Any pet owner who keeps an unspayed female dog has at some point witnessed their lovely family friend go into heat, or if it’s a female puppy then soon you will have to deal with the inevitable.
Female dogs go into heat for the very first time when they are about six months old, although larger breeds can experience their first heat cycle when they are about fifteen months old.
Knowing what to expect and the signs to look out for is important. At the very least you will be sure your female dog is in heat and can help her the best way you can.
Common behaviors of a female dog in heat
There are a few common behaviors of a female dog in heat you can always look out for. Below we highlight ways to tell a dog is in heat just by identifying specific behaviors.
1. Excessive licking of the genital area
One of the most common behaviors of a female dog in heat is the excessive licking of the genital area. The female dog will constantly lick her genital area, a habit that typically happens during the proestrus phase of the heat cycle. You can be absolutely certain she is in heat if she has a swollen vulva and there is blood-tinged vaginal discharge.
However, make sure your dog isn’t suffering from vaginal hyperplasia, a condition characterized by enlargement and inflammation of the vaginal lining (mucosa). The lining visibly bulges out of the vaginal lips and will interfere with copulation if the dog is in heat.
In case your dog bleeds for too long then take her for a checkup to make sure they are not suffering from any infections or serious diseases or bleeding disorders.
2. Receptive to male dogs sniffing
When a female dog is in heat, she will be more receptive and comfortable with male dogs sniffing and licking her vulva. This behavior becomes noticeable during the first phase of the heat cycle. If a female dog is not in heat, she will become uncomfortable and aggressive when a male dog attempts to lick her vulva.
3. Frequent urination around male dogs
Frequent urination in the presence of male dogs is often a common behavior of a female dog in heat. The urination becomes more frequent and less predictable over time. This behavioral change happens during the proestrus and estrus phases of the heat cycle.
4. Postural and tail position changes
A female dog in heat will hold her tail close to her body during the proestrus (first) phase of the heat cycle. When she enters the second phase (estrus phase), her tail will be slightly raised and placed to the side, which becomes more pronounced when touched. On top of this, she will adopt suggestive postural changes that will send a message to male dogs that she is ready to mate.
5. Excessive wagging of the tail
This is also one of the most noticeable behaviors of a female dog in heat. It occurs during the second phase of the heat cycle. You will notice the dog wagging her tail more than usual, especially when male dogs are around. The wagging of the tail is a flirt-like behavior that signals they are welcoming and open for physical contact.
6. Mounting and humping other dogs
When a female dog is ready to mate, she will start to mount and hump other dogs, both male and female. It happens during the estrus phase. The female dog will be hyperactive, roaming around in a quest to find a mating partner.
7. Becoming anxious and nesting
The second phase of the estrus cycle is when the dog is ready to mate. The dog will become increasingly anxious and even display nesting habits in preparation for mating and pregnancy. Some dog breeds can also turn aggressive and agitated during the mating phase.
FAQs about dogs going into heat
Below we highlight the most frequently asked questions regarding female dogs and going into heat.
1. What are the stages of a dog’s heat cycle?
Female dogs have a distinct estrus cycle (heat cycle) comprised of four phases namely proestrus, estrus, diestrus, and anestrus. Each phase has distinct physical and behavioral changes that allow male dogs to know when the female dog is ready to mate.
2. When do dogs go into heat for the first time?
Dogs go into heat for the first time when they are ready to mate, which varies between breeds. Small breeds go into heat for the first time when about six months old while it can take fifteen to eighteen months for larger breeds to experience their first heat cycle.
3. How long do dogs stay in heat?
Female dogs stay in heat for 1½ to 2 weeks, the average being 9 days. However, there are dog breeds that experience a “heat phase” of up to 3 weeks. The “heat phase” is the period when a dog is in heat and ready to mate.
4. Do dogs feel pain when in heat?
Since female dogs do not experience menstrual periods, they do not experience any pain when in heat. However, the proestrus phase (first phase) of the heat cycle is a period when the dog is not ready to mate. During this time, she will show heightened aggression towards male dogs attempting to mate.
5. How often do dogs go into heat?
Most breeds go into every six months. However, small breeds may experience three heat cycles in a year while the giant breeds may go through the same only once a year. It’s important to note that young and aging female dogs are likely to experience irregular heat cycles.
6. Do female dogs smell when they’re in heat?
Female dogs smell when they are in heat. The unique smell is alluring to male dogs and is a result of the release of pheromones by the female dogs to indicate their readiness for mating. The smell is natural, harmless, and attracts male dogs.
7. What should I do if my dog is in heat?
What you can do depends on whether you desire to get your female dog a mating partner or not. Nonetheless, ensure they get enough food and water and always keep an eye on her. If she is too old, then make sure she doesn’t mate to avoid health complications such as pyometra.
Behavioral signs of a female dog in heat
Apart from the common behaviors of a female dog in heat highlighted above, these pictures of a female dog in heat will help you know when your pet is preparing to mate. Make sure you keep a watchful eye on her and only allow interaction with male dogs if you want her to mate.