Female Yorkshire terrier wearing a period diaper

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Unspayed female dogs go through the estrus cycle, also known as the heat cycle, which results in vaginal bleeding. While they technically don’t have periods like humans, female dogs go into heat and experience bleeding as one of the initial and most noticeable signs that their cycle will begin. 

So do dogs get periods? They don’t go through a menstruation cycle every month. Instead, their estrus cycle occurs every six months, but the exact amount of time varies by the dog. Dogs may have their first ‘period’ after puberty. Typically, most adult dogs start their heat cycle between 8-18 months old.

This article will discuss everything you need to know about dog ‘periods’ and the canine heat cycle to help you provide your dog with the proper care. 

Understanding Dog ‘Periods’

Do female dogs have periods? Canine ‘periods’ aren’t like humans, but they experience bleeding at the beginning of the heat cycle once they reach puberty. But when do dogs get their period? Female dogs reach puberty between six and 18 months old, depending on their size.1 Small dogs can go into heat much earlier.2 How long dog periods last varies, but bleeding will continue for about  seven to 10 days.3

Dogs will have bloody discharge during the proestrus stage of the estrous cycle.

Once the heat cycle starts, it occurs approximately every six months. However, smaller breeds can go into heat up to three or four times per year.2 Conversely, larger dogs may go into heat less often or only once annually.  

Another difference between dog and human periods is that dogs experience estrus throughout their lives.2

Canine heat cycle stages

Canine Heat Cycle Stages

There are four stages of heat in dogs. Knowing these stages can help you prepare for discharge, blood, and behavioral changes your dog may experience during this time. 

  • First stage (Proestrus): During the first 7 to 10 days, the vulva swells, and your dog will experience  bloody discharge. During this time, they’re not receptive to breeding.3 
  • Second Stage (Estrus): After the first stage, dogs are receptive to breeding, and there’s less blood flow before it stops for the rest of the cycle. Females ovulate two to three days after mating during this stage, which lasts from 5 to 10 days.3
  • Third Stage (Diestrus): The third stage is the end of the heat cycle, and female dogs are no longer fertile and don’t experience bleeding. Diestrus can last an average of 60 days; if your dog is pregnant, she’ll remain in this stage.3  
  • Fourth Stage (Anestrus): The final stage is the resting stage between the third and next heat cycle.3 Like in the third stage, there is no bleeding or ‘period’ during this time. 

Signs Your Dog Is In Heat

After reaching puberty, dog periods may be irregular at first. Eventually, they will have regular cycles until they reach old age, and the heat cycle will become less frequent.1 But how often do dogs get their periods? It ultimately depends on their size, but you can track your dog’s heat cycle to help you prepare for physical and behavioral changes occurring during this time. 

Signs that your dog is in heat include the following:

  • Swelling of the vulva: Swelling of the vulva occurs within the first and second stages of the heat cycle. During the first stage, the vulva will experience mild swelling that slowly increases until it’s enlarged and soft in the second stage.4 This might not be noticeable, especially on dogs with thick coats. However, a swollen vulva is typically accompanied by more obvious signs. 
  • Bloody vaginal discharge: Along with vulvar swelling, dogs will experience bloody discharge at the beginning of the heat cycle. Eventually, these ‘periods’ will slow and stop when the female is ready to mate.4 
  • Behavioral changes: Dogs can experience various behavioral changes during their heat cycle. At first, they are not receptive to mating, but as their cycle progresses, dogs may start seeking out a male. Your dog might become more friendly with male dogs on walks or try to escape the yard to find a mate. Dog humping is also common around this time, as it communicates that they’re ready to mate, so your female dog might mount objects around the home, people, and other dogs.  Additionally, female dogs can experience anxiety or irritability, which can make them aggressive or needy. 
  • Increased urination: Dogs in heat typically urinate more than usual.1 Additionally, female dogs may lift their legs or urinate in front of males to let them know they’re ready to mate. 

Dog period care tips

Dog ‘Period’ Care Tips

Caring for a dog in heat is crucial because they may experience discomfort and emotional issues. Additionally, since many dogs actively seek out males during this time, they may be more prone to escaping if you’re not careful. Some dogs in heat become more affectionate, while others prefer to be left alone. 

You know your dog best, and eventually, you’ll learn to care for them during the heat cycle. Here are a few tips that can help you: 

  • Use diapers: Female dog ‘periods’ occur within the first few days of the heat cycle when preparing for ovulation. During this time, your dog might lick itself to clean the blood and ease any discomfort associated with the vulvar swelling. To protect your furniture and prevent your dog from giving themselves an infection from licking themselves, have them wear diapers when they’re bleeding. 
  • Monitor their symptoms: Dogs are susceptible to pyometra, an infection of the uterus that causes it to be filled with pus.5 Pyometra occurs when bacteria enters the uterus at certain times during the heat cycle, and the infection can be life-threatening.1 Unfortunately, you can’t always see the pus because it’s within the uterus. Some dogs may experience a discharge, but others won’t. Other signs of pyometra in dogs include lethargy, lack of appetite, and increased thirst.6 
  • Track cycles: Tracking your dog’s cycles can help you catch complications before they become more serious. It will also help you determine when your dog goes through their cycles to help you prepare beforehand. Additionally, if you’re trying to breed your dog, tracking their heat cycle can tell you when the best times for breeding are and help you know when they’re pregnant. 
  • Prioritize comfort: Dogs can experience behavioral and physical changes during their heat cycle, making them feel sluggish and depressed. It’s highly unlikely your dog is in any severe pain during heat, but they can experience discomfort. Dogs can feel agitated or anxious, but letting them rest with plenty of blankets and providing enough exercise to alleviate excess nervous energy can help.
  • Keep an eye on them: Female dogs want to mate during their heat cycle, so they must be monitored more closely if you don’t want them to get pregnant. Even well-trained dogs will try to seek out a mate, so it’s a good idea to use a fenced-in yard or keep them on a leash outside to avoid unwanted dog pregnancy

Once your dog’s heat cycle ends, their behavior will slowly return to normal. However, if your dog is pregnant, you should take them to the vet as soon as possible to ensure the health of their puppies. Spaying your dog is also an option if you want to avoid pregnancy and periods.

Canine ‘Periods’: FAQs

When do dogs get their first ‘period?’

On average, dogs get their first ‘period’ around six months of age. However, smaller dogs can get their periods much earlier; large breeds may not experience it until they’re 12 to 18 months old. Once a dog’s ‘period’ begins, they’ll continue to go through the heat cycle for the rest of their lives, but the frequency will change. As they age, they’ll experience fewer heat cycles, which may become irregular. 

The most common signs that indicate your dog is about to begin their first heat cycle are a swollen vulva and changes in behavior. However, many people realize their dog’s heat cycle has started after they notice vaginal bleeding. 

It’s important to note that dog ‘periods’ only occur in unspayed female dogs. If your dog is spayed, she won’t experience a heat cycle, so there won’t be any vaginal swelling or bleeding. Since a dog's behavior can change drastically during their cycle and require more care, many pet parents choose to spay their dogs if they don’t intend to breed them. Additionally, spaying your dog will prevent potentially life-threatening uterine infections and cancer. 

Woman changing a dog’s diaper due to period or estrous

What to do when a dog gets their ‘period’?

The best thing you can do during your dog’s ‘period’ is to make them comfortable and invest in doggy diapers with a slit opening for the tail. Dogs can become needier during this time, requiring more attention and affection. Additionally, they usually urinate more frequently, so they may have to go outside more often throughout the day. 

Be mindful of your dog’s behavior after getting their ‘period.’ Bleeding occurs during the first stage of the heat cycle and can notify you of potential behavioral changes. Also, since female dogs are more likely to interact with males or escape the yard, you must monitor them to keep them safe and secure. 

What should I do when my dog is in heat?

Taking proper care of your dog’s physical and emotional health is crucial when she’s in heat. During the heat cycle, dogs need more care and attention. Continue to exercise your dog, but be careful. Exercise can help relieve her anxiety, but she may be more prone to approaching  unknown male dogs on the street. You should also allow your dog to get enough rest. The heat cycle can cause lethargy, so let your dog nap when needed and find a good balance between rest and exercise. 

In addition, your dog might want more attention during this time. Dogs that are anxious or stressed usually look for comfort in their pet parents, so consider setting aside some extra time throughout the day to give her tons of love. 

Final Notes

So do dogs have periods? They experience a bloody discharge at the beginning of the heat cycle, but they don’t experience periods like humans because the heat cycle is much longer than human menstruation. 

All unspayed dogs enter the heat cycle, which continues for the rest of their lives. If you don’t want to breed your dog, the best thing you can do for their health and wellness is to have them spayed. However, if you want to breed your dog, you should continue to monitor and track their heat cycle to find the best time for mating. 

Talk to a vet today to learn more about caring for your dog while in heat or during a pregnancy.

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References

  1. Driver, Saige. “Do Dogs Have Periods?” American Kennel Club, 31 Dec. 2019, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/do-dogs-have-periods/.

  2. “How Long Does a Dog Stay in Heat?” American Kennel Club, 14 Mar. 2018, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeding/how-long-are-dogs-in-heat/.

  3. “Table: Estrous (Heat) Cycle in Female Dogs.” Merck Veterinary Manual, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/multimedia/table/estrous-heat-cycle-in-female-dogs.

  4. “Reproductive Cycle.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/animal/dog/Reproductive-cycle.

  5. “Small Animal Topics.” ACVS, https://www.acvs.org/small-animal/pyometra

  6. “Pyometra in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment.” Blue Cross, https://www.bluecross.org.uk/advice/dog/pyometra-in-dogs.

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