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

dog in heat care woman kissing
Image used with permission by copyright holder

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.

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

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
smrm1977 / Shutterstock

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.

Vera Lawlor
Contributor
Vera was the pet columnist for 201 Family magazine and has contributed pet and animal welfare articles to Bone-A-Fide Mutts…
How to find the right veterinarian for your pet
Getting your pet the best medical care will improve and prolong their life
Veterinarian examining cat while little boy watches

Taking your dog or cat to the vet might cause you some anxiety, especially if you're doing so for the first time. Trust us, it makes pet ownership so much more enjoyable when you have an animal doctor that both of you like. Choosing the right veterinarian for your beloved companions may not be easy, but it's certainly worth it — you'll have a better time caring for your animals, and they will stick around longer with excellent medical attention. Here's how to choose a vet.
When should I look for a vet?

We hate to add to your checklist, but you probably want to look at vets before you even bring home a dog or cat. It can take time and lots of phone calls to different places before you figure out the right fit — meaning a practice that suits your needs and budget and has availability.

Read more
Does your dog drink a lot of water? Here’s when you should be concerned
It's usually just the weather, but you should look for signs of dehydration or excess thirst
A pug drinking water from a sink faucet

Ensuring your furry best friend gets plenty of water is one of the most important parts of being a pet parent. But how much water should your dog drink on a daily basis? Veterinarians claim the general rule of thumb is a simple equation: The majority of dogs require around 1/2 to 1 ounce (about 1/8 of a cup) of water per pound of body weight each day. Don't want to reach for your measuring cup? Make sure your pup has round-the-clock access to clean water, and everything should be fine.

That being said, if your dog empties their water bowl several times a day, or you notice their intake has increased drastically, you should probably keep a close eye on things. If your dog drinks a lot of water, you may be wondering, "Why is my dog always thirsty?" We'll share how to monitor your pup's water intake, the most common reasons your dog may be thirsty, and when you should speak with your vet.

Read more
Is a Belgian Malinois a good family dog? Everything you need to know about this amazing dog breed
Belgian Malinois breed description, family behavior, and more
A Belgian Malinois leaps through a meadow of dandelions

If you're considering opening up your home to a new four-legged family member, there may be a lot of thoughts swimming through your mind. This is totally normal. Bringing home a new pet is a big change, so it's only natural (and responsible) to think through every aspect of the decision before you commit. One thing you may be considering is which dog breed would be best for your home. Although you may not be able to hand-pick your perfect breed when adopting a pet from a shelter, knowing a bit about the most common dog breeds can help you make an informed choice.
The Belgian Malinois is a breed often seen in cities, suburbs, and farms, though it's often mistaken for an entirely different dog -- the German shepherd. While they are related, these breeds are completely separate from one another. Familiarizing yourself with Belgian Malinois characteristics and traits will help you decide whether this may be a breed for your family, but first, we'll have to ask -- is a Belgian Malinois a good family dog?
Let's find out everything there is to know about this strong and loyal dog breed.

Belgian Malinois breed characteristics

Read more