Skip to main content

How to take care of a dog in heat: A handy guide for all pet parents

Learn how to properly care for a dog in heat

Depending on your dog’s age, if you adopted her from a shelter or rescue group, chances are she’s been spayed, so you don’t need to worry about heat cycles. However, if you purchased your female puppy from a breeder or pet store, part of being a responsible dog owner is learning all you can about a dog’s estrus cycle. That includes learning when she will go into heat, how often it will happen, how long it will last, and how to take care of your dog when she is in heat.




30 minutes

What You Need

  • Dog diapers

  • Fenced yard or a leash

Woman kissing dog
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What it means when your dog goes into heat

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), female dogs reach sexual maturity around six months of age, and that’s when they typically have their first heat or estrus cycle. This can vary depending on the dog. Some smaller breeds may go into heat at four months, while some of the giant breeds may reach two years of age before having their first heat cycle. Females go into heat about every six months, but this, too, can vary, especially with younger or older dogs. Breed experts at the AKC say small dogs tend to go into heat more frequently, as much as three times a year, while giant breeds may cycle only once a year.

Toy poodle wearing diaper
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Symptoms that your dog is in heat

  • Swelling around the vulva. The first sign that your dog is going into heat is swelling around her vulva and bloody or straw-colored discharge. You may notice your female excessively licking her genital area.

  • Irritability followed by flirtatiousness. During this time, there’s an increase in the dog’s estrogen levels followed by a sharp decrease, and then her ovaries release eggs. During the first phase of the heat cycle, called the proestrus, your dog might become irritable and even act aggressively toward other dogs. However, when she moves into the estrus stage, she will become flirtatious with male dogs. This typically happens around day eleven, say veterinarians at the VCA Animal Hospitals.

  • More frequent urination. When a female dog is in heat, her vaginal and urinary secretions contain pheromones and hormones that attract males. Females in heat will typically urinate more frequently or mark objects around the house or while on a walk to attract the attention of male dogs.

Black dog wearing a diaper in a dog bed

How to take care of a dog in heat

Step 1: Provide a calm, quiet environment

Dogs in heat often appear anxious and restless due to fluctuating hormone levels. Playing soft music and providing a nice warm bed in her favorite spot can help her relax. Interactive puzzle toys and safe chew bones can help soothe an anxious dog.

Step 2: Stock up on dog diapers

You’ll need to manage the bloody discharge around the house while your dog goes through her heat cycle. Consider using reusable or disposable diapers. If it’s challenging to keep regular diapers on your dog, a full-body diaper is a great alternative.

Step 3: Provide adequate nutrition

It’s important to make sure your dog is getting adequate nutrition when she is in heat. Some females will go off their regular food during this time, so you may have to prepare special meals to encourage her to eat.

Step 4: Take your dog outside more frequently

Never reprimand your dog if she has accidents in the house. This is normal behavior when she’s in heat. Instead, reassure her and take her outside more frequently, but always on a leash.

Step 5: Check the yard for any possible escape routes

A female in heat may try to escape from her yard in search of a male. This is an instinctual behavior, so be sure to check the yard for any possible escape routes. Never allow your dog outside unsupervised when she’s in heat, and never walk her off-leash.

Step 6: Keep her at home

Don’t take your dog to public parks, pet stores, or training classes where you are likely to meet intact males.

Large dog on its bed
Holger Kirk / Shutterstock

Preventing unwanted pregnancy

To avoid unwanted pregnancy, don’t make the mistake of thinking your dog is no longer in heat when she stops bleeding. While bleeding may last for only the first two weeks, veterinary experts say that in the last two weeks, when discharge is more watery and pinkish, females are most fertile. They recommend keeping a female in heat away from intact males for up to four weeks. You’ll know the heat cycle has ended when your dog’s vulva returns to its normal size and there’s no more discharge.

Caring for a dog during her heat cycle is hard work. You can avoid it by having your dog spayed. There are many great reasons to do this. Millions of dogs are euthanized every year, and having your dog spayed will help reduce pet overpopulation. It also carries health benefits. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, early spaying of female dogs can help protect them from some serious problems later in life, such as uterine infections and breast cancer. The surgery has no negative impact on dogs, allowing for years of loving companionship without the challenge of managing heat cycles.

Editors' Recommendations

Vera Lawlor
Vera was the pet columnist for 201 Family magazine and has contributed pet and animal welfare articles to Bone-A-Fide Mutts…
Is your dog barking nonstop? Here’s how to get your noisy pup under control
How to step in and help your noisy dog stay quiet when barking nonstop
Dog barking at night

If you’ve ever tossed and turned because your neighbor’s pooch barked all night, then you know how incredibly frustrating a noisy dog can be. Don’t let your pup be "that" dog in your community. While it's perfectly natural for Fido to bark occasionally, excessive barking at unreasonable hours or for long periods is unneighborly.

Experts at the American Kennel Club (AKC) say that preventing nuisance barking should be a top priority for responsible pet parents. If you live with a loud four-legger that barks nonstop, take steps now to resolve the problem before your neighbor complains (or you lose your mind).

Read more
Do puppies sleep a lot? These are the perfectly normal sleeping habits of a healthy pup
Puppies sleep a lot, but here's what's normal and when to be concerned
puppy sleeping on lap of human with mustard yellow sweater

Do puppies sleep a lot?

Generally, puppies require abundant sleep — about 6 to 10 hours daily. Every pup is different, though. Some puppies sleep 20 hours a day to maintain their high energy levels, but, by about 16 weeks of age, most breeds of dogs will be able to sleep through the night.

Read more
Pet-safe pest control: This genius technique will get rid of pesky ants
Home remedies for pest control that are safe for the fur babies
Ants crawling across wild mushroom caps.

The warm weather, the long days, the fresh blooms decorating trees and bushes -- all things that call to creepy crawlies… 

Wait, what?

Read more