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Female dogs go into heat when they ovulate, signaling their fertile period. During this time, they become more receptive to mating but may also display aggression and irritability. Additionally, there's the risk of pregnancy. To prevent unintended pregnancies, it's crucial to closely monitor your dog’s behavior and keep her away from other dogs. Alternatively, you can get her spayed, which comes with a number of other benefits.

Overall, understanding the stages of your dog's heat cycle is essential for proper care. Keep in mind that the duration, frequency, and effects of the canine heat cycle can vary from dog to dog. Getting to know your dog's unique needs during this time is crucial for her health and  well-being.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what to do when your dog is in heat, from recognizing the signs of a dog in heat to whether you should spay your dog. Continue reading to learn more. 

What is the Heat Cycle? 

When a female dog reaches puberty, she starts experiencing heat cycles, also known as estrous cycles. These cycles usually happen every six to twelve months and last for about two to three weeks1

During this time, your dog becomes receptive to mating and may become fertile. You might observe physical changes like a swollen vulva and discharge as the cycle progresses, along with behavioral changes such as restlessness and increased urination2.

While smaller dog breeds may enter heat as early as four months old, larger breeds might not begin until they're two years old3. Heat continues throughout a female dog's life, but its frequency decreases with age. 

The Stages of Heat  

Dogs typically go into heat roughly twice a year, with smaller dogs going into heat more frequently. Some breeds, like the Basenji and Tibetan Mastiff, only experience the heat cycle yearly1

All in all, the dog heat cycle is split into four stages, and it’s worth understanding each stage, so you can best adapt to your dog’s needs. 

The stages of dog heat are: 

  • The proestrus stage marks the beginning of the heat cycle and typically lasts around 7 to 10 days. During this stage, the female dog's vulva swells, and there may be a bloody discharge, often ranging from pink to red in color. Your dog may attract attention from male dogs during this phase, but they are not yet receptive to mating4.
  • The estrus stage, lasting between 5 to 10 days, is when your dog may be fertile and receptive to male attention. During this stage, the bloody discharge diminishes, changing in color. Ovulation usually occurs 2 to 3 days after the start of estrus, making this the optimal time for breeding if pregnancy is desired4
  • The diestrus stage is characterized by a decrease in sexual receptivity. This phase lasts around 60 days, regardless of whether the female dog has been bred or not. If your dog has been successfully fertilized, this is when pregnancy progresses. If mating hasn't occurred, your dog will continue to the anestrus stage2
  • The anestrus stage marks the end of the heat cycle. It can last up to six months before the cycle starts again4
  • List of signs and symptoms of heat

    Signs & Symptoms of Heat 

    You'll notice changes in mood, behavior, and comfort levels when female dogs go into heat. Recognizing these signs and symptoms can help you determine which part of the cycle she's in, understand how to handle her during heat, and take steps to prevent pregnancy. 

    Some common signs include2:

  • Swollen vulva: During heat, the vulva swells and reddens, becoming more visible. 
  • Vaginal discharge: Female dogs in heat may have a dog period, or a bloody discharge from the vulva, which can vary in color and consistency throughout the heat cycle. Initially, the discharge may be bright red, but it can gradually change to a lighter pink as the cycle progresses. 
  • Frequent urination: Female dogs in heat may urinate more frequently than usual. This behavior is often related to hormonal changes and the dog's instinctual marking behavior to attract potential mates.
  • Changes in behavior: Dogs in heat may exhibit various behavioral changes, including restlessness, agitation, and increased vocalization. They may also become more affectionate or clingy toward their owners.
  • Changes in appetite: Some female dogs may experience changes in appetite during heat, either eating more or less than usual.
  • Tail position change:  At the beginning of the heat cycle, your dog is likely to cover her vulva with her tail. Later on, she might raise her tail to the side, indicating her receptiveness to mounting.
  • Close up of yorkshire terrier resting on top of a blanket

    How to Care for Your Dog When She’s in Heat

    When your dog is in heat, she might become more needy, leaving you unsure of what to do. During this time, it's important to pay attention to the changes in her body and mood to provide the best care possible. Here's what you can do when your dog is bleeding during heat:

    Care For Her Moods 

    During her heat cycle, your dog can display a variety of emotions. She might be more affectionate and clingy at times, while more irritable and restless at others. 

    It's essential to show her love by offering extra treats, toys, and cuddles. However, be mindful that she may also want some alone time, depending on what stage of the cycle she's in, so avoid overwhelming her with attention and provide her with a sanctuary space if necessary.

    Keep Her Clean

    My dog is in heat. What do I do? Keeping her clean is an important step. Regularly clean her genital area to prevent any discomfort or irritation by gently wiping her vulva with a damp cloth or using specially designed pet wipes. Additionally, consider giving her a gentle bath using a mild, unscented dog shampoo if needed. Dog diapers can help you catch any discharge.

    Graphic listing ways to care for your dog when she’s in heat

    Prevent Unwanted Pregnancies

    To prevent unwanted pregnancies during your dog's heat cycle, keep her closely supervised to minimize contact with intact male dogs.

    Remember to always walk your dog with a leash to ensure her safety. Avoid areas frequented by other dogs, such as parks, during her heat cycle. Additionally, take precautions to secure your yard to prevent any male dogs from entering.

    Should You Spay Your Dog?

    Spaying your dog is an effective method to prevent her from going into heat. This procedure involves the complete removal of the ovaries and uterus. While it may cause short-term discomfort and mood changes, spaying not only prevents pregnancy but also reduces the risk of uterine infections and breast tumors5, ultimately contributing to a longer lifespan6.

    Talk to your veterinarian about the best time to spay your dog based on their breed, health risks, and other factors. It's important to consider potential risks as well, as research suggests that spaying can increase the risk of joint disorders and certain cancers7. Therefore, it's advisable to consult with your veterinarian before making a final decision.


    How long does a dog in heat bleed?

    The duration of bleeding during a dog's heat cycle can vary widely among individual dogs, but it typically lasts around 7 to 10 days during the proestrus stage. However, the bleeding may be lighter or heavier at different stages of the cycle, and some dogs may have irregular bleeding patterns.  

    It's essential for pet parents  to monitor their dog's heat cycle closely and consult with a veterinarian if they have any concerns about abnormal bleeding or other symptoms.

    Do dogs always bleed in heat?

    No, not all female dogs will experience noticeable bleeding during their heat cycle. While bleeding is a common sign of estrus or heat, some may have minimal or no visible bleeding at all. Look for other signs that your dog is in heat, such as swelling of the vulva and changes in behavior. 

    Do male dogs go through heat?

    No, male dogs do not go through a heat cycle in the same way that female dogs do. Instead, male dogs are typically sexually active and capable of mating throughout the year once they reach sexual maturity, which can occur as early as 6-15 months of age depending on the breed8.

    Is heat painful for dogs?

    For most dogs, the heat cycle itself is not inherently painful. However, some dogs may experience discomfort or mild cramping during certain stages of the cycle, particularly during proestrus and estrus when hormonal changes and physical symptoms like vulva swelling occur. 

    Additionally, some female dogs may display signs of irritability or restlessness during heat, which could be indicative of discomfort. 

    What food should I feed a dog in heat? 

    You should always prioritize nutrition when looking after your dog. This is especially true when she is in heat. Ensure she stays hydrated by providing plenty of water, and offer fiber-rich foods to support her digestion. Additionally, to keep her happy, indulge her with plenty of her favorite snacks and treats.

    Dog looking at camera and laying on couch with diaper on

    Final Notes

    What to do when your dog is in heat can be tricky. It can be a stressful time for both you and your dog. However, with a clear understanding of the heat cycle stages and the different ways you can comfort and support your dog, you can navigate this time with ease.

    If you're struggling with managing your dog's heat cycle, consider reaching out to a veterinarian for guidance. Dutch vets can offer valuable insights into helping your dog during this time and discuss the benefits of spaying. Schedule an online vet consultation today to get personalized advice and support for your pet.



    1. Dog estrous cycles. (2023, July 31). Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

    2. Paul Pion, D. V. M., & Spadafori, G. (2017). Veterinary partner. VIN.Com.

    3. How Often Do Dogs Go into Heat.” American Kennel Club,

    4. Dog in Heat (Canine Estrus): Symptoms and Spaying.” WebMD, WebMD,

    5. “Spay/Neuter Your Pet.” ASPCA,

    6. “Reproductive Health.”

    7. Robins, Mary. “Should You Always Spay-Neuter Your Dog?” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club,

    8. Sexual maturity in puppies: What puppy owners should know & expect. American Kennel Club., from

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