What is ‘heat’?
Firstly, ‘heat’ or Estrus (from the greek ‘sexual desire’) is a recurring period of sexual receptivity and fertility in many female mammals, in this case, dogs. At what time a female dog or bitch goes into heat can vary greatly from dog to dog. The youngest is about six months of age though sometimes a female will come into season younger. First heat can start as late as 12 or even 14 months of age or later in rare cases. Generally speaking, dogs that aren’t spayed go into season or into heat approximately every 6 months. Again, it can vary from dog to dog, but this is a good estimation as to when you can expect your dog to begin this cycle.
This can be a real annoyance to pet owners and to all other pets in the household, for a number of reasons. The purpose of this blog post is to raise awareness and bring up some important factors that both Dog owners and Dog Walkers & Sitters should be aware of if not already. From our experience, it is a big topic of discussion amongst those who care for other peoples dogs – some people outright refuse to look after dogs in heat, for obvious reasons. Equally, it sometimes goes unnoticed, and owners may be furious to find there dog has been returned to them, albeit pregnant!
Either way, you can understand the risk associated with this, and although sometimes it can’t be helped, remember, it is the owners choice and responsibility as to whether their dog should have puppies. If you suspect a dog you intend to look after is in this stage, it is important to verify with the owner as to how they wish to deal with the situation.
How to Care For a Female Dog in Heat
The heat cycle for a female dog lasts approximately 3 weeks. During that time her vulva will swell and she will have a bloody discharge. During this fertility period, your dog will be constantly releasing pheromones which is likely to attract male dogs in your neighbourhood. It is advised that you do not leave your dog outdoors on her own, when she is in heat. Male dogs are prone to becoming aggressive towards females in heat, and these behavioural changes need to be managed in order that there are no unwanted mishaps. One solution is to keep your dog inside, as this will help eliminate the fear of unwanted puppies or attacks by other dogs in the area.
However, keeping the female dog inside while she is in heat can also be inconvenient. The discharge can be not only messy but sometimes quite smelly. The best option is to keep your female indoors and confined to an area where the discharge won’t be a problem to clean up, like the bathroom, garage or kitchen – places where the floor is laminated and not carpeted. Baby gates are a cheap and convenient way to confine your dog without putting her behind a closed door.
If you put your dog in a cage while she is in heat, it is important to place it where she will be able to spend time with people familiar to her, as well as let her out for frequent exercise. Being on heat should never be treated as a punishment, and you don’t want your dog to feel as though she is being unfairly treated or left out. Another common solution is to purchase the equivalent of a ‘nappy’ for dogs, which will contain any potential discharge, avoid mess, and act as a deterrent to curious males.
Your female dogs are also known to display aggressive behaviour, especially amongst other pets in the household, while in heat. This includes a pushy attitude, shouldering aside other pets and humping. As she will be highly hormonal, it is likely that you will encounter a great deal of assertive and dominating behaviour, especially towards other dogs. This should only be temporary, and will subside once she has finished the cycle. It is important to realise that this process is natural, animals interact and deal with each other in a number of ways to find their hierarchy within the ‘pack’, and you can either let them get on with it, or intervene if you feel as though it is necessary.
Other common symptoms of a dog in heat are general agitation, restlessness and often whimpering and panting, so it is important to give them as much love and attention as possible, to ease the nerves of going through this hormonal stage.
Remember, if she isn’t allowed to breed it can be very frustrating for her and you! If you don’t plan to breed your dog, it is much better for her health and your sanity to have her spayed. Along side the prevention of unwanted puppies, getting your dog spayed can be beneficial for a number of other reasons. It can prevent uterine infections and other disease as well as ensuring consistent behaviour throughout the dog’s life. You may have heard the myth ‘but I don’t want her to get fat’….this is nonsense, dogs get fat through poor diet and lack of exercise, not through getting spayed.
Making The Correct Decision
Remember, responsible dog owners will consider the options and make the correct decision based on what they feel is right. You could look at it in layman’s terms: do you want to breed your dog (for financial, genetic or any other purposes?), then you must deal with this responsibly. If you don’t think you want your dog to have puppies, then you may as well get it spayed, and eliminate any risk, rather than assuming that it will never happen…because as we all know, it can, and most likely will!
Getting your dog spayed is a pretty basic and routine procedure for modern day vets, even if it seems daunting for the owner! The process generally takes about half an hour, and afterwards, the incision os stitched up and will fully heal in a couple of weeks. It is advised to monitor her after the operation jus to ensure that the stitches are healing correctly, and she is eating and sleeping as normal. Also, it is wise to prevent any excessive jumping or bouncing around for a the first week, just to ensure the healing process isn’t hindered in any way.
For more information about the procedure itself and what it entails, we advise talking to your local vetinary practice to elevate any concerns and help you better your understanding.
This blog post is first in a two part discussion where we welcome any thoughts, comments and opinions our readers may have on the matter. Next time we will look into the pros and cons of neutering a male dog, and advice on how dog owners can deal with the scenario and make the best decision for them and their dog. Let us know what you think in the comments….
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