oestrus period has begun, although this isn’t the case for all.
If you’re concerned about your bitch and her pro-oestrus cycle, have a chat with your vet.
Bleeding isn’t the only sign that your dog has come into heat. You can usually tell a bitch is coming into season from other signs such as:
- A swelling of the vulva (usually a couple of days before she begins bleeding)
- Licking of the genital area
- Urinating more than usual
Will my dog’s behaviour change when she’s in heat?
Dogs in heat tend to be more receptive to company. They might display sexual behaviour: mounting other dogs, your furniture or your leg, for example. Some bitches may become more domineering or commanding during their season; others may appear anxious and display maternal characteristics such as gathering toys in her bed or sleeping area.
A dog in heat is essentially sending pheromones out to the male dogs in the area, so she’ll be getting her fair share of attention! If you have other dogs in your house, it’s a good idea to separate them at night and when you leave the room – consider a baby gate if you don’t already have one.
When walking, keep your bitch on the lead. Aim to walk during quieter times of the day, avoiding other dogs where possible. Don’t let her outside on her own and give any dog socialising classes a miss until the season is over.
Spend some quality time with your dog
She’ll be feeling confused during her season so keep her reassured with lots of cuddles and quality time. You’ll naturally be exercising her outside less so if your bitch is restless, keep her mind occupied with some indoor games.
Read more: 5 dog enrichment ideas!
Add menthol to the tip of her tail
This may help to cover the scent – especially useful if you have other dogs at home.
These are lifesavers when your dog is in season. If she really doesn’t like wearing pants, keep her somewhere with a laminate floor or a surface that’s easy to clean blood/discharge from!
It’s a good idea to have your dog neutered. This will eliminate the risk of womb infections, unwanted pregnancies and free both you and your pet from the hassle associated with their season.
Read more: Dog neutering: what you need to know.
Need more info?
If you need more advice about your dog’s season, neutering or any other aspect of their welfare, have a chat with your vet.