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Do Dogs Have Periods: Learning About the Estrus Cycle

If you have a female dog and haven't spayed her, you may wonder why she is bleeding from time to time. You may have asked yourself, "Do dogs have periods?" Just like humans have regular cycles, so do female dogs. Once they are mature, at six months of age, they will menstruate. 

A dog's period (or menstrual cycle) may be an alarming and slightly messy event, mainly because it corresponds with when the dog is in heat. But once you know what is happening, you'll be able to help your dog, especially during the breeding season.

Do dogs have periods: The estrus cycle, and what it's all about

Have you ever wondered if female dogs have periods? The answer is "Yes!". The correct term for the menstrual cycle in dogs is the estrus cycle. Most commonly, when a dog is in heat, she is going through this cycle.

As your dog reaches puberty, it goes through this cycle. Smaller dog breeds tend to mature faster than larger dogs, and subsequently, a Chihuahua will be in heat sooner than, for example, a Labrador

There are 4 distinct phases of the estrous cycle:

Phase 1 - Proestrus 

This is the first stage of the heat cycle when you may notice a blood-tinged discharge and some swelling. Your dog won't allow mating during this cycle and may even come across as skittish. 

How long are dogs in heat in the proestrus cycle? This phase lasts approximately 7-10 days but can last anywhere between a few days and up to 4 weeks. Symptoms of this phase include:

A personality change:

The cycle may affect a dog's behavior, making them a bit angry or fearful. A menstruating dog can become more loving and needy with its owner, or she could become aggressive. 

To help her, you can bathe her to clean the discharge up, give her extra love and affection, and keep the male dogs away from her.

Appetite changes:

It's pretty common for a female dog to be uninterested in food during the first week of the dog heat cycle. However, some dogs may behave the opposite and desire more food. 

Whatever the change happens to be, pay attention, as this may indicate that the first part of the heat cycle has started.

Swelling of the vulva:

Some dogs will swell slightly, and others more so. The bleeding amount also varies between dogs and breeds. 

Tail tucking:

Tail tucking occurs when the female dog tucks the tail to protect the vulva. It is indicated by tucking the tail between the leg or even by the dog sitting down if another dog (especially a male) approaches.

Frequent urination:

During her cycle, your dog will urinate more. Some female dogs may even mark their environment with strongly scented urine to attract a mate to show that they are in heat and need a mate.

Phase 2 - Estrus 

This is the middle part of the stage, commonly known as "the heat." During this stage, the female dog will begin to allow mating to happen. This phase may last from 3 days to 3 weeks, with an average length of 9 days. 

At this time, the female dog will release eggs for fertilization, and she may move her tail to one side. Since she is now ready for breeding, your dog may spend more time outside than usual. Symptoms during this time include:

Lightened discharge:

The discharge now moves from bright red color in the beginning to a lighter shade of pink. The swelling will begin to subside.

Flirting:

In the initial stage, she would tuck her tail as a way to ward off any male company, but at this stage, she begins to flirt to show she is ready for mating.

Phase 3 - Diestrus Stage 

At this stage in the cycle, the fertility of the dog comes to a close. This stage may last anywhere between 60 and 90 days. If the dog becomes impregnated, this stage may last from the end of the estrus stage until the birth of the puppies (this period is around 60 days). 

Signs of this stage include:

Swelling gradually disappears:

Most of the swelling will subside in around a week, leaving the area only slightly enlarged.

Less flirting:

The female dog will no longer be flirtatious, as the condition to mate is no longer there.

Phase 4 - Anestrus 

This is the final stage of "the heat" and indicates the end of cycling. This phase typically will last up to five months.

How often do dogs go into heat, and how long does a dog stay in heat? 

Once a dog reaches maturity, around 6 months of age, the cycle begins to happen around two times a year. The American Kennel Club (AKC) has research that suggests smaller breeds may be in heat as much as 4 times in a single year. In comparison, larger breeds may only go into heat every 18 months.

Dealing with discharge

One aspect of a dog's cycle is the discharge. Typically bleeding is relatively light and bright red during the first few days of the cycle but may grow to become heavier during the middle of the week of the cycle. Eventually, it will be pinkish. 

While some dogs’ discharge is hardly noticeable, others could leave spots on surfaces. If cleaning up becomes challenging, you could get some doggy diapers for your furry friend.

If you decide to use the diapers, make sure they are cleaned and changed frequently. If the dog experiences heavy bleeding outside of the cycle, it is not normal, and you should contact your vet immediately.

Questions to ask your veterinarian

Get together a list of questions to ask your vet; you'll be more prepared and receive sound advice. You may want to ask questions like:

  • How old will my dog be before they start having an estrus cycle?
  • What can I do to help keep her clean while she bleeds?
  • What can I use to clean up surfaces that she bleeds or pees on?
  • When should she be spayed?

Some tips on how to handle a female dog in heat

#1. Never leave your dog alone in the yard

By being with your female dog as you take them out in the yard, you can avoid an unwanted dog pregnancy by guarding her against male dogs. Using a leash, even in the backyard, is recommended.

#2. Keep your dog on a leash

Even a well-trained dog cannot be let off the leash at any time during the heat cycle. Natural instincts will win over any obedience training.

#3. Exercise, but also rest

Each dog has a different experience of being "in heat". Some dogs may be super-tired, while others may be endlessly restless. Some dogs may jump right up onto the bed for a snuggle, while others may need a bed ramp for dogs to help them up. 

By observing your dog's behavior and knowing the breed, you can find the right balance between rest and exercise.

#4. Consult a vet

A dog in heat is not a condition that requires medical attention. However, by consulting a veterinarian, you can better control any unexpected troubles that may occur.

#5. Treat the tip of her tail with Menthol

If you decide to walk her outside, where there may be male dogs present, a little menthol on her tail will hide her scent and unwanted attention from a male dog.

#6. Use a Tractive GPS tracker

A Tractive GPS tracker will show you the exact location of your dog at all times. She may decide to bolt and run to find a mate. With GPS, you'll locate her soon and bring her back before she can become pregnant.

Dog periods and you

When your female dog has her period, the best thing you can do is be attentive and caring. There are standard and expected behaviors, but anything outside of that should be looked at by a vet.

By paying attention to her during this time, you will help her if anything seems out of the ordinary. Above all preventive measures, the best thing you can do is understand the cycles and support her during each one.

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