How long can a dog stay in heat? Here’s how you’ll know her cycle is over

Noticing when a dog enters heat can be rather easy: Just a spot of bloody discharge will tell you what you need to know. Learning how to tell when your pup is at the end of her cycle isn’t as obvious as other changes — like the transition from puppyhood to adulthood, for example — but we’re here to help.

We’ll address questions such as:

  • How long does a dog stay in heat?
  • How can I tell when my dog is no longer in heat?
  • What does each phase of the cycle look like?

So, read on to learn everything you need to know to keep you and your pup as relaxed as possible during her heat cycle. With just a little TLC, it’ll be a piece of cake!

What happens when a dog is in heat?

At around 9 months of age, female dogs will experience their first heat cycle. It begins with the proestrus phase, when you may notice visible changes like a swollen vulva and bloody discharge. East Central Veterinary Hospital (ECVV) notes that this is when the female will become attractive to males, but she will not be receptive to mating. This stage lasts an average of nine days, though it can extend up to 27 days or be skipped entirely.

During estrus, the female is releasing pheromones and is ready to mate. The American Kennel Club notes that she may even approach male dogs and initiate contact by offering her behind to be mounted. Her vulva will remain swollen but soften slightly, while her discharge will contain less blood. It can be more of a watery, tan, or salmon-colored liquid at this stage in the cycle.

This phase also lasts for an average of nine days, with a much wider range of possible durations (four to 24 days, according to ECVV). Remember, what’s normal for one dog may be totally different from the healthy cycle of another.

A Papillon dog wearing a diaper sits in front of a background
How long does a female dog stay in heat after bleeding stops?

By the time she reaches diestrus, your dog will stop bleeding. This is the final active phase of the heat cycle, but it marks the end of the female’s willingness to mate as well. She will not be receptive to males during this time, though many hormonal and physical changes are still happening in her body. ECVV states that this stage lasts around two months and is a time when the body prepares itself to either carry a fertilized egg or get ready for the next cycle.

Here’s the catch: Although a female dog may still be experiencing symptoms of being in heat, her only fertile period is during the estrus phase. These nine days (on average) will be when she wants to mate as well. So, while your dog may not be fertile when bleeding begins, she will no longer be able to conceive by the time the discharge ends.

How do you know when dog heat is over?

The very same changes that mark the beginning of canine heat are also signs of the end of the cycle. You will know your dog is no longer in heat when her vulva returns to its normal size and there is no more blood-tinged discharge.

In total, a dog will be in heat for two to three weeks per cycle. The length between cycles depends on her breed, size, and age, though on average a pooch will go through two cycles per calendar year. Some larger breeds, especially sled dogs, tend to go into heat once a year, while miniature breeds can experience as many as four cycles a year.

A Jack Russell Terrier sleeps cuddled up on a woman's lap

How do you care for a dog in heat?

The comfort and safety of your dog should always come first, so be sure to keep an eye on her at all times while she’s socializing with other dogs. In fact, many canine health pros recommend not leaving your pup outside while she’s in heat, as she can attract some unwanted attention.

Your dog may need to urinate more often, so she will thank you for adding an extra bathroom trip to your daily routine. You may also want to schedule some additional snuggle time, as pups can be extra affectionate and clingy while in heat.

If you invest in doggie diapers for your pet’s estrus cycle, you may not need to worry about cleaning, but be sure not to punish your dog for any bloody stains — she can’t help it. It may help to use a dog or baby gate to confine her to an easy-to-clean portion of the house if she doesn’t like diapers.

All in all, the heat cycle can be a stressful time for a pup (human women can relate!), so a little love from her favorite person can go a long way. Whether she’s feeling grumpy, frisky, or lazy, it’s all just part of the process. Don’t worry! A few weeks from now, everything will be back to normal.

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